My sister and her friends went to a private swimming pool at a fancy hotel. They had to pay an entrance fee but could stay as long as they wanted. The hotel serves food and drinks to pool guests, but they are not included in the entrance fee. My sister and her friends were in a hurry and left the hotel without paying for the food they ordered, which cost about $40. Later they remembered that they didn’t pay, but they let it go.

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About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

One response »

  1. John Hooker says:

    This is a straightforward case of breach of contract. Your sister and friends accepted the food in exchange for a promise to pay for it. They should return to the hotel and tell the maitre d’ they forgot to pay. The bill will still be there, and the hotel will be happy to clear its records. Violating a contract merely for personal convenience is not generalizable.

    There is also an urgent utilitarian issue. Waiters are often held responsible for making sure that customers pay the bill. If the customer doesn’t pay, the amount may be deducted from the salary of the waiter, who can’t afford this. Or he may be fired. Your sister and friends should hurry back to the hotel and pay, and hope that this avoids getting the waiter into trouble.

    The same argument applies if your friends left before eating the food. By ordering the food (and failing to cancel the order), they entered into a contract. What they do with the food (such as leaving it at the hotel) is their business, not the hotel’s.

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