The Phones in Hotel Bathrooms and the Story That Isn’t


As long-time readers know, on Fridays — like, you know, today — I do a week-in-review type of thing. Today, I want to tell you a story I didn’t write about. 

It starts with this.

That’s a picture I pulled off the Internet from this old article at Wired; I didn’t take it myself. It’s a picture of a hotel bathroom — there’s a toilet, a toilet paper roll, a second toilet paper roll, a wastebasket, a framed illustration of some flowers (again, hotel bathroom), and… a telephone. And that’s kind of gross if you think about it. In the words of one random blogger I found, “even if the phone is cleaned regularly, you never know who’s done what in there, and if it’s not sanitized between every guest, do you really want that appliance that’s 2-3 feet from the toilet touching your face?” 

It’s a good point. So I wondered: why are there sometimes phones in hotel bathrooms?

I can’t find a definitive answer. What I can answer, though, is why there are still phones in some hotel bathrooms — or, more accurately, why there were still phones in some hotel bathrooms as of 2014. And it’s fun and weird… but it’s not a story. 

Before I get to that part, though, there are a lot of plausible reasons for having a phone in a hotel bathroom, pre-mobile phones, at least. The one I hope is true is safety — slips and falls happen in bathrooms, and having a way for a solo traveler to literally call for help seems like a good idea. The more likely reason, though, is convenience. If you’re traveling from out of town and, again, no cell phone, every phone call you get is potentially important. Maybe it’s your boss telling you where the meeting is, or your ride to the wedding, or something like that. But if the phone rings in the bedroom when you’re otherwise occupied in the bathroom, that’s bad. 

In any event, many hotels placed phones in the bathrooms, even if it’s kind of gross. And then it became popular. And then, it became a mark of luxury! The New York Times explains:

Upscale hotels have long had bathroom telephones, a legacy of luxury travel traditions where guests doing their ablutions could not be expected to reach a ringing phone on the far side of the suite. Bathroom phones have been a condition for achieving four or five stars by ratings groups, said Dean Compoginis, the chief executive of Bittel Americas, which specializes in the product. He expects the requirement to be dropped in the coming years as cellphones have obviated the need.

At first, I didn’t believe it, but then I came across a blog post, here, that found AAA’s Diamond Rating Guide. Here’s a copy of the page they found below. 

As the blog post concludes, “in order for a hotel be rated AAA Four Diamonds or above, it must have a landline or cordless telephone available in the bathroom. Wow!” (And for five stars, the bathroom needs a TV!) Dean Compoginis was right.

And he was also correct in his prediction. The current ratings guidelines, available here as a pdf, no longer require — or even mention — having a landline or cordless telephone available in the bathroom.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Oldest Emoticon: The first use of ;) … maybe. 

Tuesday: How to Stop a Menacing Walrus: I had so much fun writing this one, and the last sentence of the main story is one of my all-time favorites.

Wednesday: The Officially-Living Person That Doesn’t Exist:  My title here is wrong. The person does exist; he just doesn’t live where he officially lives.

Thursday: The Road Where Seat Belts are Banned. I’m sure it’s safe but I’m not going to try it.

And some other things you should check out:

I asked last week if you wanted me to keep this section; an overwhelming number of respondents said yes. So, here are some long reads for the weekend.

1) “Garbage odyssey: San Francisco’s bizarre, costly quest for the perfect trash can” (Mission Local, 15 minutes, September 2021). Generally speaking, if a headline uses a word like “bizarre” and then references a mundane thing that I don’t give much thought to (e.g. “trash can”), I’m going to read the article. 

2) “The weird world of Australian sea snakes” (Australian Geographic, 13 minutes, July 2021). Generally speaking, if a headline uses a word like “weird” and then references an uncommon but otherwise disinteresting thing that I don’t give much thought to (e.g. “Australian sea snakes”), I’m going to read the article. 

3) “Shoshi Stern-Robbins, Unenthusiastic Mascot” (McSweeney’s, 6 minutes if you click through to watch the short video, which you should, January 2020). A Q&A with a person who, for one basketball game, took a job as the Colgate University mascot, did maybe one dance if you define the word “dance” charitably, and then called it a career.

Have a great weekend!