|By Diana S. Barber, Esq., May 2004
Spring is here. Prom, graduation and college social events are
scheduled to occur in the next few months. Are you ready? Is
your staff well trained on how to handle underage guests in your property?
Many prom attendees look upon this event as their right of passage into
adulthood. How can you make this evening memorable yet protect your property
and your employees? You can assist these young adults in complying
with the law by implementing and consistently enforcing reasonable rules
and regulations on your property.
Some hotels enjoy the revenue these special events provide to their
properties with little or no concerns about disruption in operations.
Others dread the thought of large groups of young people gathering in their
lobby without any regard for the damage a can of silly string can do to
Many hotel and motel managers are not aware of the laws that govern
minor guests while on, in or about your property. The likelihood
of loud disturbing noise, drug use and underage drinking should be on your
high priority list. There are steps you can take to meet the needs of your
underage guests while protecting your employees, other guests and your
Must you accept minor guests in your property? Generally speaking,
the answer is yes. Innkeepers have a general duty to admit all persons
who seek accommodations, unless the innkeeper has “just cause” to refuse
accommodations. Just cause may include lack of available guestrooms, failure
of the guest to pay for the charges and a reasonable belief that the guest
may harm employees, other guests or your property. Failure to allow a minor
as a registered guest in your property may be grounds for an unfair discrimination
charge against the innkeeper. Since state and local laws differ, it is
prudent for you to confirm your legal rights and obligations in your particular
area with a qualified and competent attorney.
You can, however, implement clear and reasonable rules and regulations
as preconditions to accepting minors in your hotel. You must be consistent
with your implementation and enforcement of these rules and you cannot
Below is a checklist to review with your staff to make sure you are
ready to receive these memory-seeking guests.
|As soon as possible, contact all the local junior high schools, high
schools and colleges to learn about all upcoming dates for spring formal
dances, proms, graduation, sorority and fraternity parties.
|If you are fairly new to your property, find out all you can about
the history of these types of events occurring at your property and surrounding
hotels and motels. Does your property have a reputation that you
would like to change? Perhaps tighter rules are in order or consistent
compliance efforts are needed. Review the areas that need improvement
and address the situation before your underage guests arrive.
|Train your front desk in the proper procedures for admitting minor
guests. Ask for photo identification. If the identification
looks suspicious, ask for secondary identification. The Internet
makes it very easy to obtain fraudulent identification cards.
|All states prohibit underage drinking. An innkeeper can lose
his/her liquor license and may be subject to liability for accidents that
occur as a result of guests driving while intoxicated. Do not allow
front desk personnel to give honor bar keys to underage guests. If your
honor bars are not key controlled but are accessed through an easily breakable
plastic ring, have all alcohol removed from the honor bar when minor guests
rent the room. In addition, make sure alcohol is not delivered to guestrooms
used exclusively by minor guests either through room service or as part
of a frequent guest amenity program (such as a thank you to the parents
for their patronage).
|Anticipate the needs of small and large groups. Make it clear
that guestrooms cannot sleep more than four people (if that is your policy
depending on guestroom dimensions). Make sure you comply with your local
fire codes on the number of occupants in the guestrooms at one time. Offer
a hospitality suite or other meeting room space to minor guests late in
the evening to lessen the chances of disturbing other guests.
|Add additional security measures on the evenings when your hotel hosts
these types of events. For every group of fifty attendees, you might
want to consider requiring the group to provide a security officer at their
own expense. In addition, you may want to provide favorable room
rates to parents in order to encourage the parents to stay the evening
and chaperone the event. You may also want to provide, at your expense,
additional security officers to walk the premises, including the parking
lots, during these events. Make it known to all minors checking in to your
property that security has been increased for their protection. Make
sure security is visible to the minor guests and that they know they will
be observed. Providing notice in advance of what is unacceptable
conduct or behavior on your property, coupled with a visible security team,
will confirm to your minor guests that you mean business and intend to
uphold the law.
|As an innkeeper you need to protect yourself from the risks imposed
by a minor’s legal status since a minor may revoke a contract and refuse
to pay for room charges. Request that payment be made in advance
either with cash or a valid credit card. Verify authorization of the credit
cards used by minor guests. Verify ownership of the card and the
right of the minor child to use the credit card.
|Remind minor guests that disturbing noise, illegal drugs and underage
drinking will not be permitted anywhere on the hotel property. As
for intolerable noise levels, your rules may provide for an initial warning
prior to any unregistered guests being escorted off property. Subsequent
warnings will be grounds for the removal of the registered guests without
a refund of the advance payment for room charges.
|Upon check in, a minor guest should be asked to provide parental contact
information in the event the rules and regulations are not complied with
during their stay and a call to the parents becomes necessary. Alternatively,
you may request that the parent register the minor child or children so
that the parents become aware of the rules and accept all responsibility
for damage or injury during their children’s stay.
|Your rules may require that minor guests be required to sign a form
upon check in acknowledging that they are familiar with the house rules
and regulations and agree to comply with them during their stay.
When you must take appropriate action to remove the guest, having a minor
guest’s signature on this type of form will help defeat the guest’s claim
that they didn’t know the rules.
|Training your employees on these rules and regulations is also essential.
Each and every employee needs to know the rules to ensure consistent enforcement
throughout your property.
|If you remove a minor guest from your property for failure to comply
with the rules and regulations, you must exercise reasonable care.
Depending on the specific circumstances, you may want to consider calling
the parents or the police. Treat the guest as you would any other guest.
For your guests protection and yours, don’t let a guest who is noticeably
intoxicated or under the influence of drugs to get behind the wheel of
Providing a safe, memorable evening for a young adult can create long
term customer loyalty and possibly result in future revenues for other
life changing events such as weddings, anniversaries, and the like. Make
sure the rules you create are enforced consistently, provided uniformly
and are non-discriminatory.
Diana S. Barber, former vice president and associate general counsel
for The Ritz-Carlton, is a lawyer in private practice focused on hospitality
law, an adjunct professor at Georgia State University and a member of the
Georgia Hospitality and Travel Association. She can be reached at
This article is written for general information purposes only. It
is not designed to be and should not be relied on as your sole source of
information when analyzing and resolving a specific legal issue. Each fact
situation is different; the laws are constantly changing. If you have specific
questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult
with competent legal counsel.