Hilton Helsinki Strand
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Whatever Happened to Chocolates on Pillows in Hotel Rooms?

Come to think of it, whatever happened to turndown service?

When I first began traveling frequently on business, finding a chocolate on each pillow in the room of a hotel or resort property was a common occurrence: sometime during the early evening hours when guests were usually out having dinner, a member of the housekeeping staff would turn back the sheet and cover on the bed on an angle, fluff up the pillows, and as part of what was known as turndown service, a small square of chocolate would then be placed on each pillow…

Whatever Happened to Chocolates on Pillows in Hotel Rooms?

Hilton Tallinn Park Estonia
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

…but why were chocolates placed on pillows in the first place?

The Magnolia Hotel Saint Louis — which is currently part of the Tribute Portfolio of independent boutique hotel properties of Marriott International, Incorporated — “was originally built in 1924 as the Mayfair Hotel by Charles Heiss and shines brightly as the crown jewel of downtown hospitality and sophistication. It is the site of many historical firsts, including the first female general manager in St. Louis and the birthplace of ‘chocolates on a pillow’ by cinematic icon, Cary Grant. Here, each of our 182 guest rooms, including the lavish Cary Grant and Presidential Suites, provide one of downtown St. Louis’s only boutique experiences.”

When Cary Grant stayed as a frequent guest at the luxurious hotel in downtown Saint Louis sometime in the early 1950s, he had arranged to meet with a woman at the penthouse suite — despite being married to Betsy Drake, who was an actress and his third wife. The woman reportedly arrived at the penthouse suite before Grant did, and found that he had laid a trail of chocolates from the sitting room into the bedroom, across the bed, and onto the pillow — along with a letter whose contents remain undisclosed to this day. The identity of the woman was never publicly revealed, either — nor whether the “bread crumb” trail of chocolates successfully served its intended purpose.

As a member of the staff of the hotel property likely procured the chocolates and possibly laid out the trail, the manager found out about this interesting way of enticing a female companion to the bed — and apparently liked the idea enough to have a chocolate on every pillow in every guest room become one of the standard amenities of the historic hotel property.

Since then, hundreds of hotel and resort properties have emulated the practice of placing chocolates on pillows in guest rooms as one of the standard amenities — which eventually became one of the symbols of luxury — although the Mayfair ironically discontinued the gesture some years ago…

…but when the hotel property was sold and became the Magnolia Hotel Saint Louis in August of 2014, the tradition was restored by management with chocolates from a local chocolatier named Bissinger’s.

To this day, every room — especially the aforementioned Cary Grant Suite on the eighteenth floor — gets a chocolate on the pillow.

Final Boarding Call

Coincidentally, many of the times when I received a chocolate on the pillow was at hotel and resort properties which were a part of the portfolio of brands of Marriott International, Incorporated — so that the Magnolia Hotel Saint Louis, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel property is currently also part of that portfolio is rather fitting, in my opinion.

I also remember the times whenever I stayed in the room, a member of the housekeeping staff would knock on the door — and when I opened it, he or she would ask if I wanted turndown service. Most of the time, I would decline the offer for turndown service — but he or she would still offer the chocolates anyway, which I never refused. Sometimes I would be surprised with a handful of chocolates!

Hilton Helsinki Strand
Photographs ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

I do not remember the last time I saw a chocolate on a pillow — or turndown service, for that matter. I suppose I have not stayed in the right hotel properties. Furthermore, I am certain that the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic did not help matters — especially as the practice of automatic housekeeping services on a daily basis have been significantly reduced or eliminated altogether at many lodging companies, as those services are now only available upon request. The last time I remember having chocolates in a hotel room was when I arrived at the Hilton Helsinki Strand hotel property — of which I have written about my experience in this article — and awaiting me when I walked into the room were two bottles of water and a bowl of Finnish chocolates manufactured by Karl Fazer, although I initially thought they were hard candies by the way each one was individually wrapped…

…and those Finnish chocolates were really good. I wound up eventually finishing them.

If you want to reserve a room at the Magnolia Hotel Saint Louis, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel and experience where the chocolate on the pillow amenity was apparently started, please click on this link to reserve your room — or the Cary Grant Suite, if you are so inclined to do so.

All photographs ©2017 by Brian Cohen.


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