What Does A Hotel “Do Not Disturb” Sign Mean?

Filed Under: Hotels

I’m often asked how I deal with jetlag. Despite rarely spending more than a couple of days in the same timezone, the simple answer is that I don’t. No matter where in the world I am, I try to have my day overlap as much as possible with the US east coast business day. That’s simply because that’s when I’m busiest in terms of email, airline/loyalty program news, etc.

When I’m in China, for example, it’s not unusual for me to sleep from 10AM until 2PM and then again fromĀ 4AM until 7AM, or something like that. As a result, my hours often don’t overlap with housekeeping’s preferred hours for servicing rooms. And I’m usually fine with that, since I don’t need my room refreshed every day (especially when there are bonus points in it for me).

Which brings me to the “Do Not Disturb” sign, possibly my most utilized feature of any hotel room. To me the “Do Not Disturb” sign means. Do. Not. Disturb. Please.


Yet hotels seem to have a different interpretation of that. To hotels it seems to mean “don’t knock, but call instead.”

So almost every time I have the “Do Not Disturb” sign up I get a call around the middle of the day saying “we saw you had the ‘do not disturb’ sign on, when did you want your room serviced?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting the hotel to check whether the “Do Not Disturb” sign is up before calling, but I do find it a bit odd that hotels consistently “disturb” precisely because the “Do Not Disturb” sign is up.

But I do also get the hotel’s perspective. They have to make sure they’re properly staffed and able to service all rooms, and that’s tough to do when guests indefinitely have the “Do Not Disturb” sign up.

I’m curious where you guys stand on this — does the “Do Not Disturb” sign mean “don’t knock but call me instead” or does it actually mean “do not disturb?”

  1. It means what it says.

    If need be, I’d tell the front desk at check in (or call before you go to sleep) that I don’t want to be disturbed; that includes phone calls.

  2. It should mean exacly “do not disturb”. Period. No knocking, no phone call. Nothing.

    Not only do they often call you to ask if you would like your room serviced, but it has happened to me a few times that they even ignore the “do not disturb” sign and enter into the room!

  3. Agreed – do not disturb means no knocking, ringing doorbell, or calling. Only few exception can be made. For example, I wanted my dress shirts pressed and made a call, was told that someone would come up in a few minutes to pick up the shirts. I forgot I had the Do Not Disturb sign up. What happened… the person waited patiently outside, notified the front desk I had the sign up, front desk called me and said guy was waiting outside my door but didn’t knock because I had the sign up. Totally understandable.

  4. Great question. It should mean don’t disturb me in any way. And I’ve stayed at plenty of hotels where they slip a card or note under the door that they tried to clean, or turn down, or deliver laundry and couldn’t. Way better than a call.

    I recently had a comical experience at an SPG property in Canada. I got in late, was tired from a day of crazy weather-related delays, and just wanted to pass out. Got the room, got into bed, and was just about asleep when there was BOTH a hammering on the door and the phone ringing. WTF? It was room service delivering my welcome amenity.

    Which of course then makes me feel like the jerk for getting mad that my Platinum gift was in conflict with the DND sign.

    So now I always tell the Front Desk to please hold my calls at night – and when it’s easy, I unplug the phones.

  5. I used to be annoyed by this practice. Then I had kids and housekeeping disturbed us in the middle of my girls’ nap. Anyone with kids knows messing with nap time is unforgivable. I prefer rental houses instead of staying in hotels to avoid exactly this problem when the kids are traveling with us now.

  6. I am in the same boat. I frequently do ~36 hour turns in Asia and as a result end up sleeping during daylight hours. I can’t count the number of times I have received that “We came by but the Do Not Disturb sign was on the door…” phone call. Once I ignored the call and they sent security to the room. I have found that if I give the front desk a heads up that I am going to be sleeping during the day, it roughly halves the chance of a phone call.

  7. I think it’s a catch 22 for the hotel. Some people probably forget to take the sign down and then get mad when their room isn’t cleaned. And some get mad when the sign is up and they get a call/knock.

  8. I preemptively call to let them know that no room service is needed. Then I’ll unplug the phone(s).

  9. @Lucky it is required by Chinese government, because so many foreigners bring drugs to hotel do things that are not allowed by Chinese law.
    It is hotel’s responsibility to keep check on that..

  10. Do Not Disturb = Leave Me Alone!!!!! There are many hotels where the housekeeping staff gets pretty nervous if they came by to clean that specific floor and you had the DND sign on your door. It feels like airline FAs on US airlines business class. They want to serve you dinner as quick as possible to basically get rid of you and be left alone. If you are sleeping at odd hours for the local time housekeeping staff will not be very happy and may knock your door with the excuse they want to make sure you are OK. šŸ™

  11. This is one of my pet peeves. If they really wanted to get you to let them know something, they should try slipping a note asking to just call housekeeping. That way it doesn’t bother you, but if you’re up, you’ll likely see it. I’ve actually noticed this is what the Ritz does when your butler wants to reach out to you. Other brands should take notice.

  12. Means what it says. I hate being called or door-knocked when I have the sign up. Exception: I had the sign up when I had pre-ordered room service breakfast. I was fine with him knocking in that case, because I had ordered it and had forgotten to grab the sign off the door. I have only once gotten the card under the door, which was a door hanger that included a check box for when I would prefer to have them clean. It was perfect.

  13. There aren’t many hotels with “Do Not Disturb” signs. They generally say “Privacy Please” which is more like a whine and by no means a commandment that you expect the person on the other side of the door to follow.

  14. Sometimes I think that my method works better than the hotel-supplied DND sign: I write “No Service” on the back of a business card and stick it in the key slot, words facing outward.

    That solves the issue which I’ve experienced occasionally, of someone taking the DND sign off my door for unknown reasons.

  15. One of my relatives used to be a housekeeper; I can’t speak for all countries/hotels, but in some: it’s best to tell the housekeeper you don’t need anything (or ask for something while she’s out in the hall), and then keep the sign up. She/he will get credit for checking on you/cleaning as requested, and there won’t be any issues with the DND sign. I know in Korea at one of my hotels that made a difference in whether or not the cleaning lady had to be reassigned other rooms, or got credit for taking care of mine…….

  16. I was staying recently at a <$100 hotel and left the do not disturb sign on all day (inadvertently). When I got back the sign was still there, along with a bag hung on the door handle containing a full set of towels, fresh toiletries, tea and coffee etc. It seems to be a really good way of handling it and worked fine by me, as I wasn't that bothered about having the room cleaned. At least it would have meant they didn't disturb at all.

  17. They can put a “do not disturb” on your phone. Just call and ask. Problem solved.

  18. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Dubai a couple of months ago. I know that most frequent travelers are loyal to Hyatt — but I’ve not stayed at many of their hotels before for one reason or another. I was so impressed when, upon check-in, the front desk clerk asked the simplest question ever: At what time would you like your room serviced? BAM! Problem solved. Simple note in the computer that *should* be simple enough to be passed on to housekeeping. I wondered aloud why all hotels don’t do that.

    I’m sure this isn’t revolutionary and is just one of the many touches that lead people to love Hyatt — and I’m also sure this gets lost in the shuffle sometimes and they still come at the wrong time — but it worked during my stay and I was grateful for it.

  19. As Mel already explained in many countries it is the law (or interpretation thereof) that conventional hotels must check on your room once per 24 hours regardless of any message or instruction to the contrary. Even in cases where this requirement has not yet become law it is often written into the corporate rules. In many cases the housekeeping staff and counter clerks have no choice but to pester you until you at least make a statement confirming that everything is alright. For the most part these checks are done to protect the hotel from liability for failing to notice illegal activity or excessive damage to properly or to simply clean up your body after death before it reaches excessive levels of decomposition. In some cases a staff initiated check could also potentially save your life if you happened to be incapacitated or under duress.

  20. Funny that you mention this after you’ve just been to Beijing. When I went to Beijing the housekeeping staff there was really, really adamant on cleaning my room.

    I’d have my DND sign on the door so they’d knock instead of just coming in. Then knock again when I wouldn’t answer. Then, after a while, slide a note under the door. Then they’d call the room. Then they’d call *again*. Until I finally picked up and gave them a specific time at which I’d be away so they could clean the room.

  21. Whoops, didn’t see Mel’s comment there – apparently it’s the norm (and required) in China!

  22. @takke — I’ve seen this too in some very nice hotels. I often get the phone call (I have the do not disturb sign on the door permanently) and it drives me crazy. I’ve starting to tell the hotel at checkin to never clean the room šŸ™‚

  23. Do not disturb means exactly that.

    I unplug the phone.

    And I carry yellow sticky notes. I write on the note that I do not require service that day. And I stick it on my door. Works like a charm. Have never been bothered once I started adding the sticky.

  24. At check I will usually tell them…. Please do not forward any calls and no need to clean the room. I still hang the “Don Not Disturb” sign on the door and hope for the best.

  25. I’ve been told that it’s a safety requirement in many hotels – to call if they still find the Do Not Disturb sign/indicator on when the housekeepers go round a second time (usually by then it will be mid to late afternoon). Guess they have to make sure that the guest is alive and well ;-). I assume they ask whether and when you want the room serviced just to make the call less ‘nonsense’ and more useful in a way…

  26. Do Not Disturb absolutely means that- no disruption through knocking, ringing the doorbell or ringing the phone. It’s odd that they would call to check. Almost all hotels I’ve stayed at (and I’m a very heavy DND user) would just slip a note under the door saying they tried to enter to clean but they noticed the Do not Disturb sign so will come back at a later time, etc) – but in fancier words. The only times they would ring the phone is when I’ve asked for something (room service for example) and I forgot to take out the dnd sign.

  27. You’ve seriously hit one of my biggest annoyances when I travel. I travel a lot and around the globe. No matter where I am, I’d say 80% of the time I get disturbed despite always having the sign up. I don’t get annoyed as much when I’m sleeping off jet-lag and its 10AM when I get the knock but so many times its 8am! Not to mention that I have this weird, weird issue where the phone will ring in my hotel in the middle of the night. Its happened on numerous occasions to the point where I unplug my phone now.

  28. I’m used to staff completely ignoring the Do Not Disturb sign and housekeeping knocking on my door whenever they feel like it, so I was floored when I stayed at a Kimpton recently and the maintenance man wasn’t allowed into my room to fix the lamp until I took the sign down (literally – the front desk called me when he was at my door to ask me to take the sign off so he could come in).

  29. It means what it says. I prefer the wording of the Spanish signs — NO MOLESTAR. Do not bother me, full stop.

    I’ve had good luck with the various Marriott hotels I’ve stayed at in recent years. A note slipped underneath the door at most of them. At one of them, the girl behind the front desk recognized me as I was leaving for dinner and politely mentioned that housekeeping wasn’t able to service my room on their normal rounds and wanted to know if I wanted the room made up while at dinner.

    I’m also the type that doesn’t mind going a couple of days between getting the room serviced.

  30. I just ignore the phone calls, and the knocking, reasoning that the DND sign is not an invisible harry potter gimmick only graduated wizards can see..
    In Marriots though, like a reader mentioned, they’ve left me room stuff on the door knob.

  31. I didn’t read all of the comments so forgive me if someone covered this…I tend to stay on EST when I am over seas and frequently run into the same problem…Having picked up the Ritz Carlton card a few months ago I have stayed at several Marriotts recently where they gave me an additional door tag at check-in that read, “I’m a DAY SLEEPER, please Do Not Disturb” …I love it, and now include this as a wish list item on every SPG survey I get after a stay…

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