Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

12 Intriguing (and Occasionally Bizarre) Harry Potter Fan Theories

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

After Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in July 2007, author J.K. Rowling was adamant that the seventh book was the last. She has since continued to engage with fans regarding questions about the wizarding world, and has released exclusive snippets of canonical information via Pottermore, but she remains true to her word: no more Potter books (but we are getting a play!).

Instead, fans have had to make their own magic, filling in holes in the narrative with their own imagined solutions, based on a combination of careful research, close reading, critical analysis, and occasionally, a dash of wishful thinking. Some of these conjectures seem shockingly plausible, fitting perfectly within the events of the seven-book series and providing answers where Rowling’s original text has not; others are, to be blunt, totally bonkers—but fun all the same.


In a chat with fans hosted by in 2000, Rowling told an inquisitive reader that "there are about a thousand students at Hogwarts." Since then, fans have tried to puzzle out how that adds up: If there are 1000 students at Hogwarts, there should be roughly 35 students in each house each year. And yet, there only appear to be 10 Gryffindors in Harry's year. Is this just an oversight by Rowling, and there are other, unnamed members of Harry's class going about their business? One imaginative fan thinks not.

Tumblr user marauders4evr writes:

What if there were less students in the Hogwarts Class of 1998 because the period when the other kids would have been conceived (1979-1981) was when Voldemort’s reign of power was at its peak? Between the dozens of adults who joined the Order, the dozens of civilians who were killed in Death Eater raids, and the dozens of adults that didn’t want to bring a child into the world, just then…It’s actually entirely possible that there was a baby drought for a few years in the wizarding world, leading to a smaller class size a decade later.

While intriguing and logically plausible, Rowling most likely didn't think this one all the way through.


One of the most persistently farfetched Potter theories is that idea that legendary wizard Albus Dumbledore is none other than freckle-faced Ron Weasley, grown up and gone back in time. The idea first surfaced in 2004, known memorably as the “Knight2King theory,” in which the authors extrapolated from a truly impressive amount of circumstantial evidence that Ron/Dumbledore are two sides of the same person. The idea was inspired by the Wizard’s Chess scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer's Stone in which Ron plays as both a knight and the king—the symbolic roles that Ron and Dumbledore, respectively, play in the greater wizarding war to come. While these seeds of a theory seem rational enough, the follow-through is less than convincing, relying on such superficial similarities as Ron/Dumbledore’s red hair, long nose, and fondness for sweets to build a case.

The theorists speculate wildly about how Dumbledore became so prescient and wise (by living two lives and traveling through time to witness certain events twice, of course) and determine that Dumbledore’s ideal Christmas gift of warm socks stems from his youthful (as Ron) ingratitude for his mother’s hand-knitted sweaters. It’s a wild ride, to say the least; luckily, the authors’ full list of meticulously cited claims is still available to read here.

Adherents to the Ron = Dumbledore theory resurface periodically, whether in earnest (no doubt enthralled by the sheer volume of so-called evidence the K2K originators compiled) or in jest (as in a recent series of tongue-in-cheek articles by Mallory Ortberg, in which she coins the name “Ronbledore” for the unlikely time traveler), but all of them seem to have missed the final word on the subject, which Rowling issued as far back as 2005 in response to the growing tide of Ronbledore truthers: “These theories open up exhilarating new vistas of possibility… but they’re wrong. Could it be that by speculating that Harry/Ron becomes Dumbledore, you are seeking reassurance that neither dies young?”


Hapless, fumbling Neville Longbottom spent his early years at Hogwarts botching spells left and right, and, despite coming from two powerful magical parents, considered himself “almost a Squib.” But his friendship with Harry, and the increasing danger to the wizarding world, provided ample opportunity for him to prove himself: He mastered the difficult Shield Charm second only to “brightest witch of her age” Hermione, and held his own during multiple duels with Death Eaters. Much of this can surely be attributed to the natural process of maturation and personal growth, but some fans think there was one pivotal change that made all the difference: Neville’s wand

Both Rowling’s original text and the Warner Bros. film adaptations make clear one basic tenet of wand lore: the wand chooses the wizard. For a witch or wizard, a visit to Ollivanders Wand Shop is the ultimate personality test, as the otherwise inert wands “choose” whether or not the person wielding them is destined to be its master. When the unique magical artifact’s potential aligns with the right witch or wizard, sparks literally fly, and the wand commits itself to a single master.

The corollary to such an enigmatic matching process is that a wizard using a wand that has not chosen him will never wield its full potential. A wizard may adopt another’s wand out of necessity, such as Ron Weasley inheriting his brother Charlie’s old wand to save the expense of a new one; in such instances, the wand will function sufficiently, but not excellently.

Unlike Ron, who begrudgingly accepted a family hand-me-down as simply the way things had to be in an impoverished household, Neville chose to adopt his father’s wand. Frank Longbottom had used the wand to do powerful magic during his time as an Auror, up to and including his final altercation with the Death Eaters who would ultimately torture him to the point of insanity. Knowing that the wand would otherwise go unused during his father’s interminable stay in the wizarding equivalent of the psych ward, St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, Neville took it as his own—and thus began his early years of bungled spells and constant struggle to make magic “work” with a wand that was never meant for him. 

Though there is no way to separate truth from coincidence, thus landing this particular theory squarely in the realm of “sounds right, but we may never know,” some fans believe that Death Eater Antonin Dolohov did Neville a huge favor by breaking his—or rather, his father’s—wand at the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. Neville was thus forced to go through the wand-choosing process for the first time, finally securing for himself a wand that he could truly call his own. In the years following, his magical prowess increased tremendously, fitting him to lead Dumbledore's Army in Harry’s absence, duel the most powerful Dark wizards at the Battle of Hogwarts, and even become an Auror, thereby following in his mother’s and father’s footsteps and making even his infamously disapproving grandmother proud. It would downplay Neville’s tremendous personal journey to attribute such drastic changes simply to his wand, but it certainly looks like that 13-inch cherry and unicorn hair from Ollivanders didn’t hurt. 


In "The Tale of the Three Brothers"—from The Tales of Beedle the Bard, sort of the wizarding world's version of Mother Goose—three unnamed siblings come face to face with the personification of Death, who offers them their choice of gifts. The first brother, convinced of his own superiority, chooses the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in existence; the second brother requests the ability to resurrect loved ones from the dead, made possible by the Resurrection Stone; the third brother, humbly, asks only for Death not to pursue him, and is given the Cloak of Invisibility under which to hide. The three artifacts thus comprised the Deathly Hallows: real magical objects possessed by the Peverell brothers, and sought after for centuries after their deaths.

As if the lines between fact and fiction were not already blurred enough, some readers have astutely noticed parallels between the original brothers and another set of three “brothers”: Harry, Snape, and Voldemort. By their reckoning, Voldemort represents the first brother, lusting for power and seeking possession of the Elder Wand at all costs; Snape is the second brother, driven only by the desire to recapture his lost love; Harry is the third brother, ready to face Death and thus accepted as “an old friend.” 

Moreover, this interpretation posits that there’s a fourth character from whom all the Hallows originate: Death, otherwise known as Dumbledore. The Headmaster is the only one, prior to Harry, to possess each of the Hallows: he presents Harry first with the Cloak, then with the Stone, and is stripped of the Elder Wand by Draco Malfoy, who then loses it in a duel to Harry. He is, however indirectly, responsible for the deaths of both Snape and Voldemort, and when Harry “dies,” who is there to greet him? Dumbledore, welcoming him like an old friend.

The theory identifies some skillfully crafted parallels, drawing connections between what is merely the stuff of wizarding legend and the real-life events of the Second Wizarding War, but is it literally true? Not really. Though "The Tale of the Three Brothers" was a magical folk story, in Rowling's magical universe, the Peverell brothers themselves really did live and die, with the historical records to prove it. Cadmus and Ignotus both had children and passed on the Peverell lineage, such that Harry and Voldemort are both actual blood descendants of the brothers—so no, they are not literally their own many-times-great-grandfathers, which means Dumbledore isn’t literally Death, either. In the end, some things really are just symbolism.


This is a difficult theory to treat delicately, so it’s best to be blunt: certain readers (perhaps still-disgruntled supporters of a Harry/Hermione romance) claim that Ginny Weasley must have administered a love potion to Harry in order to induce his infatuation with her. They’re skeptical of the accelerated courtship between Harry and Ginny, who have been acquainted since Harry first encountered the Weasleys on Platform 9 ¾ en route to Hogwarts for the first time, when Ginny was childishly starstruck and Harry youthfully indifferent. In their view, romance should have bloomed sooner between the two, given Harry’s frequent presence at the Burrow and all their subsequent interactions at school, and the only explanation for its sudden onset during the events of Half-Blood Prince is an unnatural one: love potion. 

There was certainly a precedent set for the abuse of love potions within the sixth book: Merope Gaunt drugged handsome Muggle Tom Riddle to make him fall in “love” with her, thereby setting the course for Lord Voldemort’s loveless birth and orphan childhood; Romilda Vane tries to get her hands on The Chosen One with a sneakily dosed box of chocolates, but accidentally ensnares Ron instead. Ginny certainly would have had access to one of love potions the other girls are seen giggling over in her brothers’ joke shop, as well as possessing the wherewithal to brew up her own if necessary.

That’s means and perhaps motive, but what the theory fails to acknowledge is the implicit accusation that Ginny Weasley committed a very serious crime, the magical equivalent of giving someone roofies. While some fans may be perfectly content to accept this version of events, others argue that it undermines one of the story’s core themes: the triumph of love over darkness—the mother’s love that made Harry Potter into the Boy Who Lived, and the absence of it that turned Tom Marvolo Riddle towards evil. All things considered, that’s a harder pill to swallow than a teenage boy suddenly developing a crush on his best friend’s sister.

Rowling put the matter to rest in February 2014, when she confirmed while speaking at Exeter University that “Harry did love Ginny.”


Within the wizarding world, Harry enjoys a particular sort of social privilege: not only is he The Boy Who Lived, he is also the son of James Potter, of the pure-blood Potter family. Due to his Muggle upbringing, Harry pays little notice to his own blood status, let alone anyone else’s. However, wizarding genealogy indicates that the son of Muggle-born Lily Evans and nephew of decidedly unmagical Petunia may belong to an ancestral chain that goes back generations into pure-blood history. Though Rowling mentions James Potter’s parents only in passing as a wealthy couple who had a child quite late in life, some clever fans have connected the dots and think they might know exactly who Mr. and Mrs. Potter are.

The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black exemplifies the most rabid sort of pure-blood family, the kind which kept an elaborate family tree of their exclusively magical lineage dating back to the Middle Ages, and disowned any sons or daughters considered to be “blood traitors.” With their family motto of Toujours pur (“Always/Still pure”), the Blacks took cruel pride in burning off the names of such blood traitors from their family tree, preferring singed holes in the tapestry to acknowledgment of any impurity. Just as the tree links the Black family to the Malfoys, the Weasleys, the Prewetts, and other pure-blood families by marriage, it may also provide a link to Harry Potter himself, by way of Dorea Black’s marriage to Charlus Potter. These two, fans believe, are none other than James Potter’s elderly parents—Harry Potter’s grandparents.

Secondary to this is the possibility that Charlus and Dorea’s unnamed son was James’s father, thereby making Dorea Black Harry’s great-grandmother. Either of these possibilities suggest direct familial relationships between Harry and many of his loved ones: his wife Ginny may be his third cousin; his godfather Sirius his second cousin, twice removed; and Arthur Weasley, Andromeda Tonks, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Draco Malfoy various other forms of cousins. The third possibility is that Charlus Potter was a more distant relative of James Potter, leaving Harry as unentangled with the Noble House of Black as before—but without additional canonical information, each option is as likely as the next. 


As much of a burden as a baby suddenly dropped on your doorstep might be, the Dursleys’ antipathy toward the orphan in their care has always seemed unusually virulent. And while Harry may be an unwanted responsibility thrust upon them, there seems to be no justification for treating him as sub-human—unless some sort of external force were warping their own humanity.

Tumblr user graphicnerdity has proposed a rationale for the Dursley’s horrible behavior that, like all things in the wizarding world, has magical origins: namely, that the Horcrux within Harry is such a powerful negative influence that exposure to it over an extended period of time—say, the entire decade of Harry’s upbringing at Privet Drive—could naturally drive a good person to unkindness, and turn “your garden variety insufferable human beings into horrible, heartless monsters.” If the Horcrux contained in Slytherin’s locket could drive Ron to such jealousy that he would abandon his best friend in the middle of the woods while his life was in constant, immediate danger, it seems entirely plausible that such concentrated Dark Magic could steer the Dursleys to all sorts of atrocities. 

Alas, there’s a more mundane explanation as to why the Dursleys are such terrible people: They just really, really hate Harry. Petunia’s aversion to her nephew clearly stems from resentment of his mother, the magically gifted one of the two Evans sisters, the golden girl who left her dull Muggle sister behind. In Harry, Petunia has a reminder of the fascinating other world she was never permitted to join, staring back at her from green eyes identical to those of the sister she could never compete with.

Vernon, on the other hand, sees in Harry echoes not of his mother, but his father: charming but arrogant James Potter, who managed to offend Vernon once and never had the chance to make up for it, as Rowling revealed in a story published on Pottermore. At an optimistic meet-the-family dinner, Petunia introduced her new fiance to her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, and it all went terribly wrong. Vernon’s attempt to patronize James by asking what car he drove and assuming that all wizards had to live off unemployment benefits led to James’s flippant description of his top-of-the-line racing broom and the family inheritance of solid gold pieces piled up in Gringotts. Unable to win this game of one-upmanship, Vernon and Petunia left in a rage. Though James promised to a tearful Lily that he would make things right, their untimely deaths prevented any sort of reconciliation between the two couples, and so Harry was doomed to a truly terrible childhood. 


This theory can be attributed to a level of close reading that would make any college English professor proud. Sybil Trelawney’s prophecy regarding the relationship between Harry and Voldemort, stored deep in the Department of Mysteries due to its potentially world-changing impact, is very particularly worded, with the relevant portion declaring that “either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.” The obvious interpretation, and the one borne out by the ending of the series, is that Harry is destined to kill or be killed by Voldemort; there is no other way.

There is, however, another way to interpret the prophecy, which Imgur user HPWombat identified: If either Harry or Voldemort must die at the hand of the other, it is conceivable that the one to survive remains immune to death through any other means. Harry vanquished Voldemort, thereby satisfying the condition of the prophecy that indicated he could—but it may be that Harry himself is now effectively immortal. Those familiar with the Greek myth of Tithonus and Eos will immediately recognize the tragedy of such a fate, but there’s an additional twist for Harry: By sacrificing his death, he will never have the opportunity to see his family, even in death. That’s the darkest possible ending by far. 


For all his machinations and questionable morality, Dumbledore unquestionably possessed a fine sense of humor. As fans cast about for a way to justify the Headmaster’s completely uncharacteristic decision to hire flamboyant, self-aggrandizing, preening, insufferable celebrity author Gilderoy Lockhart as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, some of them concluded that he must have done it just for a laugh

It’s a fairly innocuous belief to hold, though it does leave the question open of how responsible it was for Dumbledore to hire a joke candidate for a real teaching position; however, Rowling has stepped in once again to patch up the hole. A character profile of Lockhart on Pottermore reveals the real reason Dumbledore gave such a bumbling fraud a position of authority. He was well aware that Lockhart had been faking his tales of defeating dangerous Dark creatures in far-off lands. Dumbledore had been personally acquainted both with two of the wizards whose accomplishments Lockhart had falsely claimed as his own, and Lockhart’s own failings as a former student at Hogwarts. Rather than attempting to expose him directly, risking the disbelief and knee-jerk support Lockhart’s adoring fanbase would undoubtedly have offered, Dumbledore led Lockhart back to the very same school environment that had once proved him mediocre and waited him to trip over his own feet. 


One rather bonkers theory drastically reinterprets Draco Malfoy’s role in the sixth and seventh books, “Brittany & Nick” claim that Draco Malfoy is a werewolf, and they feel so strongly that this must be true that they’ve bought the domain name to share their theory with everyone.

The first step to convincing other Harry Potter fans of the Werewolf Draco is to debunk a common assumption, or rather, a common misconception: Draco Malfoy is not a Death Eater. Not once is he shown to have the Dark Mark with which the Dark Lord brands all his followers, and although he threateningly reveals “something on his arm” to the shady proprietor of Borgin & Burkes, the explicit omission of what this “something” is indicates that isn’t the first thing to come to mind.

If Draco isn’t a Death Eater, then what physical marking could he have that would scare a hardened proprietor of Dark artifacts into doing his bidding? Brittany and Nick think it's a werewolf bite. In that same interaction with Borgin, Draco even name-drops Fenrir Greyback, “a family friend” and one of Voldemort’s most loyal supporters, who happens to be a bloodthirsty werewolf. That’s not to say that Draco is proud of his new werewolf status, which would account for his unusually sickly appearance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; more likely, he was bitten by Fenrir under Voldemort’s orders, as the ultimate form of punishment for Lucius Malfoy’s repeated failures. (Keep in mind that the elder Malfoy’s mishandling of Tom Riddle’s diary led to the destruction of one-seventh of Voldemort’s very soul, and it seems ludicrous that his only punishment at the Dark Lord’s hands would be house arrest. Rather than punish Lucius directly and lose his unwavering support, it seems rational that Voldemort would instead inflict a horrible fate on Draco, who was more expendable.)

Brittany and Nick's final evidence pointing to the truth of Werewolf Draco is Narcissa Malfoy’s inexplicable decision to turn on the Dark Lord at the final moment, proclaiming Harry Potter to be dead while fully aware that he was yet capable of fighting back. A pure-blood mother to a pure-blood son would have little reason to turn on the leader promising a world built to cater to those just like them—unless her beloved child was somehow tainted, and no longer welcome in the new pure-blood order.

Fans of the films, of course, can easily throw a wrench in this theory by pointing out that on screen, Draco does in fact have the Dark Mark emblazoned on his right inner forearm, as he demonstrates to Dumbledore in the Astronomy Tower. (It's worth noting that the sixth film came out a couple of years after the release of the last book, which is presumably when Brittany and Nick were doing their theorizing.) If the films are considered canon—and, being approved by J.K. Rowling, there is no reason they shouldn’t be—then that single cinematic moment neatly debunks what was once a promising theory. Furthermore, a December 2014 Pottermore update provided some long-awaited backstory for the teenage antagonist, and confirmed that Draco did in fact accept “full membership of the Death Eaters,” determined to return the Malfoy name to its former glory in Voldemort’s regime.

Dark Mark notwithstanding, the events of the war did change Draco: if not from human to werewolf, then from a pureblood elitist to a better man than his father. Though his familial love never wavers, his hatred for Muggles fades, and he marries a fellow Slytherin with similarly reformed views (to his parents’ disappointment). Rowling ultimately expresses “high hopes that he will raise [his son] Scorpius to be a much kinder and tolerant Malfoy than he was in his own youth.” Unlike the werewolf theory, this transformation is for the better.


To the delight of most fans and the smug satisfaction of a select few, Rowling herself has verified a few suspicions over the years. Not the most urgent mystery, but a mystery nonetheless, the true nature of Hermione’s funny-looking orange cat Crookshanks may have frustrated readers who were convinced from the start that Hermione’s pet wasn’t any normal cat. With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and an explicit follow-up on her personal website, Rowling confirmed that Crookshanks was, in fact, half Kneazle: a breed of highly intelligent magical feline with a plumed tail like a lion, capable of breeding with the usual garden-variety, non-magical cat. This explains Harry and Ron’s alarmed reaction upon first seeing Hermione’s fluffy new friend, as it appears to them to be “either a very big cat or quite a small tiger.” Crookshanks’s Kneazle heritage also accounts for his odd behavior, particularly toward Scabbers, Ron’s pet rat, later found to be Peter Pettigrew in his Animagus form; rather than the usual cat-and-mouse rivalry, Crookshanks demonstrated violent intent toward Scabbers because he sensed that he was a fraud. However, still being part cat, Crookshanks mostly occupied himself chasing gnomes, catching spiders, and being petted. Typical.


Much like the Ronbledore theory, the conviction that Minerva McGonagall—Head of Gryffindor House and one of Dumbledore’s most trusted colleagues—is a traitorous Death Eater in disguise deserves some attention not for its validity, but for the sheer audacity of the conclusions it draws from a mountain of minor details. From the very first chapter of Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, Professor McGonagall’s latent “pureblood elitist ideals” are allegedly evident in her dismissal of Muggles as “not completely stupid.” Though uncharitable, a belief in the inherent superiority of wizards over non-wizards is standard within the magical community, and is not necessarily synonymous with the desire to eradicate the entire Muggle population.

Likewise, the theorist finds McGonagall’s taste for Quidditch, a divisive source of house rivalry and ill will, evidence of her latent maliciousness—although her fellow Quidditch fans include the likes of the Weasleys, Madam Hooch, and Oliver Wood, none of whom seem particularly inclined to evil.

Her chosen subject, Transfiguration, the theorist paints as the realm of the “shape shifting and manipulative”—again discounting the fact that Albus Dumbledore began his own illustrious Hogwarts teaching career as the Transfiguration professor. 

The greatest apparent argument that McGonagall must be trafficking with the forces of evil is her seeming disregard for Harry’s safety, as demonstrated by her conscripting him to the Gryffindor Quidditch team, even going so far as to provide him with a top-of-the-line racing broom; failing to prevent the basilisk attacks threatening the school during Chamber of Secrets; and allowing Harry to participate in the potentially fatal Triwizard Tournament. It’s clear that this author has some serious misconceptions about the violence associated with sports, which the overwhelming majority of athletes—both wizard and Muggle—manage to survive largely unscathed on a day-to-day basis, but also about the influence one professor could conceivably have against 1) a deadly magical creature that is, even by magical standards, nearly mythical, and 2) a binding magical contract that not even Dumbledore, a much more accomplished wizard, does not dare attempt to broach. It’s true, then, that she didn’t protect Harry from certain dangers, but it was neither within her purview nor her ability to do so.

Were Professor McGonagall truly the most successful double agent in Hogwarts, she would have to be a terrific actress. While Dame Maggie Smith certainly plays the aged witch with aplomb in the films, the Death Eater theory suggests that there are obvious cracks in McGonagall’s façade in the books. Her emotions are inconsistent with what one might expect at certain major events: while keeping vigil outside the Dursleys’ house immediately after the Potters’ death, she demonstrates few signs of grief, instead appraising the situation bluntly as “all very sad.” She sheds no tears for Cedric Diggory, and moves briskly about moving into Dumbledore’s office and assuming the position of Headmistress after his death. She could simply be called stoic, but she demonstrates deep feeling at other times, as when Harry, Ginny, and Ron emerge from the Chamber: she takes “great, steadying gasps, clutching her chest”—a dramatic reaction, but then again, these three children were covered in blood. At other such horrifying events, she “instantly turns on the waterworks. She turns into a blubbering ball of emotion.”

What, then, to make of this inconsistency? The Death Eater McGonagall theory suggests that it’s all an act, a calculated distraction to hide evil McGonagall’s true depth of disappointment whenever one of the Dark Lord’s murderous plots are thwarted (for instance, when Harry, Ginny, and Ron emerged from the Chamber, it was after destroying one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes—which may have explained why she was gasping). After all, “the other characters […] show their deep emotion in much more simple ways,” in their tone of voice or the touch of a hand or a shedding of a single tear, as opposed to McGonagall “turning into an emotional basket case.” How dare one individual express feelings differently than another? She must be a Death Eater! That, or a human being with a complicated, outwardly unfathomable inner life.

Death Eater McGonagall’s “true” emotions seem to surface in her interactions with one other character: Sybill Trelawney, Professor of Divination and the Seer who conveyed the prophecy that linked Harry’s fate with Voldemort’s. For this reason, the author posits, McGonagall openly demonstrates an extreme dislike for Trelawney, with a “childish” contempt for her colleague that can’t otherwise be explained—except as disdain for her ineptitude as a teacher, disgust for such useless practices being taught in an educational setting, and an irreconcilable clash of personalities. Disliking someone, after all, doesn’t make you a Death Eater, and as the events of Deathly Hallows prove, Minerva McGonagall was the furthest thing from one.

A version of this story ran in 2015.

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Warner Bros.
Everything That’s Leaving Netflix in April
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

If you’ve been desperately trying to plan a Batman movie marathon with your friends, you’d better make it happen quickly. As of April 1, Netflix will no longer be streaming Tim Burton’s stylish 1989 reimagining of the Caped Crusader. (They’ll be eliminating Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin, too—though you may not care as much about those latter two efforts.) In order to make room for the dozens of new movies, TV series, and specials making their way to Netflix in April, here’s everything that’s leaving the streaming giant’s library.


30 Days of Night

88 Minutes

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

American Pie

American Pie 2

Apollo 13


Batman & Robin

Batman Forever

Batman Returns


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Cool Runnings

Death Sentence

Dolphin Tale

Eagle vs. Shark

John Mulaney: New in Town

Never Let Me Go

Set Up

Small Soldiers

The Dukes of Hazzard

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Pursuit of Happyness

The Shawshank Redemption

The Whole Nine Yards

Wild Wild West


Starry Eyes


The Hallow

The Nightingale


The Emperor’s New Clothes


Happy Tree Friends

Leap Year


Son of God


Z Storm


The Exorcism of Molly Hartley


The Prestige


Exit Through the Gift Shop


Kung Fu Panda 3


Begin Again


More from mental floss studios