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People Are Losing It After Finding Out A Hotel Marked Up A Grocery Store Dinner By $16 On Its "Chef-Driven" Menu

Hotel food markups probably come as a surprise to no one — room service and a few minibar snacks can quickly run you dry. For hotel guest Elle McLemore (@elle_pooh), that high markup rang in at about $16 when she discovered that her hotel seemingly passed off a $3.79 frozen bag of Trader Joe's cacio e pepe pasta as a luxurious $20 meal.

Text overlaid on image of room service food reads: "When you accidentally find out your expensive room service is from Trader Joe's"
@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

In her video, the 32-year-old actor shows the "expensive room service" she and her husband ordered, along with a close-up shot of her bowl of cacio e pepe. It then quickly changes to a shot of the "communal fridge" in the hotel, which boasts a stockpile of frozen Trader Joe's cacio e pepe products.

A bowl of cacio e pepe pasta
A bowl of cacio e pepe pasta
A person's hand opens a refrigerator drawer containing Trader Joe's cacio e pepe pasta
A person's hand opens a refrigerator drawer containing Trader Joe's cacio e pepe pasta

@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

For those unfamiliar with this popular Italian pasta dish, it literally translates to "cheese and pepper" and traditionally contains grated pecorino Romano cheese, lots of freshly cracked pepper, and a long pasta shape, like spaghetti.

Elle told People magazine that she originally booked the hotel for her husband's birthday after noting on the website that "they have a private chef who makes culinary meals that cater to dietary needs." She said the menu was marketed as "chef-driven," featuring "original artisan food." On the menu, the $20 dish was labeled, "Calming Cacio e Pepe Pasta with Truffle Oil."

Menu highlighting cacio e pepe pasta with truffle oil at $20; includes laughing emoji
@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

The discovery was made by Elle's husband, Josh, who was searching for coffee creamer when he spotted the communal fridge. Elle told BuzzFeed that the fridge was in a "traditional kitchen where the continental breakfast buffet was held on the island." She clarified that since it was next to where the food was set out, her husband had no reason to believe it was for employees only or off-limits in any way.

A fridge stocked with multiple packs of prepared sandwiches and meal boxes, some marked with discount stickers

Elle admitted that had she not found out about the behind-the-scenes details of the meal, she probably wouldn't have guessed that the pasta was frozen; she mentioned that cacio e pepe was her favorite dish when she traveled to Italy. "If you have had pasta in Italy, you might agree that the pasta tastes simpler and less salty there than in America. So when I tasted this one, I thought the slight blandness was possibly due to being authentic," she explained.

She was also "thrilled" with the presentation but noted that the other meals they had, a vegetable flatbread and a lava cake, were "worse than the pasta." She also noticed the high price of the snacks in the room, which she described as "just a couple tiny generic grocery store–brand items."

While the staff didn't explicitly talk about their "chef-driven" menu with their guests, Elle said that it was clear that the food and overall "wellness" experience was something the hotel was proud of. "They definitely take pride in it, saying they have food that nourishes the body and soul, which is so funny to us now," she mentioned. She also told BuzzFeed that they didn't bring up their surprising discovery to any of the staff.

Hand holding a Trader Joe's Spaghetti cacio e pepe package in a store aisle; price is $3.79, captioned, "Thought it tasted familiar"
@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

Even though Elle found this whole experience to be a "funny thing that happened on a vacation" and is choosing to see the humor in all of it, a few commenters on her video expressed their frustration on her behalf. "I would've lost my mind ngl," one user wrote.

A TikTok comment that reads, "I would've lost my mind ngl"
@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

"what a trader joke," another wrote.

A user commenting "what a trader joke," followed by another responding with laughter
@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

Others shared their own experience of being deceived in restaurants by seemingly high-quality foods. One user claimed that an $8 croissant at a "fancy morning spot" they went to was, in fact, from Costco.

A TikTok comment about being charged $8 croissant at a "fancy morning spot" and later spotting a box of them from Costco
@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

A few also justified the price and choice to serve a frozen meal. In response to those comments, Elle clarified, "We do think a business should be able to charge and serve whatever they want," and she said she never intended for this story to gain the attention that it did.

Comment on food pricing, mentioning wider costs like wages for person buying and making/delivering it, plus gas: "it's $4 at TJs because you aren't paying anyone to make it for you"
@elle_pooh / Via tiktok.com

Funnily enough, Elle's video has also solidified people's love for TJ's frozen pasta. "We love Trader Joe's and have had many people reach out to us and buy the product based off the fact it was good enough for room service!" she said. When the story made its way over to the r/traderjoes subreddit, people certainly were hyping up the cacio e pepe. One user even claimed it "tastes the same" as it would in a restaurant.

A screenshot of an online comment praising frozen cacio e pepe for easy, delicious meals, saying it "ruined restaurant cacio pepe for me bc it tastes the same lol"
u/grey_leg_face_man / Via reddit.com

The biggest lesson Elle has learned from this whole ordeal is that presentation is everything. "This experience has inspired me to think of creative ways of tricking my husband into thinking I am a chef. I’ll just make sure to add more salt to his TJ’s cacio e pepe next time," she joked.

How would you react to receiving a Trader Joe's frozen meal for room service? Let us hear it in the comments!