What is the Future of Hotel Minibar?

The Wall Street Journal featured an interesting story about hotel minibar (report + video). For decades, hotel minibar was a must-have amenity for hotels. Now, things have changed. Hoteliers are taking the minibar concept to two directions.

Some hotels (mostly limited service hotels) get rid of the minibars. From the operation standpoint, it does not seem worthy of keeping a minibar because the labor costs of purchasing, managing inventory, and preventing thefts are not cheap --- this is one of the reasons why hotels have to put a higher price tag on the minibar items. From the traveler standpoint, not everyone wants to pay a high price for food and beverage items in the minibar. Accordingly, some hotels replace the in-room minibar concept with the lobby mini-market concept.

Another group of hotels, mostly in the luxury or boutique hotel segment, customizes the minibar with a local flavor or makes it free for guests. For example, travelers can find ham-flavored Chilean almonds in the Ritz-Carlton, Santiago, and the Grand Canyon Pilsner, a local brew, in The Enchantment Resort, Sedona, Arizona. The soft drinks and snacks are free in Hyatt’s Andaz hotels, which is call “Bartech’s eCube.”

No matter if it is a mini-market or a mini-bar concept, it is retail business for hotels. Category management can be helpful in analyzing the sales. According to The Wall Street Journal, the best sellers are:
  • Bottle water: No. 1 selling drink 
  • Diet Coke: No. 2 selling drink 
  • Pringles potato chips: No. 1 selling snack 
  • M&M’s: Contributes to 7% of Omni Hotel’s minibar revenue
Another interesting discussion is that some hotels use sensors to control the minibar items. I visited the W Hotel on Lexington between E 49th St and E 50th St, which installed sensors for the minibars. If an item is removed, a charge will be posted to the room automatically. Personally, I do not think it is a good idea of using sensors in minibars; there are better places for sensors. As a hotel guest, I would feel that the hotel is “watching” me for every move I make. Moreover, guests may move the items to another place, or take a look at the items and then decide not to buy them. Thanks to the “smart” sensors, charges will be posted. Then, the guests will have to dispute the charges later.

In your experience, what are your favorite items or the most interesting items you have seen in a hotel minibar? In your opinions, what is the future for hotel minibar?



References:
A. Petersen (September 14, 2011). Cracking open the hotel minibar. The Wall Street Journal, D1 & D2. Online access through http://on.wsj.com/qHDp0r.
The picture of Bartech’s eCube was downloaded from HotelOnline.com.

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