Wherefore Art Thou, Minibar?
By Beachwood Custom
Wednesday, 31st October 2018

Forget the soda and peanuts: What kind of experience can you pull out of the minibar? Is the minibar on the way to joining room keys in the Museum of Hotel Artifacts? The New York Times thinks so, along with closets and desks, however not so fast, says GQ magazine, which says they’re becoming tiny destination bars that can serve you in your bathrobe.

If the minibar is to stage a comeback, it’s definitely got to get past the stereotype of the tiny refrigerator where you’ll find exorbitantly priced international symbols like Coca Cola and Budweiser stashed to slake your thirst.

Humble beginnings?

We have Hong Kong to thank for the refrigerated minibar. A Hilton food and beverage director took on an experiment which helped the chain see a 5% increase in profits after adding a minibar to each of the 800 rooms in its Hong Kong property.

Perhaps it was the novelty of dispensing with room service, but the trend caught on. The high prices live on, but it seems that the profits were short-lived. Currently, minibar beverages account for just 0.2% of food and beverage revenue (double that to 0.4% if you add food revenue from minibars).

Hotels have struggled to find ways to make the minibar both relevant and a revenue-maker. Australian website traveler.com.au explains that minibars take up space, consume energy, and are a debt burden because of the time they rob from the staff to restock and monitor use.

Plus, guests say they just don’t put much priority on the minibar anymore. MSN reports that InterContinental Hotels Group surveyed guests and discovered only 1% thought the minibar was the most important feature of a room, while 61% said it was WiFi. TripAdvisor survey respondents, meanwhile, placed the minibar dead-last in terms of importance.

Room temperature replacements

Some hotels have taken an unrefrigerated approach to making the minibar palatable and profitable. You aren’t tempted by what you can’t see. Why not put those snacks – which don’t need to be refrigerated – on a counter where they can be seen? Hotel News Now reports that companies are growing their offerings of technology incorporates digital tablets and displays to feature what’s available inside the minibar.

Other hotels have opted to dispense completely with their minibars. They’re replacing them with technology powered solutions like the Bartech eTray. It can be placed anywhere in a hotel guest room and uses infrared product detection. The website ehotelier.com reports that solutions like this can cost just a quarter of the price of a traditional refrigerated minibar.

Opportunity knocks, as a minibar

Thanks to Millennials and their quest to extract experience from a hotel stay, the visitor industry has an opportunity to reposition the mission of the minibar. It can be the perfect place to share drinkable (and edible) examples of what’s local.

GQ’s earlier article points out that hotels looking to connect visitors with locality are stocking them with spirits created in the area. And, who cares if you’ve got the ingredients – do you know how to make a Manhattan? Hotels are connecting the dots, adding shakers and other cocktail accoutrements.

One of the most interesting minibar innovations was recently covered by the Los Angeles Times, which reports that the Standard International hotel chain plans to stock its minibars with CBD-infused gourmet gumdrops, created for them by the cannabis brand Lord Jones.

These new approaches show that there might be more for the minibar to offer when hotels seek ways to connect the role it plays in the guest experience. Can it provide convenience at a justifiable price? Perhaps, stocked with the right things. It might have a better opportunity helping a hotel communicate to a deeper understanding of the location and its history. Today’s visitor is thirsty for more of it.

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