Forty years ago, minibars were like first aid kits for exhausted business travelers, with drinks and snacks. Now, attempts are underway to revive the once indispensable amenity’s popularity – with tech solutions being at the forefront.
Text: Laura Myers // Fotos: iStock, Bartech
TThe automatic minibar simplifies maintenance and billing by sending purchase information directly to the guests’ folio. Hospitality technology expert Professor Ian Millar at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne notes, “Automatic minibars are accurate when a product is taken. They are really an advantage as management knows remotely which minibar has been opened. It reduces staffing.” Minibar companies use various sensor mechanisms to detect removal of an item. “The flexible menu software allows hotels to sell whatever they want as long as the product covers a sensor,” says Walt Strasser, VP of Sales and Marketing at manufacturer Minibar Systems. Currently, they run via wired, wireless or ethernet to the PMS. On the radar for automatic minibar systems is using a Cloud PMS. Most systems allow 10 to 60 seconds to return the item before being charged.
“Trays with non-perishable items are visible, create impulse-buying and can be placed anywhere in the room. “The eTray seems to be very popular. It costs a fraction of a full minibar offering and returns on the investment are very fast,” says Pierre Agrario, VP of Accounts Management at manufacturer Bartech in Las Vegas. The drawer model permits a more discreet minibar option.
Theft concerns are better handled by the automatic systems. “Being connected to the PMS at all times, the minibars automatically lock when the room is vacant. This reduces theft mostly from the hotel staff,” adds Agrario.
“Delivery robots pose a strong alternative to minibars.” says Associate Professor Mehmet Erdem of Hotel Operations & Tech, College of Hospitality, at the University of Las Vegas. “Using tablet or voice technology, guests can order room service. Current implementation of robots, such as butler robots at the MGM Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, indicate a strong preference by guests to use such technology to order room service.” Robots, by Robotise or Savioke, have an interactive display for guests, can offer refrigerated drawers and are stocked by staff with the guest’s ordered items which can be anything from toothpaste to cigars to a bikini. They are programmed to deliver autonomously directly to the guests’ door with a notification phone call prior to arrival.
A few hotels offer guests to pre-select what they would like stocked in their minibar. Mehmet Erdem notes “as data mining becomes more available to hotels, they are beginning to understand the value of offering a customized experience for each guest; especially their loyal guests.”
Lobby stores with glass door refrigerators offer point of purchase items next to the reception desk. They can even be stocked with freshly prepared sandwiches, fruit or salads. Popular in larger cities are delivery take-out services, such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo so that guests can order their own food. All you need to do is have the delivery service option information available for your guest.
You, or your guests, can create what goes into their minibar. Ian Millar indicates, “Some hotels have looked to differentiate themselves offering alternative items in the minibar, like beauty products, trendy food items and cool vintage games.” More hotels are stocking with regional or organic products. Others are providing black bow ties, popcorn makers, charging plugs or sleeping aid kits. Elizabeth Jones, President of In-Room Plus, a minibar item supplier says “many of our business properties order First Aid or Hangover kits. After long days of travel and work plus the after-hours networking, you likely need a Band-Aid for your sore feet, pain relief for your head and a vitamin packet to get you going the next day!”
If any of this does not seem to be enough, you can go all out: Hotels like The Nobu in Miami Beach spoil guests with a maxi-bar which is a chic cart delivered to the room with premium spirits, garnishes and a drink recipe book. One can even summon a cocktail butler to mix fresh cocktails at the door.