Has the Mini Bar Had its Day?

Dale Dyck

In this recent blogpost, Canadian hospitality professional Dale Dyck of consultancy firm Hospitality Re-Defined takes a look at the mini bar and questions whether it still has a place in modern hotels.

Dyck, a former front office manager, lists some of the operational inconveniences that can result from mini bars before querying why hotels still use them.

“I could not help but wonder why anyone would want to have mini bars in their hotels anymore? (Or why they ever did for that matter). They have never been money makers, not with all of the associated labour required to stock and re-stock them, as well as the challenge of keeping stock fresh and properly rotated,” he says. “In short, mini bars are just more trouble than they're worth.”

Are mini bars still relevant to today’s hotel business? Hotel Management Asia asked hoteliers for their views.

How useful mini bars are depends on the type of hotel they are located in and there is no set rule, believes Kai Speth, general manager of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi.

“I personally feel that in many hotels a mini bar is obsolete, too costly to maintain, whilst in some locations it still has solid validity,” he says.

“In city centre hotels I believe a mini bar is a thing of the past...guests use room service, bars are open everywhere until late or simply many hotels have started to include a free basic bar in the room. Customers stay away because of the crazy prices one has to charge to make a mini bar viable, so they go to 24-hour shops, remove the mini bar content to store their own products.

“[However], in certain resorts and remote locations where there is no alcohol service etc, I think we still very much need them. Airport hotels, for example, when guest arrive late at night and all facilities are closed, [in this case] I believe a mini bar still works and is justified.”

John Gardner, general manager of the Caravelle Hotel in Vietnam, says mini bars form part of a guest’s expectations of their hotel visit.

“In my view, mini bars are most relevant in hotel rooms as a generic statement. Guests expect them to be there. Whether they draw from them or not, you as a hotelier have a responsibility to meet those expectations. But you also have a responsibility to ensure their relevance to the guest.”

Like Speth, Gardner stresses that the mini bar is more of an essential to some hotels than others.

“In a resort setting, an extensive mini bar is very convenient and very useful, especially if the bar itself includes such items as sun screen, mosquito repellent, and other practical amenities in addition to the usual food and beverage items. But for a city hotel that handles a lot of corporate business, a less extensive mini bar is required.

What does this guest want? A cold beer at the end of the workday as he puts his feet up and checks in on the BBC or CNN, a glass of wine before dinner.”

“They are useful. They are convenient. And the revenue generated is not insignificant to our total food and beverage revenue. They are good money spinners,” Gardner adds.

The solution to mini bar inconveniences argues Jan Willem Strijker, managing director Asia Pacific of mini bar supplier Bartech, is to use automatic mini bars.

“Hotels, most certainly in the four- and five-star category, are obliged to give guests the convenience of a properly and well-stocked mini bar. The only solution to the problems mentioned in the article [by Dyck] is automatic mini bars.”

Bartech says its automatic minibars offer a charge time delay allowing guests to touch items without being charged and also provide guests with courtesy shelves, enabling them to store personal items without having to remove items from sensors and thus incurring unwanted charges. Strijker claims automatic mini bars can produce a 75% reduced staff costing.

“A properly installed and managed Bartech solution results in a two to three-year return on investment period, making the expenditure in an automatic system profitable, whereas an investment in a manual mini bar is loss making from day one,” he concludes.

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