Managing minibars through mobile devices

Mobile apps can help hotel operators manage many minibar functions, such as posting.
Mobile apps can help hotel operators manage many minibar functions, such as posting.

Mobile apps can help hotel operators manage many minibar functions, such as posting.

Mobile apps also are giving minibar managers and attendants new ways to control inventory and manage billing.

“The idea of having a mobile application is to facilitate all the daily tasks of the minibar attendant,” said Christelle Pigeat, CEO and VP of sales and marketing at minibar solutions provider Mobile Simple. Managing minibars through a mobile device allows attendants to keep their hands free most of the time for working with stock, Pigeat said. Additionally, functions like one-click posting, expiration date tracking and dynamic room dispatch improves workflow by speeding up the process it takes to refill a minibar and ensuring that attendants only visit minibars that require action.

“We’ve moved everything over to mobile,” said Walt Strasser, EVP at Minibar Systems. Originally, in many systems attendants used a handheld unit to track workflow, but now the company offers a browser-based solution.

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“Rather than being an app based on a tablet, we’ve made it browser-based on the tablet,” said Strasser. A browser-based solution does not have to be specific to one mobile operating system, and it is easier to add functionality, Strasser said.

“We use a cloud-based application, so hotels can just download and subscribe,” said Michele Crociani, business development manager, hospitality division at refrigeration systems company Indel B.

Managing minibars through mobile devices in this way also allows companies to continue building in business intelligence functions.

“Hotels can get a big advantage in terms of pricing,” said Crociani. “They can track immediately what products were the best-sellers and what products produced the most revenue.”

Many mobile apps offer inventory control and room status updates.

Many mobile apps offer inventory control and room status updates.

At the same time, mobile solutions need to be designed to take into account all the minor operational factors that can happen when restocking a minibar.

“If we go to a room and charge a guest for a Coke, and the attendant doesn’t have a Coke to refill, what happens when a second attendant goes and charges again?” said Strasser. “You have to account for all of the what-if scenarios.”

Bridging the gap between automatic and manual functions

Mobile apps are providing hoteliers ways to manage both automatic and manual minibars, but apps affect management of each solution in different ways.

The functions a mobile application handles can differ depending on if it is designed to work with a manual or an automatic minibar. “The mobile software is different than the one we do for automatic—that is much more complex,” said Bruno Agrario, VP sales and marketing at minibar provider Bartech. “We have maintenance tools so that if the minibar were to break down, the automatic version of the software would email the right department automatically. For a manual minibar, an attendant in the room would log that information into the tablet and send it to the right person.”

Mobile apps can manage charges to a guest’s folio.

Mobile apps can manage charges to a guest’s folio.

Mobile technology can also affect automated posting and the problem of erroneous charges. “What’s really automatic about automated minibars is posting,” said Christelle Pigeat, CEO and VP of sales and marketing at minibar solutions provider Mobile Simple. But automatic posting can generate erroneous charges, which can be a problem in an age when guests are quick to take to social media to complain, said Pigeat.

“Before, you always had a paper invoice before you left, so you had a chance to notify the desk receptionist of an error,” said Pigeat. “Now, if a guest can check-out without going to the counter, they may not realize they’ve been charged until after they leave, and then they have to go back and call the hotel.”

At the same time, mobile devices can allow an attendant to swiftly issue a credit when they see that an item has simply been picked up and put down again. “Even before we moved to tablets, any replacements that were moved but not taken could be issued a credit on the PDA, so they didn’t need to deal with it later,” said Walt Strasser, EVP, Minibar Systems. “They deal with it in real time during the refill process.”

Guest preferences factor in to minibar profitability

Technology may make the processes of maintaining and recording minibar inventory simpler, but the best way to generate revenue at the end of the day is to offer products guests are willing to pay for.

Increasingly, hotels are extending their brand message to the minibar and working with suppliers to stock the shelves with products that best fit their guest demographic.

Here’s a roundup of some hotels that make the minibar part of the brand message:

1 New York’s Loews Regency just wrapped up a promotion called “milk the minibar,” where guests could pay an additional $30 per night for free access to everything in the minibar—a $550 value, according to the hotel.

2 North Block Hotel in Yountville, Calif., stocks a DIY martini set that features locally distilled vodka and house-cured olives.

3 The Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe’s executive chef in 2013 rolled out a minibar program that included locally brewed beers, spirits and wines.

4 The boutique HotelRED in Madison, Wisc., stocks local craft beers, spirits brewed in Wisconsin and even locally made snacks. In-room cocktail recipe books round out the experience.

28 percent

▶ Minibar sales took a tumble between 2008 and 2012, dropping 28 percent, according to a PKF Hospitality Research report from April.

It’s no surprise that as hotel F&B trends evolve, the popularity of guestroom minibars ebbs and flows. Today’s savvy hoteliers are mixing technology with their knowledge of guest preference to develop minibar products and amenity offerings that entice guests to open their wallets.

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