When deciding whether to grab the Pringles or the M&Ms out of the minibar for something to munch on while watching TV before bed, most guests don’t research background information, form a hypothesis and analyze the results of the decision. But contrary to the spontaneous actions of the consumer, what products are available for purchase from hotel minibars is in fact an exact science.
Minibar vendors are constantly gathering product sales information, updating extensive databases and breaking revenue down into sales statistics to determine what snacks to stock that will be most profitable for the hotelier.
“If you sell an average of 12 Cokes per year, and we know a can of Coke comes with a shelf life of nine months, we know you won’t have to worry about a can expiring,” said Sandeep Sharma, VP, account management, Minibar Systems. “All of this information is available and it positions us very well when we are able to share it with the hotelier.”
Deciding what goes in a minibar is a joint decision between the minibar vendor and the hotel—typically the F&B manager and the purchasing department—but typically the minibar menu is pretty standard.
Sharma said there are three main factors when deciding a menu: brand-name recognition, shelf life and product mix.
“Typically the minibar product tends to sit on the shelf a little longer,” Sharma said. “Twenty to 25 percent of occupied rooms will use the minibar. The remaining 75 percent probably will not. We try to ensure the product that goes in has the longest shelf life as possible.”
The ideal minibar will have a mix of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, a mix of sweet and salty snacks and a mix of premium and lower-end brands, said Richard Loughner, regional sales manager at Dometic.
“Water is 2-1 the best seller,” he said. “Vodka is 2-1 over the next-best alcohol.”
Loughner said Dometic can provide plenty of data to the hotel to see what sells in certain markets. When discussing similar deployments, “we won’t give out the name of the hotel but we will give the geographic location and what kind of hotel it is,” he said.
Straying from the norm
Although hoteliers who want to offer different items and lesser-known brands in their minibars are typically discouraged from doing so, there are some instances when straying from the norm makes sense.
For instance, boutique hotels in primary markets like New York City have had success selling intimacy kits or a toothbrush/toothpaste package.
Third-party packaging companies will take a well-known snack brand and repackage it in a custom box that represents the hotel. These packages are increasing in popularity, especially at the higher-end hotels.
Sharma said he is “very confident” that the formula for what sells the most and what brings in the most profit is pretty straightforward. If a hotel wants to stray from the typical menu, Minibar Systems will research whether similar items have been tried in similar markets in the past, and present that data to the hotel.
“We’ll say, ‘look, we’ve tried this before and here are the statistics,’” he said. “If it’s something they still want to do, we recommend instead of a full-fledged menu change that maybe they test it on a few floors first and see what kind of revenue it is generating.”
Loughner said typically a hotel will re-evaluate its product offering annually. There are certain instances, though, where seasonal items can be swapped in and out mid-year.
“Hotels in New York will sell Yankees baseball caps during baseball season but not during the winter,” he said.
Loughner said there are certain items that simply do not sell anymore: pop-up maps and disposable cameras, for example.
“The Internet has definitely had an effect on minibars,” he said.