Will robots ever replace guestroom minibars?

Savioke's Relay being loaded for a delivery.

This article is part one of a three-part series on hotel minibars.

Robots are being found in more and more hotels, but experts have mixed opinions on whether they will replace the traditional guestroom minibars someday or just augment a hotel’s overall food-and-beverage operations.

Savioke, a company that creates autonomous robot helpers, has units in several hotels, primarily in California, that provide many services, including food delivery.

“Our delivery robots are providing all the benefits of a traditional hotel minibar without the headaches hotels commonly face like spoilage and theft,” said Savioke’s CEO Steve Cousins. “With Relay delivery robots, hotels can offer their guests anything in the pantry or gift shop and then deliver those items directly to the guestroom in typically less than five minutes.  And Relay cheerfully works 24/7, so guests can satisfy their late-night cravings without paying the high mark-up found with minibar items—and no tipping required.”

In lieu of minibars, all Aloft Hotels all are equipped with re:fuel, a stocked food-and-beverage area that is located in every hotel lobby. Hotels equipped with the brand’s robotic concierge, Botlr, can deliver items from re:fuel in a way that is fun and also frees up the time of the front desk, said Paige Francis, VP of global brand management for Aloft Hotels. “It’s an Aloft take on room service—guests simply need to dial down to the front desk, ask for a snack and Botlr can whiz up to the guest’s room, all on its own,” she said. “Once it arrives, it calls the guestroom to alert them of its arrival.”

Butler robots are great example where robots could provide great service delivery, said Cristelle Pigeat, CEO and VP of sales and marketing for Mobile Simple. “Imagine a guest making a specific request at 3 a.m. using the guest-facing in-room dining mobile app,” she said. “At 3:10 a.m., the in-room guest phone rings, the guest picks up the phone and [hears] ‘Hello, I’m Sam, your butler, and I’m in front of your door.’”

Innovation and technology have contributed to automating a lot of tasks, Pigeat said. “In hospitality, an industry founded on human interaction and personalization, both innovation and technology have highly contributed to enhance guest experience and increase staff efficiency,” she said. “It is clear that hotels are looking to incorporate robots in their operations, such a humanoid robots to handle concierge tasks. However, it is more than unlikely that they will replace all jobs but will be a great compliment for all repetitive and mechanic tasks.

“I see them more than a service added to complement a specific department. Can robots increase staff efficiency while increasing service delivery and guest satisfaction? The future will tell.”

Pierre Agrario, VP of account management and major accounts for Bartech, doesn’t believe robots will ever replace traditional minibars but robots will have a role related to minibars.

“They could make good minibar refillers in the future,” he said. “Bartech has started exploring the possibility of using robots to refill automatic minibars in conjunction with its management software. However, robotic technology remains expensive and hotels would not make a return on their investment for their minibar operation.”

Having a robot deliver products to guestrooms sounds like a good idea, but Bartech has found that minibar operations rely heavily on impulse sales. Robots would add a barrier between the guest and the product and significantly drive revenue down. Minibars offer instant gratification, while placing an order and waiting for delivery would be much more like calling roomservice, Agrario said.

Indel B’s business development manager Michele Crociani believes the privacy issue will keep minibars in guestrooms. “The hotel room concept is home away from home—what guest wants his or her privacy interrupted by a robot knocking at the door with a bottle of water?” he said.