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The hotel minibar, long a repository of familiar goods at very unfamiliar prices may not be completely dead, but it is ailing.
Minibar sales data validates this notion to an extent, but that hasn’t stopped several global chains from ordering new tech savvy minibars and rethinking the kinds of products to stock them with. Bartech, a minibar company leading this charge, has its minibars in hotels across 60 countries including 180 in the U.S. These include Four Seasons, Dreams hotels, Hard Rock, Hilton, InterContinental, Mandarin Oriental, Ritz Carlton, and all MGM luxury properties.
It’s no coincidence that this list skews towards the luxury and upscale segments because that’s historically where the minibar had the most success. That was decades ago when hotel bars weren’t as lively or inviting as they are now, and lobbies weren’t designed for hanging out for a drink with friends, colleagues, or locals. The renaissance of both of these places made kicking back in a private room with a cold beer and bag of chips seem less attractive.
But luxury travelers still value the privacy of their rooms as well, and Bartech said luxury and upscale brands are definitely who they sell to the most while the company markets its minibars across all segments.
“Given the poor results hotels have experienced with traditional minibars, midscale hotels are now very hesitant to even entertain the idea of a minibar in their hotel,” said Pierre Agrario, VP of account management at Bartech, “This is really just a matter of product pricing because they could have the amenity and still return on their investment.”
“If midscale and economy hotels were ready to lower [prices of products in minibars] since they now have an efficient and profitable operation guests would consume their products. We are constantly trying to market to midscale hotels but many of them consider minibars not to be part of their brand standard.”
Getting Minibars in Midscale
Agrario said he feels numerous properties aren’t educated enough to understand that newer automatic minibars it sells, which are generally two to three times more expensive than traditional minibars, are worth the investment in midscale hotels. Automatic minibars track which products a guest has consumed and links purchases to their accounts rather than a staff member manually doing that, for example.
“Even though our minibar system allows hotels to lower product prices, most hotels prefer keeping prices high and maximize profit,” said Agrario. “By doing so and by keeping this mentality, hoteliers are interested in minibars only if the room rate can support it.”
“For example, if the room rate is $100, it is very unlikely for a guest staying in that room to consume a $5 soda. On the other hand, if the room rate is $500, these types of guests will not mind paying $5 for a soda.”
As this chart shows, revenues for hotel bars and lounges were higher than minibars, room service and hotel restaurants as of 2012, the most recent year data is available from PKF Hospitality Research. In a 2013 TripAdvisor survey travelers indicated that minibars were one of the least important amenities in hotels.
Source: PKF Hospitality Research
Bartech has developed new products specifically adapted for the midscale segment such as its SmarTray and NeoTray. These minibars aren’t the flashier automatic products Bartech sells as the NeoTray includes 15 products on a tray with a lockable lid, for example.
Its automatic minibars are meant to complement existing room furniture and design while making minibars more visible to guests rather than tucked away in a cabinet or closet. These include the eDrawer (pictured above), in which products aren’t visible unless guests pull open the drawer to the minibar.The e-drawer’s front panel is removable so hotels can install a front panel that better reflects the design of their rooms or increases product visibility. The DD46 has a traditional design and displays products more clearly (pictured below).
“I don’t have many statistics for either unit yet as they are new but when a minibar door has the same finish as other furniture in the room its visibility to the guest is low and in turn yields lowers sales,” said Agrario. “However, if an eDrawer has a distinct finish from the rest of the cabinet, consumption has shown to increase impulse sales by up to 30%.”
The photo below shows an older minibar at the Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey that Skift visited earlier this week:
What Hotels Say About Minibars
Both the Four Seasons Seattle and Ritz Carlton San Francisco use Bartech’s minibars and say they’re turning to local products to fill them. The idea is that along with the fresher designs guests will feel more compelled to consume products if they think there’s a location connection to Seattle or San Francisco.
“The sales for local products have seen the fastest growth, such as the Fremont Mischief Distillery’s Whiskey, L’Ecole N° 41 wine and beer from Pike Brewing company,” said Bernhard Duerrmeier, the hotel’s director of food and beverage.
“The beverage with the most sales is Fiji water despite the fact that we offer complimentary bottled water during turn-down service and when the guest enters or leaves the hotel, as well as flavored water in the fitness center and in the lobby. For alcohol Grey Goose is a popular choice. In the past, we promoted an in-room happy hour when guests received a discount of items in the minibar from 3 to 5 pm.”
The Ritz Carlton San Francisco said using automatic minibars has made work easier for its staff and led to smarter experiences for guests.
“We are using the eFridge and the two-tiered eTray and the technology allows for charges to go directly to the guest’s folio and informs our staff which rooms need to be attended to and which products need to be replaced,” said Mwanza Major, assistant food and beverage manager at the Ritz Carlton San Francisco. “This improved the efficiency of our minibar service and the ability to have the product visible for the guests is key.”