Fed up with high prices, most hotel guests avoid consuming products from hotel mini-bars. As a result, an increasing number of hotels are dropping the concept. Is there an alternative?
This mini-bar at Samabe in Bali offers complimentary soft drinks, fruit juice, and beer. It also has an ample counter on which to prepare drinks. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.
One of the top pet peeves of travellers is hotel mini bars charging exhorbitant prices. And an increasing number of hotels are scrapping the concept owing to rising costs and shrinking demand.
If hotel mini-bars are on the way out, I say, "Good riddance!!!" Could we please just have mini-marts with standard prices in hotel lobbies instead???
I once spent the night a posh hotel in Macau, where rooms could easily cost US$500 to US$600 a night.
The room was stylish and comfortable, with all of the latest mod-coms. But my mouth dropped open when I looked at the mini-bar and saw a hi-tech infrared system that was used to record purchases.
You were allowed so many seconds to examine something. If you didn't return it within the alloted time, you would be charged - even if you didn't consume it!
Compare that to a resort I stayed at in Phuket, which was in the same price range. There was more than a mini-bar. There was a full-size refrigerator, and everything in it was complimentary.
Mini Bars 101
The mini bar at Chedi Club offers a complimentary selection of soft drinks, fruit juice, and beer. Complimentary vodka and whiskey is also served in carafes. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.
The mini-bar was invented by a German company in the early 1960s and enjoyed an initial success.
Hotels liked them because they brought in venue, and hotel guests liked them because of the convenience. At the time, of course, many hotel guests were on expense accounts so they didn't really care. But that was then.
Hilton Hotels started stocking mini-bars with alcoholic beverages in 1974, and their popularity grew yet further.
Over time, however, hotel guests started growing tired of the high markups. And many times hotel guests have felt cheated when they opened a container of Pringles and discovered that a plastic insert accounted for half of the space.
Not only were you paying 4 times as much as you'd pay at the supermarket, you were also getting about one-third of what you were expecting.
According to research by PKF Consulting USA, mini-bar revenue in the United States dropped by 28% from 2007 through 2012. If anyone is surprised, it is only that the drop wasn't steeper!
A survey conducted by Go Airport Express and The GO Group, LLC, reveals that more than 70% of hotel guests never consume hotel mini-bar products, with 20% of them doing so only sometimes or occasionally. A mere 4% admit to doing so on a regular basis.
Hotel Mini Marts
Many hotels in Japan have direct access to mini-marts such as this one. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.
During a trip to Bali a few years back, I stayed at 4 star hotel for 3 nights. As the attendant was showing me the room, he opened a cabinet and said, "Here is your mini-bar."
When I opened the refrigerator, it was empty. "Where's all the stuff?" I asked.
"In the lobby. There's a mini-mart in the lobby. Buy whatever you want and put it in the mini-bar."
What a pleasant surprise! I couldn't wait to check the mini-mart out. As it turned out, the mini-mart sold everything you would normally find in a mini-bar, but ...
- The selection was much, much larger;
- In addition to the individual servings that are sold in mini-bars, there were also full size containters and packages - perfect for families;
- Other items such as post cards, swimming goggles, suntan lotion, and medicine were also for sale;
- Best of all, the prices were similar to what you would be charged at a mini mart on the street.
The Rimba in Bali has a small counter with a coffee making machine on top. There is a mini bar underneath, with an adjacent table on which to prepare drinks. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.
If the paid mini-bar concept is dying, what will replace it? The jury is still out. These are a few of the concepts I've noticed hotels experimenting with ...
- A few of the more upscale hotels I have stayed at offer complimentary items in the mini-bar. This is fine except those items are not necessarily what you would like.
- Several hotels I have stayed at offer a "grab and go" service with take-away soft drinks and light meals for sale at the coffee shop or in the lobby. In my experience, these are usually a rip-off.
- At one stylish resort in Bali, I was given a choice of hard liquors at check in. My butler brought a carafe of it together with ice and some snacks while I was at happy hour. Because there were complimentary soft drinks in the fridge, I could mix my own cocktails.
- Two of the hotels I stayed at in Japan - both in the 3 or 4 star category - had full size mini-marts off the lobby, and they sold everything from salads to sandwiches to complete meals.
I like the mini-mart concept best. Because they also had an entrance onto the sidewalk, they didn't have to depend primarily on hotel guests for business, and this resulted in more selection and faster turnover.
Seems like a win-win situation to me. Covenience for hotel guests and more revenue for the hotel.
Your Response Wanted!
Do you ever consume things from hotel mini-bars? What do you think of the mini-mart concept?
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