Some might think guestroom minibars are a thing of the past, but these hoteliers have found ways to continually evolve them and keep minibars as a useful amenity, despite the expense.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Guestroom minibars have changed in recent years and are continuously evolving, sources said, which means they require more attention to detail.
Much of the evolution includes the rise of automated minibars, which are much more efficient to operate, said Gregory Harrison, manager of minibar, vending and arcade at Aria Resort & Casino.* But it’s not just about the operations side, sources agreed, it’s also about identifying and adapting to trends.
In the past 18 months, Harrison said, Aria has introduced in-room technology to its minibar process through digital tablets that display the minibar menu, which allows the hotels to market electronically.
Mustafa Suer, InterContinental Hotels Group’s corporate director of food and beverage for the Americas region, said his team also has moved toward automation.
“It is convenient for guests and increases the profitability of the hotels,” he said. “By installing fully automated minibars, we do not enter the guestroom unless there is consumption, which is monitored remotely.”
Incorporating technology into minibar systems also helps to reduce errors and discrepancies, which can result in additional costs for the hotel, said Ben Fulwider, corporate director of food and beverage at Davidson Hotels & Resorts.
And not only are tech features incorporated into daily operations, Suer said, but tech gadgets like smartphone chargers and USBs are becoming popular items in minibars.
Adapting with trends
Harrison said he spends about 30% of his time identifying trends and thinking how to best adapt to them. Some things he studies are guests’ varying buying trends based on the season, packaging, buzzwords and new local and national products.
“It’s important for us at Aria to avoid a fast-moving trend in favor of the long-term staples that our guests are comfortable purchasing,” he said. The brand uses extensive data analysis to determine the best mix, he added.
One trend Harrison keeps in mind for Aria’s specific Las Vegas market is that guests who come back to the hotel to unwind from the city’s excitement crave water, sodas and sweet and salty snacks—which should always be in stock.
In 2017, Aria hotels added ready-to-drink minibar offerings, which eliminated the customer’s need to purchase multiple cocktail ingredients.
“The key for success in minibar operations is to offer those must-haves in a way that is comfortable and familiar,” Harrison said.
Sandi Robinson, director of sales at The Godfrey Hotel Chicago, said it’s vital to interact with the guests and other staff to understand the trends.
“We consult with our bartenders; they spend the most time with our guests and are the perfect source when it comes to the beverage side,” she said. “As for the snacks, we ask our guests what they like and make sure to have it available.”
At IHG, Suer said he’s noticed travelers are requesting more insightful items in minibar offerings, such as travel kits or vitamin boosters.
And hoteliers are stocking their minibars for the more health-conscious travelers, too. Suer said his team works closely with procurement team members to populate a list of items that support a more health-focused minibar menu.
Davidson Hotels & Resorts offers things like protein bars, fresh juices, smoothies, low-calorie mixers and sodas, Fulwider said.
Robinson said at the Godfrey Hotel Chicago, minibar offerings are changed up about once or twice a year where it makes sense. She added that the property’s minibars are on the smaller side.
Changing products frequently can be challenging for properties with several thousand rooms, Harrison said, especially when specific branding and packaging are required.
To keep things looking new and exciting, he said, Aria continuously switches up packaging and placement of products in the minibar.
Fulwider said it’s not necessary to update the entire minibar menu often, but offering seasonal items or creating a rotating selection of products works well to create variety.
Sources agreed water bottles are the No. 1 minibar essential.
Is the expense worth it?
While minibars are helpful in generating on-property revenue, Fulwider said they are still a high expense, mostly due to the reoccurring cost of restocking items.
Hoteliers are well aware that minibars are not meant to produce high unit sales, but rather provide guests with that impulse need.
“In fact, guests will likely make their impulse purchase from the minibar almost regardless of the price point,” Harrison said.
The Godfrey Hotel Chicago recently rolled out a $20 minibar trial credit, which Robinson said she hopes will help gauge how many guests value the minibar and plan to use it.
The future of minibars
As for the lifespan of minibars, Suer predicted they will continue to shrink as lobby retail markets offering things like grab-and-go items are gaining popularity; however, for the luxury segment, he said they will remain a product differentiator.
“Guests who stay at these types of hotels will continue to demand convenience over high cost,” he said.
Robinson said that guests expect to see minibars in luxury properties and added they might even evolve into more of an amenity bar.
*Correction, 20 March 2018: This story has been updated to correct a source's title.