amara minibar featured

The Hotel Minibar – Guest Convenience or Burden?

The mini-bar is indeed a curious thing. A small ‘convenience’ provided to guests has the potential to – and often does become a device to anger, frustrate and drive away loyal hotel guests in the wink of an eye.

The contents of most mini-bars when purchased wholesale by the hotel would be lucky to add up to more than USD$30 or so, yet when a guest checks in, from experience the exorbitant ‘surety deposit’ amount charged for each night is to cover incidentals including such things as ‘unpaid mini-bar consumption’.

Some hotels have the audacity to even place minibar door-sensors that will automatically charge guests if the mini-bar is opened regardless if they consumed anything.

Guests – Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Hotels will go out of their way to invest in ‘package seals’ to place on mini-bar items, then invest more time and money in having their housekeepers act as mini-bar police, checking for broken seals or unauthorised ‘replaced’ merchandise where a guest may have consumed something and then ducked out to a nearby convenience store and purchased a replacement item so as not to be gouged by the hotel upon checkout.

The final ‘pièce de résistance’ comes at checkout time where the reception staff will ask the guest whether or not they consumed anything from the minibar. Despite what the guest says, they are then put on momentary trial as the reception staff with an air of authority dial through to housekeeping and have them check the validity of the guests claim as to whether on not they had actually consumed anything from the minibar.

The Minibar in Death Throes

Over the past couple of years, I have been noticing something very encouraging in the way of minibar policy across Asia. I first noticed it in Singapore and Hong Kong in select boutique hotels that provided free non-alcoholic items in their mini-bar. Some hotels like the V-Hotels in Hong Kong actually went a step further and arranged ‘happy hour’ from around 5pm for all guests where they could go to the lounge for free canapés and drinks. Something that would have usually only been available to business lounge guests paying a premium for their room.

The latest ‘twist’ in the decline of ‘traditional’ over-priced hotel mini-bar was something that I experienced just this last week at Bangkok’s new Amara Bangkok hotel.

The Singaporean owned Amara Hotel has a programme called ‘Minibar Boutique’ which for me at least, totally changed my hotel experience. While the minibar is partially stocked in the room with usual favourites, the hotel guests are encouraged to go down to the lobby and purchase their own minibar bounty from the minibar store. The twist is that the price of the products – food, beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic as well as snacks are the same price or even cheaper than what you could buy elsewhere outside of the hotel. Cans of soft-drink are 15 Baht (USD$0.40), cans and bottles of beer are around 50 Baht (USD$1.40) and large bottles of wine start at around 350 THB (USD$9).

In the past it was a habit of mine to go outside of the hotel to a supermarket and stock up on what I needed especially for longer stays in hotels. My experience at the Amara brought a new sense of peace of not having to do a dash across town, dodging traffic and carrying groceries to collect the different supplies I needed. They were all available in the hotel cheaper than what it would cost me to go out and get them – and we were encouraged to add supplies to the minibar. I never realized how much time just that one little thing freed up for me.

Between the ‘Minibar Boutique’ programme and the super-efficient elevators, along with the absence of ‘minibar police’, the dreaded Groundhog Day-esque checkout scene at reception was averted and I left with a smile on my face.

I look forward to seeing more hotels follow suit with their minibar policies. If hoteliers continue on this positive tangent, hopefully the act of minibar price gouging will be a thing of the past which is great news for all travellers.