This little box, invented by the Germans in the 1950’s has been the root of angst, arguments and lost customers at hotels around the world for the past several decades. It’s time we asked hoteliers whether the whole concept of the ‘mini-bar’ might really need a re-think?
Just take the question “Did you take anything from the mini-bar?” for starters. This is the last opportunity as the hotel guest is checking out that the staff have to make a positive impression. With so much competition around, you need to take every opportunity to win that repeat business from your guests. Rather than making it a positive experience, guests are instead given an integrity test. Once the reception staff ask the question, they wait for your response and then regardless of whether you answer in the negative or the affirmative, they will then contact housekeeping and send someone to check to see whether or not you were lying.
Figure 1The Coke on the left cost USD$8 from a mini-bar in a Kuala Lumpur Hotel. The Coke on the right cost USD$1 from the 7-11 across the road.
What about the pricing? A few cans of soda, bags of peanuts, a couple of those complimentary bottles of alcohol that you get on airlines are more often than not so outrageously priced that no one in their right mind would take anything from the mini-bar unless it was an emergency. In most cases it’s much easier to head across the road to the convenience store and pay their overpriced prices for the same items, which are still probably about a third of the hotel’s mini-bar price.
Most hotels that you stay at across Asia will generally provide two bottles of complimentary water. I have been noticing a change lately though. The bottles have either been getting smaller and smaller, or the bottles have been deleted from the ‘complimentary’ list of items and guests are asked to pay for their drinking water. We found one bottle of hotel branded water at a the KL Hilton that cost USD$11 (MYR 33). The equivalent bottle was selling across the road for USD$0.60.
While mini-bar prices have been rocketing at some hotels, we have been pleasantly surprised recently in Hong Kong and Singapore. Some hotels are going the other way and making their mini-bar completely free for hotel guests. The V-Hotel Wanchai in Hong Kong went one step further and also provided free afternoon tea for all hotel guests. I have to admit that checking in there was a pleasant surprise hearing that these usually overpriced items would be completely complimentary (including alcohol). Check-out was a markedly much more positive experience as their was none of that guilt associated with the whole “Did you take anything from the mini-bar” interrogation that occurs even if you are sure that you hadn’t used the mini-bar.
The mini-bar made its first hotel room debut at the Madison in Washington, D.C., in the ’60s and at the Hong Kong Hilton in the ’70s. Right now, the future of the hotel mini-bar is at a crossroads. Is the mini-bar too much of a liability for hotels, or can hotels turn this liability around and use it to exceed customers’ expectations?
Hoteliers around the world – the ball is in your court..