Is the minibar’s popularity drying up?
Perhaps the most infamous minibar story out there is by Augusten Burroughs in his memoir “Dry.” Upon returning home from his stay in a hotel, he opens his bill to see $1,600 in minibar charges. Burroughs, a recovering alcoholic, claims he took out the tiny liquor bottles numerous times a day just to hold them, and then dutifully replaced them unopened. Unfortunately, his minibar was one with an electronic sensor that automatically charges the account every time an item is removed.
Of course there are signs warning guests to only remove what they plan to consume, but most of us when faced with a snackless evening get amnesia about the cost of minibar items. Who else but a sleep-deprived traveler would willingly pay $6 for a Snickers bar?
In the hotel management’s defense, there are reports of guests consuming the contents of an opaque bottle and then returning it filled with water in an effort to avoid charges. (Twenty percent of people surveyed by TripAdvisor, an online travel community, admit to taking items and replacing them with similar ones to avoid paying the inflated charges.)
According to CNN Travel, the minibar got its start in 1974 at the Hilton Hong Kong, the first major hotelier to add stocked refrigerators to its rooms. The result was a 5 percent increase in the company’s net income that year and a 500 percent increase in room-service sales.
Luxury items, such as intimacy kits, popular in Las Vegas, and alcohol aren’t the most purchased items. That honor belongs to bottled water and hand sanitizer, surveys say.
Add to the melee that 34 percent in the TripAdvisor survey believe they’ve been unfairly charged for a minibar item and you can begin to see why hotels are starting to reassess their value. Many chains are doing away with them altogether.
Other factors have contributed to the minibar’s demise. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Education Foundation survey in 2012, the number of gift stores—which sell drinks and snacks—have increased in hotels from 40 percent in 2010 to 47 percent in 2012. Room-service programs are up significantly also, the survey reports. Minibars are more prevalent in luxury hotels (74 percent) than in the economy segment, where only 1 percent of the hotels have them.
Two cheaper solutions to the minibar, which don’t require staff to stock and track, are empty refrigerators guests can stock from a nearby convenience store and vending machines. Another nail in its coffin, according to an article in CNN Travel, is millennials tend to be more social and would rather hang out in a lobby bar than drink alone in their room.
Perks have moved on. What most travelers really want is free WiFi, not a 10-ounce bottle of Diet Pepsi for $6.