What’s wrong with hotel minibars? | The world of food and cooking

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The typical minibar

Does your jaw drop when you examine the prices in a hotel minibar? You are not alone. And how about the minibars’ contents? With some rare exceptions, it’s the usual boring story – cans of coke and beer, super-salty peanuts and crisps, couple of bars of chocolate or Snickers and liquor miniatures. Oh yeah, and overpriced water.

The majority of people, fall into one of two categories of guests – the ones that are so scared of the hotel minibar that they’ll keep two feet away from it, at all times and the ones that the first things they check out in their room is the minibar. I guess I belong to a third category of people who, because hotels are related to their jobs, cannot be indifferent to minibars.

Being a hotel consultant I spend many, many days a year in hotels, and when you add to it the times I go on a holiday, that’s a lot of time spend in hotels. How can I be unmoved by what’s behind the white door?

I have been consulting different hotel managers and owners on how to make these mini fridges more attractive, so to turn their minibar service from the source of worry or furious debates at check out, to a profitable source of revenue, while keeping guests happy.

I just got back from Bansko, branded as the leading Bulgarian winter resort. I visited many four star hotels, most of them positioned as Spa hotels, which to majority of guests means luxury and health orientation. What I saw in terms of minibars was a disaster (re-read the first paragraph).  Boring, overprices, badly placed… and with nothing healthy or spoiling, or even a little bit tempting.

Anyway, enough about Bansko, I talk about hotels and their minibars in general, not just those in Bansko.

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A minibar with different content

There are notable exceptions such as one I saw last year in a London hotel. The minibar was separated in two parts, one part called “healthy options”, the other called “naughty options”. The healthy section contained dried fruits, unsalted popcorn, raw nuts, fresh fruits, plain yogurt and similar stuff. The naughty part contained luxury chocolates, 2 small jars of black caviar and crackers, half-bottles of ludicrously overpriced Champagne and a collection of glasses in varying shapes and sizes.

I already mentioned the prices and the fact that most hotel minibars are expensive, painfully punishing guests’ credit cards. In hotels there are two types of charges: the ones you see coming and the ones you don’t. Although always equipped with price lists, high end hotels may have as much as $2000 of items behind the door, so be careful.  Cheaper hotels may offer nothing more than a couple of bottles of water and some full size cans of coke or beer, but they will still charge you well enough for that. To my opinion, not that much the selection, but prices, is what puts off most of us.

Also, intriguing to me is the location of some minibars. I sometimes think someone thought it would be funny to hide the minibar out of sight or place it in such a way that it will require yoga skills to bend down to floor level (often in the middle of the night), risking serious injury to limb.

Then comes the question of what you drink from. I would like to see proper glasses rather than the nasty plastic cups usually stocked in minibars. We all know a Gin & Tonic doesn’t taste the same in plastic.

Last but not least is the issue with shelf life of some of the food stuffs placed in the minibar. I am not talking about items out of date, this is usually strictly monitored. But if you think about it, most of the things you are offered to consume have their expiry dates set next year or even the year after. To me that means only one thing – these things are packed with preservatives and additives.

I think hoteliers should become more inventive and find a new solution that delivers a quality experience at eye, taste and hand level.

Here are my top three favorite ideas for a hotel minibar content:

  • Customizable  minibars – The last few years have seen hotels try to fine tune their minibars adding healthier snacks and more gourmet fare. But it’s nearly impossible to please all the people all the time. So one clever idea is to offer guests to customize their own minibars so that they could stock their minibar only with the things they will actually consume. There are already a number of hotels that do so,  the Cotswold House Hotel in the UK for example, where guests know exactly what is going to be inside the mini bar – having ordered it in advance online.
  • Minibars with dual focus – A great mini bar will have a dual focus on indulgence and health. Indulgent foods for when you’re feeling all alone, miserable or a little depressed after a bad meeting. Healthy foods for when you’re feeling motivated, committed and inspired.
  • Finally minibars offering the best of local. We can do without the Toblerone, Snickers bars and  canned beer. Replace these tired old horses with the best local chocolate and the best types of local beers (in bottles, please). In other words, spoil me and give me a reason to reach for something I will not regret.
  • P.S. And don’t forget hangover cures, add to that lots of water, aspirin and Alka-Seltzer. This might be a life savior in certain times.

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