The Rise, Fall and Reinvention of the Minibar

EHL Students - Bachelor | 2 Sep, 2016

Minibars resulted in a 500% increase in room-service sales of alcohol in its inception. Since then, the well may have run dry with the near-universal standard minibar. Loosing out to convenience stores as guests choose cheap over easy, hoteliers have been forced to shift their offerings. 

When Siegas, a German-run company, invented the minibar in the 60s, it was an immediate profit-maker with luxury hoteliers: customers eagerly forked over money for the marked up snacks and drinks. Minibars were first integrated in 1963 into Washington D.C.’s Madison Hotel suites and quickly became an expected perk in luxury hospitality chains.

Hilton Hong Kong rolled-out the world’s first hotel-wide minibar offer in 1974 by stocking liquors and fridges in all of their 840 rooms. It spurred a 5% boost to the company's net income that year.

Soon, the minibar became a near-universal industry standard, loved and cursed at by millions of desperate midnight snackers/drinkers.

Since then, Hilton started backtracking in some properties, leaving the fridges in rooms for guests to stock themselves. Other hotel giants, such as the Marriott, the Grand Hyatt and Starwood are following suit and phasing out the traditional minibar from some properties.

Hospitality managers have become frustrated with minibar management. Nearly 500 hotel owners surveyed unanimously agreed that they believed re-stocking mini-bars to be a “nightmare,” with 84% reporting that guests would dodge bills through stealing items and replacing stocked items with inferior products.

A hotel manager in New York City shared her reasoning with Food Arts:

"We had eight full-time minibar staffers who each checked 150 rooms a day [and] they simply couldn't get to every room every day. Plus, we found that guests weren't using the minibars as much as one would think. In Times Square, many retail outlets are open 24/7, so beverages and snacks are available everywhere, all the time. In addition, some minibar items have expiration dates, and we were throwing items away. It was a pure business decision: minibars were not profitable."

Moreover, TripAdvisor released a survey that showed that the minibar ranked at the bottom of all hotel amenities in popularity -- only 21% of respondents felt the room fridge was an important feature. In comparison, 89% of those surveyed wanted free wireless.

Today, minibars are underused and most often not worth the additional effort and waste expended on this once popular in-room amenity. Rethinking minibar offerings may reengage the guest and make the effort worthwhile.

These days, creative thinking hotels are wooing discerning drinkers by stocking their amped-up minibars with everything from homemade bottled cocktails and dirty Martini kits to locally sourced beers and spirits.

What are the thoughts behind the transformation?

Individuals within the hospitality and tourism industry are continuing conversations about each hotel area and engaging them with fresh and unique products. Kelly Sawdon, chief brand officer at Ace, said: “The minibar helps us further the conversation about the cities we’re in and what makes them special.”

Here are examples of new hotel minibar offers:

The current evolution of the minibar - from afterthought, to, in the case of these hotels, a hyper-curated amenity - goes hand-in-hand with larger trends in the bar industry, where everything is either “bespoke,” “housemade” or “handcrafted.”

Author: Marie Charrière - EHL Bachelor Student

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