Photo by Liz McBurney
You’ve been travelling all day, it’s late and you’ve only just reached your hotel. You’re exhausted and hungry, but there’s nowhere open nearby. So you do what any desperate person would do. You devour the family-sized bag of M&Ms in the minibar.
The Hong Kong Hilton was the first hotel to install minibars in its rooms after a German firm, Siegas, pioneered the production of mini fridges in the 1960s. The hotel found that five times more people used minibars than room service, and its bottom line increased by five per cent. Before long, all the major chains were doing it.
But the climate has changed, and those same major chains are now going the other way. The Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott chains are gradually phasing minibars out, arguing that the little fridges don’t make money any more.
“The costs of stocking and running them are outweighing their financial benefits,” says Zoe Monk, editor of Hotel Business magazine. “They require constant monitoring and policing, and guests are increasingly fed up of paying such high prices.”
The global financial crisis has seemingly taken its toll. Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad famously said that if he drinks an overpriced can from a hotel minibar, he’ll go out to a grocery store and replace it – and it seems that, with bottomless expense accounts a thing of the past, more travellers are thinking the same way.
Monk says that most hotel managers can tell you stories about problem guests – those who steal drinks and replace them with supermarket purchases (known in the business as “minibar meddling”), or even go as far as filling empty gin bottles with tap water.
“Budget hotels are increasingly putting vending machines in corridors, which results in much less hassle and cost,” explains Monk, “while upmarket hotels are more likely to offer 24-hour room service, or increase the opening hours of restaurants and bars.”
But in the luxury sector, hotels are creatively catering for guests who are less than familiar with the concept of austerity (see right), with the general trend seemingly along the lines of “less Bailey’s, more artisan salami”. Perhaps a little more imagination – and a little less extortion – across the board, can keep those little fridges humming.
But there are still minibars
The Champagne Bar (pictured)
The Levin, London
Bruts, cuvées, rosés, a selection of posh mixers and a booklet full of champagne-cocktail recipes.
The Mixology Bar
The James, New York
An “in-room mixology experience” featuring Macallan 12-year-old scotch, Patrón Silver tequila, dark rum by Gosling’s and a full range of mixers. You can even have a private lesson.
The Artisanal Bar
The Bowery Hotel, New York
High-quality, locally sourced food and drink including artisan salami, aged goats’ cheese and microbrewed beers.
The Intimate Bar
The W Hotel, London
As well as Voss water and a “munchie box”, there’s an “intimacy box” containing condoms and other sexy things.
The Free Bar
The Greenwich Hotel, New York
A basket of classic confectionary (Cracker Jacks, Charleston Chew) and plenty of soft drinks – and it’s all included in the room rate.