Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mini Bars - Major Problem

I checked into a 4.5 star hotel not long ago and was surprised to be handed a key to the mini bar along with my room keys, as part of my check-in package.

It struck me as odd, with all the advances that we have made in so many areas of the hotel business to think that there is still a place for these dinosaurs in a hotel.

Then, as I was proceeding to my room, I thought, well maybe what they have done is taken the mini bars that they already had and they have re-stocked them, to reflect the more health conscious traveller, taking advantage of the fact that they had these mini bars anyway, so why not appeal to the healthier traveller with some more up to date offerings.  No such luck.

Imagine my surprise when I popped open the mini bar door and found what I might just as easily have found 15 years ago – miniatures of scotch, gin, vodka and so on. Really?

I could not help but wonder why anyone would want to have mini bars in their hotels anymore?  (Or why they ever did for that matter).  They have never been money makers, not with all of the associated labour required to stock and re-stock them, as well as the challenge of keeping stock fresh and properly rotated.

And then there’s the issue of theft – guest and employee.

As sad as it is, there have been instances where employees have been caught drinking from mini bars and replacing their consumption with water.

And guests, who either take out a vodka or a gin, drink it and refill it with water, the oldest trick in the book, or they simply dispute that they drank anything, accusing the hotel of not having properly checked and re-stocked the bar after the last check out, which unfortunately, also happened on occasion.

In short, mini bars are just more trouble than they’re worth.

When I was a front office manager many years ago, I hated mini bars for a number of reasons.  I hated them for the extra labour we spent posting, re-posting and correcting charges, when we could have been spending that time with our guests, enhancing the service experience.  And I hated them for what they did to our impact on guests’ experiences, when we presented an otherwise happy guest with a copy of their bill to view before settlement, and they got upset about the mini bar charge on their account that they were adamant was not theirs.  We would apologize and remove the charge of course, but the damage was done – many guests thought this was some attempted cash grab and would get very upset.

And then there were the calls to dispute charges applied to guests’ accounts after they had checked out.  Holy molie was this group ever upset.  How dare we charge something to their credit card without their permission, I’ll never stay there again, and on and on.  I’m sure we must have rebated a full 80% or more of the late charges that we applied to guests credit cards, and every time we did so, we negatively impacted our guest satisfaction scores.

The fully automated systems worked better, but they were of course significantly more expensive to purchase and install, and they weren’t fool proof either.

Guests would remove a bottle or something for some reason, then put it back in the fridge and not realize that these programmable vending-type mini bars had automatically processed a charge onto their account when they first removed the bottle, not until they went to check out anyway.

Or one of my favourites, people travelling with a baby or other small children who would remove all of the contents from the mini bar, in order to use the mini bar as a fridge, and then just about have another baby on the spot, when they went to check out and saw that they had a $250.00 mini bar bill.

Given all of this, and the many other negative impacts that I have left out, why would anyone still want to have “traditional” mini bars in their hotels?

Is there really any place for the traditional mini bar in today’s hotel and the hotels of the future?  I think not.

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  1. I couldn't disagree more.

    As a customer, not having a minibar in my room is a major disappointment, so I completely disagree with you from a customer service perspective.

    Mini bars for the business traveller are a must when arriving late or when you just want to munch on something while working from the hotel room.

  2. My (Australian) hotel once recently tried a mini bar model where the guest specified what they wanted in the mini bar on check in. The stock was then brought to the room (cold if needed), the fridge switched on. Apparently many hotels through Asia follow this.

    It was done both as a power saving option as well as a stock control option. We also trialled a more "healthy" option - premium juices etc (none sold of those)

    Sales dropped over 90%, and there were more complaints than anything to do with disputed charges.

  3. I laughed out loud at the "have another baby when they checked out story" so great. I have never thought about mini bars as being an issue. Interesting story. Great post Dale!

  4. Alexandre:

    I'm not saying that ALL mini bars should be eliminated, but rather that they should reflect a more up to date product mix where they are used, rather than the older, more traditional mix.

  5. I completely agree with Dale. As a Front Office Manager of hotels from a couple of the major internatonal deluxe brands, believe me my life turns to a nightmare because of the late mini-bar charges etc. But from the customer point of view I thing we still need them with the more refine and smart choice of items

  6. Dale, I couldn't agree with you more. The mini bars really need a revamp. What we have done at Katerina Hotels in Moscow is had a look at statistics of "when arriving late or when you just want to munch on something while working from the hotel room" (as Alexandre said) we stocked the minibars with that: water, chocolate, chips and nuts and nothing else. (we do have a 24 open bar for alcohol)
    Since mini bars never are profitable as you correctly write we removed the cost of customer dissatisfaction, weare saving a lot of time for our guests and they still get what they need.

  7. ive been working as a mini bar attendant and its really an insane job. we cant argue to the guests when they say, i didnt use anything from the mini bar. in fact they consumed it. so this will be another disputed items and profit loss.