Minibars, however they are merchandised, add a little bit of luxury and value-added convenience to the hotel experience. They are also a good source of profit. In a time when some hotels are cutting back and deciding not to offer them in rooms, others are finding that a unique minibar selection is actually a great way to stand out from the competition.
“From my perspective, having a minibar is part of having luxury,” says David Morgan, Irving-Texas based vice president of food and beverage at the 42-location Omni Hotels & Resorts, adding that there are numerous benefits of keeping the minibar.
The truth is minibars are often a loss for hotels, as you have to make sure all items are kept fresh and oftentimes guests don’t buy them. That said, beverage managers say the idea of having access to a minibar is definitely an added amenity for guests.
The Glamour of the In-Room Bar
“Regardless of the cost associated with the minibar, the perception is that there is a sophistication [to having in-room drinks offerings]: that we are going to give the customer what they want even if it costs a little bit of money to do it,” explains Morgan
So when creating his minibar, he tries to find food and beverage items that will please customers. “The days of putting expensive items in the minibar and having people pay for them are over,” he says, noting that though M&Ms may not “look good” in a minibar, they sell extremely well.
For Morgan, the top-selling beverage across the board is water, Aqua Pana to be exact for $5 to $6 a liter. Omni mandates the water and wine available in the mini, which includes Domaine Chandon Sparkling Wine, Geyser Peak Chardonnay and bestseller Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay ($20 to $35 a 375-ml bottle), but individual locations are also given some freedom with the other offerings. Vodka is the top selling spirit across the brand, which is most often Absolut (priced from $6 to $8) and imported beer outsells domestic two to one.
Morgan has also tried some creative ways to entice customers with his minibar items like putting the water and candy bars outside of the fridge. “The items on the tray outside of the actual minibar outsell the locked items,” he notes.
His advice, “Come up with a presentation that is outside of the bar itself that caters to the desire of the customer. Don’t worry about them stealing: it’s huge opportunity.”
The minibars at the 1950s-style, one-location Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona, play to the venue’s retro-style. “We select the products that our guests enjoy most, avoiding beverages that are too expensive as they don’t tend to sell very often,” John Petrusyk, director of purchasing and beverage, says.
Valley Ho tries to go beyond the standard minibar selections. All the hotel’s guest rooms feature a Martini bar set up with glasses and cocktail shaker to entice customers to imbibe. “Our minibars feature three cocktail recipes: the Bloody Maria is made with tequila and Bloody Mary mix; the Cuba Libre with rum and coke; and the Gin & Sin with gin, Sprite and cranberry juice. All of the necessary ingredients can be found in the mini bar,” he says. The three cocktails are also available at the hotel’s ZuZu Lounge.
For those not wanting a cocktail, the minibar at Valley Ho is also fully stocked with Ketel One ($7), Bacardi ($5), 1800 Tequila ($7), Maker’s Mark ($6) and a 200-ml. bottle of Belvedere Vodka ($24). Wine options include Acacia Chardonnay ($22), Row Eleven Pinot Noir ($26), Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($26) and Chandon Brut Classic ($30) and beers like Miller Lite ($4.75) and Corona Extra ($5.50) are also popular.
The focus on the retro look and feel has been successful. “Fun, vintage-style items like the Martini shaker and Valley Ho playing cards that can be purchased straight from the mini bar,” he says. “Whether you spend the night in one of our rooms or just stop for a drink in the lounge, the retro vibe definitely makes you want a classic cocktail.”
On the 40-ship fleet of Royal Caribbean International, simple, family-friendly fare rules the minibar experience. “We are a family-oriented cruise line so don’t offer alcohol,” says Bob Midyette, director of fleet beverage operations. “We don’t have a way to secure the minibars; there is no lock on them.”
The challenge of having a floating hotel means that supplies are limited. “Our minibar is simple,” he says. “Each ship has about 1,500 rooms. To maintain consistency, we don’t deviate much. Supplies are limited on the ship, so we find things that work universally and make them efficient.”
The fleet’s minibars feature Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Diet Sprite and sparking water, along with four food items, often Shortbread Cookies, Snicker bars, M&Ms and peanuts. “There is zero markup for us,” he says. “The soda is $1.95—the same as anywhere else on the ship—Evian is $3.95 for one-liter of Evian and snacks cost $4.95.” For those wanting stronger drink options, wine, beer and mixed drinks can be purchased through room service,” he says.
Because the ships are international there may be some variations from region to region. Though Midyette says the items picked are “universally popular in Europe, North America and South America [and] a little less so in Asia.”
So whether you are game to offer a full minibar that features craft cocktails or want to go the simpler route, remember to keep guests’ tastes in mind when filling the minibar.