What’s going on with hotel mini-bars?

What hotelier hasn’t heard a chilling mini-bar story from the manager on duty? Since the “profit generating solution” went global in the mid-70s, hotel rooms ranging from penthouse to family-friendly have been designed around these precious cubic inches of icy must-haves.

Four decades on, sea changes in expense account privileges and customer service standards brings thinking to where we are currently, that is, switching off the current to these little “conveniences.” They’ve seen the last light of day in many properties flying Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt flags, among other brands.

MinibarGoing, going, gone

Guests have long moaned about prices, selection, billing errors and unwelcome servicing. They don’t like nasty surprises, automated sensors and inflated prices.

However, neither do guests care for mixed messages. Hotels are presenting different solutions as they transition away from stocked mini-bars prior to a full room upgrade that will finally show mini-bars the door.  Some chains leave the small fridges cool but empty and sell snacks from lobby vending machines and shops instead. Others suggest that travelers could order the items they’d like to have stocked in advance of check-in, creating more personalized service and better revenue for hotels. Still others are looking to lounges and cafés to fill the gap.

As ever, managing guest expectations is key to transitioning around the changing in-room experience.

National disaster? Really?

“Not up to scratch at all,” is an online comment left by a traveler visiting a five-star Edinburgh hotel who simply asks, “Empty…why?” A traveler to Australia littered the blogosphere with empty mini-bar photos labeled “National Disaster.”

An invitation to “Stock it Yourself” from management could have intercepted such comments before they winged their way into cyberspace.  After all, there’s no shortage of guests who are pleased, stating, “I like hotels with mini fridges that I can actually put things in.”

Some recall the days of 25 cent slots for in-room television viewing and motel rooms where the bed would vibrate for a quarter. Nobody misses those frills, nor will anyone will miss chargeable in-room Wi-Fi once it’s eliminated. Nobody will miss $8 bags of M&Ms and $11 swigs of Scotch, either.

Good riddance

TripAdvisor has conducted a survey of 1,600 hotel travelers which indicates that 33 percent “steer clear” of the minibar due to exorbitant prices. With 16 percent reporting they’ve been charged for simply shuffling items around, 21 percent of travelers say they wouldn’t mind if the minibar were removed. From the other side of the desk, hotel management mentions the bait and switch water-for-vodka trick as a most unpleasant occurrence.

Getting social

As mini-bars bite the dust, is room service far behind? When New York City’s largest hotel, the 2,000-room New York Hilton was the first big city hotel to close down their room service in August 2013, there was plenty of buzz. Hilton executives spoke of softening the blow with a casual dining spot offering take-away, and indications are that lobby bars are back as a rendezvous.

At Loews Hollywood Hotel, managing director Brian Johnson is quoted by ABC News, “The days of really eating room service and attacking your mini-bar in your guest rooms are slowly evolving and people really want to spend more time out in public areas and feel comfortable.” They’ve upgraded the lobby bar with comfy sofas and scented candles.

As for Four Seasons, the mini-bar is staying for now, but its contents are changing to reflect consumer preferences: 100 percent organic juice-filled gummi bears, anybody?


Coyle Hospitality advises hotel clients on successfully managing of any and all transitions in their service offering.  Through clear direction and industry benchmarking, Coyle is the hospitality industry’s go-to leader in guest experiance and mystery shopping.

© 2023 Coyle Hospitality Group. Reproduction of any material without written authorization is strictly prohibited.

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