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Maintaining Minibars

You might think in today’s hotel environment—with so many food and beverage offerings emerging in hotels—minibars might be seeing less use by guests. If you do, you couldn’t be more wrong. The fact of the matter is that minibar usage has held steady throughout the years and today approximately 24 out of 100 hotel guests utilize the in-room minibar.

“Their average spend per occupied room is $2.45,” adds Walt Strasser, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Minibar Systems, a manufacturer of hotel minibars. “It validates the impulse, meaning that if it is there guests will use it.”

That kind of usage also keeps alive the debate as to whether minibars are an amenity or a profit center. With significant returns still in play and usage that dwarfs other amenities in a hotel room, minibars make a strong case as an added profit center for hotels. “It’s a pretty good utilization rate,” Strasser says, “even though the sales per occupied room have taken a little decrease because more hotels are giving away free water.”

Water still makes up 50 percent of sales, and non-alcoholic beverages make up 48 percent of all sales.
“At the end of the day, the numbers stand for themselves,” Strasser says.

ADDED IMPULSE
Luckily for hoteliers, installing and managing minibars has never been easier thanks to new and emerging trends in minibar technology.

At the top of that list of trends is the external snack tray—those tabletop or countertop sensor-activated trays that highlight certain impulse items found in a minibar.

According to Strasser, such trays have increased in utilization by 50 percent and have yielded increased sales.
“You still have a minibar in the room but you have the trays out as well,” Strasser says. “It makes the chances of an impulse buy even greater.”

SMARTER SERVICE
For hoteliers, managing minibar service has always been a dilemma. The days of the “honor bar” are long gone. Hotels no longer risk the chance of missing out on revenue due to an inability to keep accurate track of what guests have consumed. Likewise automated minibars have taken the billing out of their hands.

“The minibars are run over the hotel’s network,” says Bruno Agrario, vice president of sales and marketing at Bartech Systems International, a maker of minibars for hotels. “The advantage for the hotel is we control the revenue.”
Bartech’s minibars operate via ZigBee wireless communication. Therefore, installation of the minibars holds a limited cost to hotels. The wireless communications means the minibars can be installed in any type of hotel.

The minibars communicate from room to room until the sensor information is passed to the front desk. The front desk has an automatic charge for the guest, which is added to the room’s folio. “There’s no need for wiring or cabling, which are very expensive,” Agrario says.

The automated units also help hotels maintain their revenue from minibars more accurately. “Instead of losing 30 percent of the revenue as older minibars did, you will now be within 2 to 3 percent of what you’ve actually sold,” Agrario says.

He says automatic minibars also cut labor costs by up to four times. “If you do not have an automatic minibar you’ll have to send an attendant to every room of the hotel,” he says. “If you have 4,000 rooms, per se, you might need to have 40 attendants. With automatic minibars you might only have to have around 10.”

OUTSOURCED OPERATION
An emerging trend is not in the technology, but in the management of the minibars. Strasser says Minibar Systems has started an outsourcing program in which it uses automated minibars in combination with a third-party management of the operation of the minibars. “They get a percentage of sales every month but we do the rest,” Strasser says of the program.

Minibar Systems installs the units, hires the staff to manage and stock them, and the hotels reap a profit without doing any of the work.

Strasser says the program is being done at hotels with and without union environments. “If it’s not union it’s a little more flexible in terms of the person we put onsite to run the program,” he says. “If it’s a union environment, it’s their people, but we pay 100 percent of the cost of labor and benefits, so we have no problem working in either environment.”
Strasser says the company just wrapped up a new install at the Westin Grand Central, joining several other New York properties using the service.

Minibars are one of the oldest aspects of hotel rooms still around. With new technology and ways of thinking about service, they’re still pulling in profits for hotels. And guests continue to give in to their impulses and utilize them.

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