If shelling out $10 for a small bag of M&Ms makes you feel a little scammed, then you’ll love the hotel industry’s latest trend: closing its in-room minibars.
Those tiny refrigerators, armed with sensors that seem to detect when you gaze longingly at the overpriced Pringles or chilled Diet Cokes, are doing a disappearing act. It’s about time.
During the latest round of hotel renovations, these so-called guest “conveniences” are reportedly being unplugged and unceremoniously wheeled away at a growing number of hotels. For example, when the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans upgraded its guest rooms last year, the minibars were shown the door and replaced by regular refrigerators. Some Hyatt properties, including the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch, did away with theirs years ago.
But did they go far enough? Simply carting away these money traps, one by one, won’t work.
What can be removed today can make an unwanted comeback tomorrow. No, they need to be banned, if not by company policy, then by law.
Minibars represent everything that’s wrong with full-service hotels, according to many disenchanted guests.
“Hate them,” says Gene Plantz, a computer consultant from Hoffman Estates, Ill. “If you even look at the mini-fridge the wrong way, you get a bill for $100.”
It isn’t only the steep markups — $7 for a bottle of water that should cost only $1 — that bothers guests. It’s the lengths to which some resorts will go to collect minibar revenues.
David Eccleston, a retired programmer from Fort Lauderdale, remembers checking into a hotel in Hong Kong several years ago.
“I saw the high price of a Coke in the minibar, so I didn’t take it,” he recalls. He bought a soda from an outside vending machine, and when he was done with it, he left the empty can in the trash inside his room.
“When I checked out, I discovered they had charged me for the Coke,” he says. After he explained the mistake, and noted that the beverage was still in the minibar, the hotel reversed his charge.
Of course, there’s also the shock of the bill. Joan Wallace, a retirement planning consultant from Boise, says even if she doesn’t flinch at the price of a $20 beverage, her employer does. “They don’t appreciate those types of expenses on my account,” she says, adding that she prefers to empty the minibar of overpriced items and use it for items she buys at a grocery store.
Alas, that doesn’t always work. Some hotels will charge you for the privilege of emptying and then restocking the minibar, or for having a refrigerator delivered to your room.
It may surprise you to learn that most hotels don’t like minibars, either. The ones getting rid of these so-called “amenities” say they’re too much trouble and don’t make enough money, despite the astronomically high markups.
“Of the hundreds of hotels with minibars to which I have served as a consultant, not one achieved a profit from the minibar service,” says Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University’s Tisch Center hospitality program. He supports canning them. In addition to being a seemingly endless source of guest complaints, the expense of the snacks and beverages and the hassle of restocking them represent a drain on profits.