When was the last time you bought something from the hotel mini-bar?
For most casual vacationers who aren't billing hotel charges to a business expense account, the answer is probably difficult to recall. Never?
The reasons are many, and markup is the first one. No frugal traveler will buy a Coke at a 500% price hike and still look themselves in the mirror. Especially in places where there are many 24-hour convenience stores, the mini-bar just takes up space. It's no accident that the mini-bar's decline pivoted on the the years of the Great Recession, because thet's when company accountants began scrutinizing their employees' hotel bills for extraneous charges, and the $8 Snickers bar just didn't pass muster.
Operationally, mini-bars also demand a lot of manpower. Staff must check and restock it daily. It must rotate out the expired foods. It even has to check the seal on the vodka to make sure guests haven't secretly refilled it with water. It takes a lot of money to keep a mini-bar going—and increasingly, there aren't enough takers to keep them in the black.
We have all stayed at hotels that rig their fridges with sensors to issue charges if the items are so much as shuffled. This enrages us. It's an unwise tactic for a "hospitality" establishment to treat guests with automatic suspicion. Some hotels, like the Wynn in Las Vegas, turned to trays that sat atop scales, but those had the same inconvenient effect of charging people who merely wanted to inspect the goods. Every time a mini-bar issues an incorrect charge, the front desk has to straighten it out and void the transaction, which weighs down another department of the hotel. And every time a guest is afraid to open a fridge they'd rather be using for their own personal items, it's a mark against the friendliness of the hotel.
Some boutique hotels are trying to salvage the mini-bar concept by stocking them with non-perishable items, either as a gag (the W Hotel in London's Leicester Square once featured Japanese-made novelty that men could use to pleasure themselves), with high-end toiletries, or as way to seem hip to the trends by only filling them with locally made goods as a way of appearing to more a part of the neighborhood.
But still more hotels have torn out their mini-bars in the last decade. And guess what: Most of us didn't even notice.
The hotel room mini-bar was a revelation when it first appeared in Hong Kong in 1974, but guest expectations have changed. We're wiser to gambits, and now that the entire travel industry makes its bottom line by henpecking us with additional charges, we're a lot better at scrutinizing each one for its actual value and making an educated choice each time.
Increasingly, vacationers have the sneaking suspicion that the businesses who sell them travel are just waiting for them to slip up, whether it's through an exorbitant change fee or a harsh cancellation policy. We no longer put up with the outrageous prices for the sake of convenience—the airlines levy enough outrageous fees in the course of everyday business. We're savvier. We no longer trust the mini-bar. We have all learned how to do better.
(Photo credit: TheDelciousLife/Flickr)