Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon,

I’m a restaurant manager, but I was just curious about something else in hospitality: the minibar. Why are minibar prices always so crazy? Are they even necessary anymore? I’ve seen a lot of hotels offer grab ‘n go items in the lobby instead of in the hotel room. Is that a better option for a hotel manager?


Minibar Bamboozled

Ciao Minibar,

Thanks for your question! Frankly I love the minibar, and I would hate to see it go. But you’re right. Many hotels – to rid the guest room of the pesky and costly minibar – are choosing to create a kind of “pantry” concept in the lobby to make more options available at all times of day that is easier to manage and more cost effective. Generally to offset costs of labor, product cost and waste (expired goods that were never consumed), hotels charge many times the actual cost of the product seeking to obtain a small profit as well. Hotel guests don’t often appreciate finding their favorite brand name snacks marked up 500% or paying $5 for 15¢ supermarket water.

I believe the minibar to be a corner opportunity for hospitality in a guest room. It’s a place where you can offer your guests a little something to eat or drink while they enjoy their time spent in the room. Too often the minibar becomes a place to capture marginal revenue. It’s true that the minibar represents a relatively significant costly corner in your guest room, when you consider the organization, time, labor, and inspection required to maintain it. But effective product, cost, and staff management means you can have your minibar and give it for free, too.

Build your Minibar

Showcase your personality The minibar can be a place to extend your brand. Are you a fun brand? Then offer “fun” snacks. Are you a beach brand? Provide snacks that are good for “on the go” or “beach ready”. Are you a high-end brand? Include house-made goodies, like special nut mixes, signature cookies, boxed truffles, or small batch, homemade bottled beverages. Give your minibar a personality to tell your story, too.

Keep it valuable by keeping it local Your minibar can be a place to showcase what your community offers, not what the international capitalist community is capable of selling us. Seek small brands over international ones so your guests can experience the local flavor. If there is something that may be misunderstood or might contain allergens, include a description and advisory.

Less is more I’ve seen some hotel minibars that take up half the desk and try to replace the nearby grocery store. It’s not necessary. The goal here is not to offer a completely packaged dinner in the guest room but provide something that hits the spot when your guest needs something to carry him/her over until mealtime. Somewhere we got lost while defining luxury that said we have to offer every variation of something for it to be luxury. This is usually just excessively wasteful rather than truly delivering a valuable experience.

Here’s the trick: Choose a handful of meaningful, high quality food and beverage products that make sense for your brand and your guest. Choose water, a fruit juice and or carbonated beverage, a salty option or two, and a sweet option or two. Done. No mini bottles of Jack Daniels or Grey Goose. No Pringles. And definitely no half bottles of Veuve. C’mon, who are we trying to fool here?

*A quick note on non-edible products in your minibar: things like chargers, batteries, adapters, hats, scarves, or even shoelaces (yep, I’ve seen ’em!) are probably not necessary to include. They should certainly be available to guests upon request (well, maybe not shoelaces, but hey! why not?) so they may be delivered to a room or handed over at reception – which means these items are stored at both reception and housekeeping. But the added effort to ensure these items are always available to each guest and then to charge them to the guest bill when they are used is just far too complicated. Keep it simple.

To charge or not to charge

That’s an important question. I’m a proponent for the complimentary minibar, to the delight of many a bottom-line-obsessed-hotel-GM. The reality is that if you can maintain the costs effectively for both the items themselves and the labor to keep them stocked (by limiting the number and choosing the products carefully), it’s more straightforward to build the cost into the room rate. It’s always a little awkward asking guests at checkout if they had anything from the minibar. We charge them based on their honesty and what the housekeeping attendants tell us. Only to find out in the P&L variances later that a lot of guests are walking away with free Pringles. So, don’t look at the minibar as a mini store, but an opportunity to offer a little more hospitality.


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

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