The Automatic Minibar

Over the past few decades, the hotel minibar has undergone a true transformation, brought on by advancing technology. Like most devices of convenience, minibars have been infused with digital and wireless technologies that make them much more user-friendly and efficient for both hoteliers and their guests. These “automatic minibars” vary widely in their features and functionality, however, due to the variety of methods by which this technology is applied. Following is a guide for hoteliers on how to optimize the cost-savings, operational efficiency and guest satisfaction that the automatic minibar has made possible.

Minibars have long been a staple of the upscale hotel room, and have come to be an expected amenity by discerning guests. However, for the hotelier, manual minibars have always been a bit of a “necessary evil,” representing significant costs in time and labor for sometimes little return on investment. Since manual minibars lack intelligence, they create additional work for hotel staff and can cause disputes over usage during checkout.

Bartech founders, Mario Agrario, Marc Cohen and Jean-Claude Tillet, were among the first to identify a need in the hotel industry for streamlined minibar operations. In 1988, the company’s founders set out to make minibars more efficient and profitable and, in October 1991, they introduced the global hotel market to the first open-display automatic minibar concept at the Hilton Basel in Switzerland.

By definition, an automatic minibar is one that can track the removal of items and report guests’ consumption to minibar attendants as well as charging the guest folio for products in real-time. The automation of the minibar provides tremendous benefits for both hoteliers and their guests, as discussed in ‘What Makes a Minibar Relevant’.

Although some properties still use manual minibars today, they are quickly being replaced with these more practical automatic units.

What Makes a Minibar Relevant?

Today hotel operators are looking for convenience, efficiency and accuracy in all hotel operations – everything the automatic minibar provides. In addition to meeting the functional needs of hotels, automatic minibars can also be custom designed to match the aesthetics of a guestroom.

1. Labor Savings – Because automatic minibars report consumption of goods, fewer attendants are needed to manage in-room food and beverage sales. The automation means less time is spent taking inventory, loading carts or replacing items. Manual charge posting is also alleviated with the minibar’s PMS integration, which charges the guests’ folio directly.

2. Revenue Control – Minibar automation also assists in controlling revenue generated off the sale of consumables. Charges are made in real-time, there is no pilferage, and rebates no longer need to be issued by the front desk over guest disputes.

3. Technology – All automatic minibars require some type of sensory technology and reporting system. Bartech’s automatic minibars provide the most technology options available in the hospitality industry today. Hotels may choose from three types of sensors and five communications methods. Bartech automatic minibars also offer electronic thermostat controls.

4. Innovative Design – Bartech’s automatic minibars offer custom design to match any room décor. Hotels can select a material, such as wood grain or plastic, in a variety of colors for the minibar door or choose to have a glass door completed with logo etching. Bartech also offers hotels 12 different volumes to meet any size requirement.

5. Guest Service – By implementing the real-time reporting of consumed products, hotels can eliminate the need to disturb guests in order to check inventory and restock. The minibar’s sensors detect package movement to alert room attendants of possibly opened items, allowing them to be replaced prior to the next guest’s arrival. Software also helps to track product expiration dates to help hotels avoid the embarrassment of serving outdated items.

While not all automatic minibar providers offer the same benefits to hotels, other checkpoints a property needs to consider prior to investing in technology include:

  • User friendliness for guests
  • Ease of transition into future products and/or upgrades
  • Additional third party integrations with current vendors, such as rooms control
  • Data storage method – RAM verses battery
  • Thermostat control – on unit verses remote via software
  • Company reputation and track record for reliability
  • Complementary consultations and yearly audits to improve profitability

Selecting the Right Minibar

While the occasional minibar nightmare story arises in the news, with all products, minibars are NOT created equal. Simply labeling a minibar ‘automatic’ does not qualify it as intuitive. Hotels must do their due diligence before selecting which provider best fits their needs. Bartech takes every measure available to provide customers with intelligent technology that reflects positively on their operation.

For example, a method employed by Bartech minibars to help safeguard from charging guests for products that were merely moved and not consumed is a time-delay within the sensors. This advanced sensor technology triggers a 60-second countdown when an item is lifted, then only bills the guests’ folio if not replaced within the allotted time, which help to set Bartech automatic minibars apart from the competition.

Automatic Minibars for the Hotel Industry

When hotel minibars employ an automatic billing system, the loss percentage is reduced to an average of 2% [1] instead of the 20%-40% incurred with simple manual minibars. The reliability of automatic minibars leads to a drastic decrease in rebates and practically eliminates disputes at the front desk. Additionally, if there were to be a dispute, the front desk staff has the ability to check the status of products inside the mini-bar in real time.

Refill reports provided by automatic minibars give an accurate list of products to be refilled in each room. This limits the rooms to be checked by mini-bar attendants to those where products have been touched or consumed, improving operating efficiency and decreasing labor costs.

Guest satisfaction is an additional benefit of hotel minibar automation. Housekeeping staff no longer has to enter the room to check the minibar stock, reducing guest disturbance by 70%.

Some automated minibar systems, including Bartech’s, provide energy efficiency through a computerized energy saving system as a standard feature to monitor cooling production per room, according to room status. This allows the hotel to minimize cooling in vacant or out of service rooms. The feature generates savings of up to 30%, depending on a hotel’s occupancy and preference for cooling levels.

The bottom line is that automatic minibars have the potential to maximize a property’s profits, while allowing them to provide the best possible service to their guests. However, it is crucial to choose the best automatic minibar system available to ensure that operations run smoothly and efficiently. In order to get the most benefit from the minibar operation, hoteliers should choose a reputable and established minibar company who specializes in automatic minibars and who demonstrates their expertise in minibar technology. Done correctly, the minibar can be a unique profit-generating amenity that increases guest convenience and satisfaction, thereby enhancing the hotel’s reputation and guest loyalty.