[Automatic Minibars] Automatic Revenue

The latest generation of automatic minibar technology is simplifying hotel operations while improving guest satisfaction and enhancing the hotel’s bottom line

For decades, the minibar has been a staple of hotel guestrooms, from mid-scale chain properties to luxurious independent resorts. But as minibars have proliferated in the industry, so too have its operational challenges.

Fortunately, tech-forward hoteliers are discovering ways to streamline minibar operations and increase guest satisfaction, while maximizing profits through automated minibar technology.

Automatic minibars are simpler to manage, enhance a hotel’s cache with guests and increase operational efficiency. Most importantly, automatic minibars offer profit potential that traditional manual minibars just can’t match.

Following are some common challenges that hoteliers have faced with traditional manual minibars, with explanations about how the automatic minibar is changing the paradigm for this important hotel offering.

“Minibar attendants spend countless hours each week just checking and refilling minibar stock.”

With traditional minibars, attendants must check every minibar in every occupied guestroom. This is time-consuming and tedious, not to mention, a significant staff cost factor.

By contrast, automatic minibars notify hotel staff automatically when an item has been removed, eliminating the need to do inventory checks on every guestroom.

In addition, attendants are notified of which guestrooms need attending and precisely what items need to be restocked.

This tremendously improves operating efficiency and leads to decreased labor costs, with one minibar attendant needed on average to refill 400 automatic minibars — compared to four attendants for manual minibars.

This translates to a 75 percent reduction in staff time and costs to maintain minibar operations.

“We experience inventory loss on a regular basis, with some guests claiming they didn’t take the items that are missing from the minibar.”

Traditional minibars create potential friction between a hotel and its guests, which is antithetical to good service.

Other than the word of the minibar attendant, there is no way to prove that the current occupant of the room is responsible for a missing item. In some cases, the attendant may have neglected to restock the item; in other cases, the guest may not be completely truthful.

In either scenario, a complaining guest is unlikely to be charged for the missing inventory, at the risk of the hotel being wrong and alienating a guest.

This troublesome aspect of the traditional minibar scenario has been solved with automatic minibars, which can be programmed to automatically add the appropriate charge to the guest’s folio once an item is removed.

With a digital audit trail, the hotel now has evidence to show guests who challenge the charge. Some advanced automatic minibars include a feature that automatically locks the minibar after a guest has checked out, preventing the guest or staff from emptying the minibar after the fact.

Automatic minibars reduce the average loss percentage to just 2 percent — down substantially from the 20 to 40 percent loss rates common with traditional manual minibars.

“Monitoring items in the minibars for expiration is next to impossible.”

Hotel minibars typically include items that have a sell-by date, such as candy bars, pastries, beers and soft drinks.

Monitoring the shelf-life of these products in traditional minibars is a daunting task at best. Automatic minibars make it easy to monitor product shelf-life, since the technology records the time since any given item has been restocked.

Armed with this information, minibar attendants can efficiently switch out products nearing expiration and move them to a public concession area, where they are more likely to be consumed quickly.

This process minimizes inventory loss while ensuring that guests are never sold expired product.

“The plain look of most minibars doesn’t fit with my hotel’s design scheme.”

Minibars have — until fairly recently — not been available in styles much beyond a standard miniature refrigerator aesthetic. Design customization was a costly endeavor, and even then, a hotel was unlikely to get a truly bespoke, fashion-forward look.

Some forward-thinking automatic minibar manufacturers have broken that paradigm, consulting with hoteliers to better understand industry needs and creating genuinely original guestroom appliances.

Customization ranges from materials used, specified dimensions and the minibar’s actual design. Minibars are now available in a variety of styles, with options ranging from wood or glass doors branded with the hotel logo to completely custom units, specified and built to fit a specific size and guestroom design.

Internally, everything from shelf organization to multiple sensor technologies can be customized, in order to better display products, further enhancing sales and profits.

“Minibars consume too much electricity.”

Older manual minibars have a reputation as energy consumers. In fact, a 2006 study by Denmark’s hotel trade organization, HORESTA, found that minibars accounted for as much as 10 percent of a hotel’s total electricity costs.

Today’s automatic minibars use considerably less energy. Because automatic minibars inherently include computerized monitoring systems, they’re able to adjust cooling production per guestroom according to whether a room is vacant, occupied or out of order.

This functionality can generate savings of up to 30 percent, depending on occupancy and the hotel’s preference for the level of cooling.

Furthermore, some advanced automatic minibar models feature interior eutectic devices—commonly known as “cold sinks”—silent, efficient compressor cooling units that allow for minimal compression cycles, reducing energy consumption even further.

“I’ve heard that automatic minibars sometimes charge guests incorrectly for items they didn’t take.”

Some early incarnations of automatic minibars employed sensors that were overly sensitive, picking up slight movements like a bumped cabinet, or which recorded items as removed even if they were immediately replaced by the guest.

Advancements in sensor technology have largely negated these issues.

Modern automatic minibar products now offer one of three sensor types—infrared, magnetic or micro-switch—each of which respond to changes in items’ location, size and weight.

Moreover, the sensors on some automatic minibars can be programmed to be as strict or as forgiving as hotel management deems appropriate.

Minibars have long been a luxurious amenity offering for hotels, and one that many guests have come to expect.

The emergence of automatic minibar technology is now making management of the amenity more profitable, efficient and less frustrating, while adding significantly to the hotel’s bottom line.

Bruno Agrario is the vice president of Sales/Americas for Bartech Systems International, Inc. Follow @BartechSystems on Twitter and visit them at HITEC Booth #1426.

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