Not so long ago, as oversupply and rising costs really began to bite some hotels opted for an empty mini bar. What’s happening today? Have the changes in technology had a positive effect on prices and costs, do guests avail themselves of the mini-bar any more as a result of different offerings? Are they useful or a financial burden? Michelle Farquhar finds out

The technology behind the mini bar has advanced quickly as the thinking behind the role this piece of equipment plays in a guest room, as well as what goes into them.

As hotels continue to roll off the production line across the Asian region, there is much excitement around the new skyline they create and the sensory delights of the interiors. Trends abound. With some properties are going micro – targeting young travellers who don’t plan spending much time in the room.

These new properties are scrutinising every element to create a good-quality hotel room in a pocket-sized space. And mini-bars are in the crosshairs.

Jan Strijker, managing director Asia Pacific, Bartech, is unperturbed, especially in the four-star hotel above categories. “Any hotel really needs to offer a mini-bar. Guests always want the possibility to refrigerate items.” While eliminating the fridge space all together does seems a step too far, where to from here? “Free mini-bars are a trend,” says Strijker.

Offering non-alcoholic drinks to guests is definitely part of the relationship building between brands and guests today – calling a truce between guest relations and revenue generation. The recently opened Banyan Tree, Macau sees the sense in this.

“In today’s hospitality business it actually serves both purposes as many hotels offer complementary non-alcoholic mini- bar items as an inducement to guests when rates are high or through direct channels, and this is something we do take into consideration.

“At the same time it can be a valuable revenue stream as it provides a convenience for those guests seeking a quick fix for a food or beverage item,” says Yvonne Chan, sales and marketing director.

It is also an opportunity to enrich the visitor’s experience. “We wanted to provide guests with a mix of traditional products they would expect to find in a mini-bar, as well as showcase local delights. We stock our mini- bars with Phoenix egg rolls and almond cakes – both traditional Macau delicacies,” says Chan.

The mini-bar is the perfect vehicle to provide a window into a cultural heart of a destination, giving guests an authentic experience. The explosion of outfits like AirBnB has underlined the desire of travellers to connect with the location at a personal and meaningful level. Perhaps it is through the mini-bar that operators can weave in some local personality and playfulness into the property. But, presentation is key.

“We see a massive rise in the procurement of glass door mini-bars,” says Strijker. “Glass door mini-bars create impulse buying. Also important is to install them at eye height.”

In hindsight it seems obvious. Why bury this opportunity to connect with guests and generate revenue? And like many elements of hotel operation, technology is playing a critical role in keeping mini-bar operations efficient.

“Staff productivity increases with automatic mini-bars. One mini-bar attendant can do 400 rooms daily with Bartech. In manual hotels it is 100 to one attendant,” says Strijker.

Bartech also calculates lost revenue from manual mini-bars drops from 20 to 40 per cent down to only 2 per cent with the use of the automatic system, with the added bonus of eliminating disputes with guests at the front desk. Sensory technology tracks products and communication to the front desk ensures real-time charges.

Since opening in November 2013 The Westin Singapore has had fully automated mini-bars, fitted with a glass door, in each room. Miriam Wolber, director of food and beverage reports the hotel offers a traditional range of products with sensors and built-in electronic scales tracking product sales.

“It allows our associates to keep track of the mini-bar inventory and allows them to know exactly which guestrooms need to be refreshed with the particular item, rather than to physically check the guestrooms. This allows for timely replenishments which can save a bit of time and effort.”

Guests at The Westin Singapore opt mostly for soft drinks, beers, spirits, chips and nuts, although Chan suggests water is a key product.

“One of the first things guests look for in a mini-bar is water. This is no exception at Banyan Tree Macau, and we have found that Evian water is the most popular item in our mini-bar.” Mini-bar offerings can reflect broader consumer trends evolving across the snack and beverage landscape, leaning towards healthier lifestyle brands and local specialties. But the innovation in mini-bar options doesn’t stop at the fridge.

“We see more and more gift items, allowing hotels to increase revenue, and offer guests souvenirs and lifestyle products,” says Bartech’s Strijker. Again, hoteliers are taking opportunities to connect with the guest and maximise the visitor experience – a philosophy at the heart of The Westin Singapore, says Wolber.

“It takes a considerable effort to ensure that each mini-bar is stocked, but ultimately we are looking at providing convenience to our guests, to ensure they have easy access to a supply of beverages and snacks.”