Last call for the hotel mini-bar?

The Orange County RegisterJanuary 31, 2014 

The quintessential “Me Generation” hotel amenity, the mini-bar, may be fading away like disco music, transistor radios and bell-bottom jeans.

Upscale resorts today seem lukewarm, at best, about providing and maintaining the self-service, in-room liquor caches, where guests can crack open a miniature bottle of tequila or vodka or perhaps even enjoy cookies and soft drinks.

Never a huge money-maker due to chronic petty larceny and the high labor costs of monitoring and restocking liquor supplies, the mini-bar has become largely an after-thought in an age when fast-moving travelers care more about technology and connecting in inviting public spaces, said Mike Hall, general manager of the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“It just seems, over a period of time, to have gone to the wayside,” Hall said of the mini-bar. “People are so much more mobile now. They’re on the go. They have Wi-Fi. They’re traveling with two or three devices. They want to connect and communicate with each other. Everything today is in the lobby.”

The 397-room Westin is about to phase out its mini-bars and replace them with empty refrigerators, enabling guests to bring in their own beverages or order specific products from room service, Hall said.

Though the mini-bar is not yet dead – some top-end hotels continue to see it as an important tool for pampering guests – many travelers apparently don’t mind leaving their rooms for that martini.

In December, posted survey results showing that only one in five travelers cared about having a mini-bar, making it the least popular amenity that hotels offer.

Unscrupulous guests resort to stealing the bottles or their contents, sometimes claiming the bar was never stocked or blaming the theft on the maid. Inventories have to be taken and prices charged before guests check out and leave. Some travelers fly home with mini-bar keys still in their pockets, Johnson said.

“I know of some hotels that have taken them out of the rooms because they seem to be constant source of conflict,” Johnson said. “The big push seems to be toward having an empty mini-refrigerator in the room so guests can put their leftovers in there and not worry about … having an argument at the front desk.”

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