Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Room 101 guest post: Minibar Humbug by @Wreckferretzero

Once upon a time, the presence of a mini-bar in a hotel room was a sign of luxury.

You weren't in a bargain, budget level accommodation.

You were going places!

Image by Tomasigiorgio made available under the GNU Free Documentation License
No. Instead, it was a mark of grandeur - hidden behind its fake wood exterior, underneath the TV (that may or may not have had satellite channels), and likely next to that other mark of business extravagance: the trouser press.

But really! In today's modern hotels, and in a world where more and more people have the ability to travel - not just jetsetters or business-folk where en-suites are standard (not optional), where there's always a kettle and coffemaking ingredients - where these days, we demand wifi as free! - why do we still have mini-bars in our hotel rooms?

I'm lucky, I get to travel a fair bit- both nationally and internationally. I don't often get to stay in uber-expense- but I'm not always relegated to slumming it. But nowadays, even mid-range budget accommodation often has mini-bars in the rooms.

But the question is Why? Who actually uses it? 

I like the practicality idea of having a fridge in your room - especially in climates where outside the Air Conditioned bubble of the hotel that the temperature, or humidity means that a cold glass of water is more than just simple refreshment; it is revitalising!

But how many mini-bars actually have free space in them for you to store your own bottle of water?

Very, very few in my experience.

You can of course, instead use the bottled water that the mini-bar itself offers, but not only is it only available in containers barely large enough to fill a teacup, but it will cost you 5 times the amount that the hotel bar itself charges, and that is usually 3 times as expensive as the outside world.

So who benefits?

At some point in the past, when the person who came up with idea of the mini-bar managed to sell the concept to the hotels that some jetlagged businessman, in his polyester suit and his expense account wouldn't care what price he was paying for the packet of 3 peanuts, or the club soda, because he was too lazy to venture to the hotel bar... or heaven forbid! even leave the hotel and venture into the locale!

Sometimes it was an alternative to room service (which I can see why there is a surcharge associated with) - a chargeable convenience of have drink and snacks (I use the term loosely) at any time of the day.

But these days, both vacationers, as well as business-persons, are a lot more discerning- both in regard to their ability to leave their hotel room, but also in their travel budget. The entire world knows that hotel mini-bars are over-priced.

And it's not as if it is 'just a smidgeon' more expensive....; every item, from water, to canned fruit juice, to chocolate bars, to savoury snacks, to booze itself, is hideously over-priced. So who actually buys it?

Who eats/drinks enough of the contents for the hotels to still say "Oh, it clearly pays for itself!"
I just don't understand it.

The size of the containers within the mini-bar is also mind-bending. "Oh no it isn't" you cry, in a pantomime-esqe manner - "surely the clue is in the name itself; it's a MINI-bar!"

Did miniatures of spirits exist before the proliferation of the mini-bar across our hotel landscape?

We've all seen 1970's+ American TV shows where someone goes on a bender, shacked up in a motel room, downing miniature, after miniature.

Yes, it's a pre-packaged 'shot' - but one shot is never enough is it? It's the same as those tiny cans of softdrink/mixer- they barely whet your appetite, or cure your thirst.

Sure, clever in a way that it makes you spend more money by having to open two.

But how does it really help the hotel if you always open zero because we, the travelling public, are wise to the scam, and refuse to pay through the nose for convenient refreshment.

So. Given that I don't see the hotels reducing the price of the items within the mini-bar to anything half-reasonable, nor do they seem inclined to leave it as a convenient fridge space in the room, for you to place your own goods to keep chilled, then to me it is just an irritant.

A taunt, if you will. A throwback to an older age of travel, which is now unnecessary.

If it is just a mechanism to try to take more money off the visiting punter who is too scared to leave his hotel room, then you'd have more luck using the space in the room, underneath the TV to install an X-box, or Playstation, and to charge the resident to access games instead!

But as far as the Mini-bar goes, I believe it's time has come and gone- and this is why I believe it should be consigned to Room 101.
To be furthermore removed from our social psyche, and sent on its merry way to the past-best-forgotten!

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