London Hotels Insight provides up-to-date, independent advice for your perfect stay in London. We research guest feedback, meet management and identify hotels at the top of their game.
Hotel minibar paradise – a wishlist.
The hotel minibar is possibly one of the most irksome things known to mankind. Part of that is the pricing regime; no matter how exclusive the hotel, how beautifully furnished the room, how good the service, something in us says that £2 for a Mars Bar is just too much – we’re being had, someone is trying it on. And even with those prices, apparently hotels don’t actually make any money out of the minibars.
Part of the headache is the indiscreet way in which the whole process is managed. There is the almost threatening question which we’ve all faced: “Did you use the minibar?” And you know the housemaids are checking up on you, the criminal (sorry but I thought I was a guest!).
I actually prefer staying in the kind of place that doesn’t unlock the minibar unless you ask for it. If you are prone to putting on weight, you don’t want that kind of temptation in the room anyway. No wonder that surveys often reveal minibars to be one of the least popular hotel amenities.
But minibars have at last been changing – at least in some of the most hip London hotels. For example, W Hotel in Leicester Square offers an “intimacy kit” in the minibar as well as drinks (which was apparently a step too far for The Telegraph‘s reviewer!) .
Minibars used to offer big name brands no one could object to. Now they’re increasingly providing either serious luxury or local brands – for instance The Arch has Meantime beer (brewed in London) rather than continental lagers (its Hunter 486 restaurant has a similar ethos).
And then there are “partly free” minibars, a growing trend – free soft drinks (the Arch, Stafford), sometimes free snacks (the Athenaeum Hotel). The latter was in our best London hotel freebies.
So what would be my ideal minibar?
- Local produce. Look, I’m not at home. I can get Grolsch, Heineken, Mars Bars, Snickers at home. Give me something I haven’t seen before. Beer from a local microbrewery, the most popular local soft drink (Thumbs Up, Irn Bru, carrot juice or whatever). If I’m staying in Belgium then let it be Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer and if you could get frites into a minibar then let them be Belgian too!
- An ice tray. If you’re going to provide me with a fridge, then please also give me a little freezer compartment with ice cubes in it. It makes so much difference to a drink – and I’d at least appreciate the choice.
- A little luxury. If you’re going to charge a markup, then give me some luxury in return. I don’t want to pay a silly price for a bottle of lager, but if you’ve got a half bottle of really good champagne, I might be tempted. The same goes for snacks. Two quid for a packet of ordinary crisps? Come on! But I might be tempted by wasabi peas and rice crackers, or honey roast cashews.
- Free is such a lovely word. But please make it really obvious what is free and what isn’t. Free soft drinks are always welcome.
- Oh for some fresh fruit in the minibar! There’s always chocolate, but rarely fruit. Fresh might have a high wastage rate, but there are ways around that; fruit compotes, dried fruit, etc. You’re supposed to get 5 fruit and veg a day but in some hotels this can be next to impossible!
- Horrid auto-charging minibars. These are the ones that charge you if anything at all is picked up. That may work if you sell boring brands. But if I see something interesting, a ready-mixed cocktail perhaps, the first thing I’ll do is pick it up to see what’s in it and if I like the sound of it. Suppose it has creme de menthe in it, then back it goes on the shelf! (Kahlua is another matter…) Then I have an argument on my hands at checkout when accused of being a shoplifter - where nobody wins.
- Noisy minibars. When the minibar makes a louder hum than the air conditioning, Mr Hotelier, you’re doing something wrong!
I’m not sure about the expansion of minibars to cover non food and drink items – and I’m not just talking about sex toys. Personally I love hotels that have exhibitions of art or jewellery you can buy – I love the chance to do a little shopping without going out. I’m also grateful when a hotel can sell me the kind of thing you need but have forgotten, whether that’s a toothbrush, a swimsuit, or an umbrella. But not in the minibar please!
Maybe the future lies in the type of minibar pioneered by the Mercer Street Hotel, which is a cross between a guest fridge (to bring in your own stuff) and a traditional minibar – the hotel will fill it up on your request. This innovative solution was introduced from guest feedback as part of a multi-million refurbishment of one of the most hip hotels in Covent Garden.
Photo credits: London Hotels Insight blogger Timea.