At $19 for a thimble of whisky, no-one in their right mind uses a hotel minibar

What a ride it's been for the humble minibar. What once encapsulated the excitement of a stay in a hotel room - a miniature world of expensive possibilities - is now washed up, found out and neglected.

We used to scoff at the prices, tittering at the brazen calculations that led a single bottle of Heineken to cost $12, offended, but in a sort of faux deliberate, amusing way because we knew no one in their right mind would actually consume it at that price. 

Then a few years ago, hotel chains realised the game was up and began to remove the tiny, clear-fronted fridges from rooms, complaining that despite the enormous mark-ups it did not make them any money, was a faff to restock and represented a security risk should anyone tamper with the goods (drink the whisky and replenish with… tea. Etc).

"It always surprises people that, as much as we charge at the minibar, we actually don't make money," Marriott CEO Arne M Sorenson was reported to have said in 2014.

Even Hilton - at whose Hong Kong branch the first ever minibar was installed in 1974, sparking a 500 per cent increase in in-room drink sales - has begun to remove the fridges from its rooms, along with other global chains such as Starwood and Hyatt.

The slow demise of the minibar accelerated at the beginning of this decade. A report in 2012 found that hotel revenues from minibars fell 28 per cent from 2007 to 2012, while a TripAdvisor survey of holidaymakers in 2014 found that the little friendly fridge was the least important of the myriad hotel amenities, falling short of even the trouser press.

Because who, in 2019, takes from the minibar? A zonked business-type, perhaps? An Instagramming hipster in a show of millennial irony? A thirsty extraterrestrial freshly landed on Planet Earth?

It doesn't help that hotels began to get serious about how they policed their inventory. Nothing harshes on the buzz of an illicitly expensive nightcap like a sign warning that your card will be billed if you so much as remove the bottle from its electronic sensor. In 2014 one hotel in Las Vegas began threatening guests with $US50 fines if they stored any of their own booze in the room fridge, while some hotels attempted to boost their minibar revenue/deter guests from ever accessing them by adding miscellaneous items to the menu, like, erm, love kits. All in all, the minibar became a lot less fun.

Some establishments have tried recently to reinvigorate the facility, stocking the fridge with locally-sourced and craft groceries. For example, the Mondrian in London has on its shelves, pre-mixed cocktails by the property's resident bartender, Ryan Chetiyawardana. Sipping on a beeswax Old Fashioned without getting out of bed still has its fun.   


Elsewhere, hotels have introduced "mini-markets" in the lobby - or just vending machines on floors a la Travelodge - which provide the same staples guests might need in their room, without having to manage the fridges as meticulously or argue over the bill with those who deny ever drinking all the miniatures they could find.

Of course, some minibars remain. Last year I even drank from one - at a hotel in Budapest - it was around $8 for a 330CL beer, which is not comically extortionate. I suppose one of the benefits of living in London is that one becomes accustomed to being defrauded daily.

Then last November at a hotel in London, the minibar in a small kitchenette included some food options - a Kabuto noodles (glorified pot noodle) for £6.50 ($11.50), muesli for £3.50 ($6.20), a pasta sauce pouch for £5 ($8.90); prices beyond even the most ambitious minibar rip-offs. I've no doubt that one of the reasons the minibar fell out of fashion is that paying through the nose for drinks and snacks - even on holiday - is less entertaining in a post-recession, austerity landscape.

Either way, between the prices and problems, the minibar is not long for this world. It's been fun, but it's time to go.

The Telegraph, London