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Some of those pricey minibars change for the better

The day of the gouging minibar may be numbered as many go the way of the all-inclusive -- or at least stock healthier items

January 1, 2014

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Travelers have a love-hate relationship with minibars: They object to the inflated costs, unhealthy offerings and limited choices but appreciate the convenience.

Free minibars, however, are becoming more common as many hotels, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean, migrate to all-inclusive rates.

Guests can't gripe about minibar costs at the 33 properties in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic managed by AMResorts, which includes the Zoetry, Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Now and Sunscapes brands. The all-inclusive rates include free bottled water, beer, juice and soft drinks, all replenished daily. Guests who upgrade to Preferred Level rooms get complimentary miniature bottles of liquor, plus M&Ms and Pringles.

Guests at the Greenwich Hotel, Robert DeNiro's boutique property in Manhattan, can dig into a brimming basket of snacks or quench their thirst with nonalcoholic beverages, all at no additional cost. At the Andaz Maui at Wailea, which opened in September, complimentary items include Virgil's Real Cola, Honest Ade orange mango juice, Kind fruit and nut bars, and Popchips.

The newly launched wellness program at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Florida has substituted a "wellness fridge" stocked with low-sodium, low-fat and high-protein foods. Though not cheap, they certainly are healthier than salty chips.

When healthier fare or more reasonably priced items are offered, guests don't feel as though they're being fleeced, said Jeff Weinstein, editor in chief of HOTELS magazine.

Though minibars can be expensive to stock and operate and monitoring inventory can be tricky, it can be a perk that differentiates one property from the next. Four Seasons, for example, is localizing the minibar experience at many properties. Its minibars stock beef jerky in Denver; Santa Fe Spirits in 50-milliliter bottles in Santa Fe, N.M.; and artisanal chocolate bars from Fleurir in Washington, D.C.

All in all, it's a small indulgence that might pay big dividends for hotels.

— Irene S. Levine, Special

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