The vexing problem of M&Ms in the mini-bar ~ Brand Mix

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The vexing problem of M&Ms in the mini-bar

"Fun" M&Ms at Kimpton Hotels
Hotel mini-bars have always been a flashpoint of confrontation between hotels and their guests. Guests hate the egregiously high prices and being charged for things they never ate. Hotels have to deal with their guests substituting tap water for bottled water (and vodka), tea for whisky and otherwise behaving badly.

I read a WSJ article about mini bars on the way to Los Angeles (summarized in this video) so I was curious to see what Kimpton Hotels has decided to do about this vexing issue. Turns out they've gone the obfuscation route, meaning they've substituted well-known brands with obscure ones which look more premium and perhaps worthy of their breathtaking price. So, instead of Evian or Aquafina, there's Fred Water at $8.00 and there are other products with no easy reference at all, like a Kopali Organic Mango snack for $7.00. (By the way, the Kimpton prices are nowhere near as bad as some other places.)

But what about those must-have products, of which one of the mustest-have of all is M&Ms? No substitutes allowed! The clever idea from Kimpton is to repackage/resize them and sell them in a resealable pouch bag, called 'Fun' so that the $7.00 price looks kinda/sorta justified.

Other hotels are trying different strategies--some have given up the fight completely, either taking out their mini-bars or leaving them empty for guests to stock themselves. Others are using technology to escalate the battle with their guests, installing fully automatic mini bars that monitor and track guests as if they are on some FBI list. And others (including Kimpton) are trying to lure their guests to buy more by strategically placing baskets of snacks and bottles of wine in easy reach.

From a brand perspective, mini bars are nothing but trouble--what consumers expect (all their favorite snacks and drinks at cheap prices) seems to be more than the business realities of hotels allows them to provide. (Apparently, mini-bars generally lose money, even with prices as high as they are.)  This appears to be a no-win encounter where the Kimpton strategy is about as good as it get in terms of damage limitation.

Anyone got any bright ideas about a better approach?

5 comments:

ralf said...

The biggest issue for me has been that hotels stock snacks or drinks that I don't like or too few of the ones I do like (e.g. Diet Coke). As I am spending most hotel nights in Europe or Asia, I have found that it is possible to phone ahead or send a note with requests regarding the stocking of the bar. If this were widely available, the hotels would probably not lose so much money and customers might be willing to pay the premium as they will have been included in the creation of the personalized minibar. This is especially useful for late arrivals as security regulations make it too difficult to BYO and there isn't always a convenience store nearby. There is nothing worse than empty minibars or none at all. Having to walk to a vending machine and being expected to carry the correct currency is a huge inconvience. I never stay twice at a hotel that does not offer stocked minibars.

MS said...

I loved Jet Blue's approach to the similar problem of in-flight meals. Everyone hates them? Let's get rid of them! It was a bold way of side-stepping an intractable problem and also transformed consumer behavior in common sense ways.

Tom Asacker said...

Here's a thought: Southwest Airlines let's you purchase priority seating when you book your flight online. Hotels should allow you to go online and add a personalized snack list (which will be in your room at check-in) to your bill. To satisfy the business traveler's needs, they can roll the cost into the total room cost. :)

denise lee yohn said...

i like tom's idea -- here's 2 of mine:
- offer a pre-pay program (perhaps limited to your loyalty program members) -- as a customer, i pay $50 into a snack account at the beginning of the year -- i eat whatever snacks i want and the amounts are deducted from my account
- offer brands the opportunity to use mini-bars for sampling -- if done at the high-end hotels, this could be as lucrative as a slot in a red carpet goodie bag.

-- denise lee yohn

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