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What is a Mini-Bar?

Mary McMahon
Updated: Jan 23, 2024

A mini-bar is a convenience feature that can be found in hotels around the world. It consists of a stocked refrigerator with items such as drinks and snacks. If guests want to take advantage of the service, they open it and remove whatever they want to use. The hotel, in turn, charges for these items at the time of checkout. Mini-bars are notorious for being highly priced, and some travelers feel that the prices are not worth the convenience.

The idea for the mini-bar appears to have arisen in Europe in the 1950s or 1960s. A German company, Siemens, introduced it to the market in the 1960s, and the concept quickly spread to hotels in other locations. Along with complementary items such as toiletries and room service, a mini-bar is designed to cater to the needs of guests so that they will return to the hotel.

A basic mini-bar is stocked with alcoholic drinks, soda, and snack foods. Many companies also offer personal care items such as socks, hairbrushes, and makeup. Alcohol is probably the product for which the mini-bar is most famous, and it typically comes in single serving bottles. The guest opens the refrigerator, takes whatever he or she needs, and the hotel restocks it after the client leaves.

A number of techniques are used to track mini-bar consumption. The most basic is manually counting its contents, which can be done when restocking. Other hotels use radio or infrared tagging, which can immediately send a message to the front desk when a product is removed. If it is replaced within a set time period, the charge will disappear from the bill, although a member of the staff will check to see whether or not the product has been tampered with.

In some cases, the mini-bar will be locked, and guests will be given the key when they check in. Most hotels have a system to alert them when a mini-bar is opened, so that staff know to check and restock it when they clean the room. If it is equipped with radio or infrared transmission, roaming staff members can check it without even entering the room.

Since the mini-bar is notoriously expensive, many travel guides recommend that guests find ways to avoid using it. Stocking up on snacks and drinks from a local store is an excellent idea, as is ordering room service, which can be cheaper. Guests who simply cannot resist its allure may want to consider asking for a price list, so that they know what to expect when they receive the bill.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By FirstViolin — On Aug 28, 2010

They also have portable mini bars. These can be really useful for people who travel a lot and want to keep a mini bar in their RV or car. Many limousines also feature portable mini bars, complete with overpriced drinks and mini-sized snacks.

By naturesgurl3 — On Aug 28, 2010

What exactly is a domestic mini bar refrigerator? I heard of that on the radio the other day, and was really curious as to why you would need a mini bar in your home.

I mean, I guess if you really wanted the hotel experience in your home than you could invest in a little mini bar fridge, but other than that, why would you need one?

By zenmaster — On Aug 28, 2010

You're not kidding about mini bars being expensive. I had no idea that there were so many kinds of mini bar systems though! I guess they have to be pretty advanced to deal with people trying to fill up the vodka bottles with water or replace the snack packaging afterward.

I never use the mini bar or cooler though, so I may be behind the times -- maybe those infrared things have been there for a long time -- does anybody know?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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