Life’s Little Luxuries

5th April 2006 (Last Updated April 5th, 2006 18:30)

Overpriced sparkling wine and salted peanuts are no longer making the grade in the mini bars of luxury hotels. Rebecca Burgess peeks inside the fridges of a selection of top hotels to find out what is satisfying guests in the middle of the night.

Life’s Little Luxuries

The mini bar has traditionally varied between countries, with the British wanting no more than a kettle and a teabag and the rest of Europe happier with fruit and water. It has become a predictable fixture in most rooms with the typical bottled water, peanuts, crisps, miniature whiskey and unrecognisable chocolate bar. But hotels are starting to have fun with their mini bars, using it as a means to make their offering unique, and to allow guests to tailor their experience.

THE CHOICE IS YOURS

At the Cotswold House Hotel in the UK, guests know exactly what is going to be inside the mini bar – having ordered it in advance online. Guests at the 22-room hotel are invited to design their own stay by choosing everything from the content of the mini bar to the fluffiness of the pillows and the scent of the room.

“We’ve been doing it for four years to give our guests the flexibility to put their own choices in the fridge to suit their needs,” says the owner, Ian Taylor. “For us it means we are offering an individual service, without having full-time staff going round each room to find out what is required.” Taylor carried out research into guests’ thoughts on hotel mini bars and discovered the majority of people think they are expensive and do not meet their needs. In his hotel all the mini bars contain fresh coffee, a percolator, fresh milk, mineral water, a selection of teas and Border biscuits.

Guests can then choose from four white wines, four red, five champagnes, five spirits, mixers, four beers, two ciders and four mineral waters: Badoit, San Pellegrino, Evian and Tynant. Snacks range from pimento-stuffed olives to chocolate-coated peanuts, Tyrrells crisps, Pringles, Belgian chocolate biscuits and Café Society flapjacks. “We do this in the suites and it works quite well; some people use everything and other people use nothing,” says Taylor. “We try to keep the costs reasonable and are looking into providing it as a complimentary service.”

“Surveys of Hilton guests show an increased desire for healthy eating options.”

This kind of personal service is also a hit in the 190-bedroom Nine Zero Hotel in Boston, where the concierge emails guests in advance to ask for their mini bar requests. “This concept has proved a real hit among visitors particularly those who are put off travel by their attachment to home comforts,” says Jenny Thomson, a spokeswoman for the hotel.

PRIVATE PLEASURES

Meanwhile, guests staying at one of the W Hotels in America, such as the 410-deluxe room San Francisco W Hotel, open a veritable Pandora’s Box when they delve into their mini bar. In addition to the rooms boasting views of San Francisco Bay Bridge they offer a fully stocked mini bar with everything from iced tea to the finest microbrews and a coffee maker with W’s own blends.

Renamed the Munchie Box, the bar is full of additional treats, such as a thermal eye mask for jet lag, Dylan’s candy, Voss water, Wasabi peas and Diane Von Furtenburg beauty products. There is also a W Intimacy Kit with condoms and lubricants.

The five-star Q! Hotel in Germany’s capital, Berlin also has some mind-boggling offerings in the mini bars in its 72 rooms. There is the usual array of soft drinks, including Red Bull and miniature liqueur bottles, which are chosen, according to Q!’s Sonja Muller, because they are ‘classical and everybody likes them’.

However, the real fun starts with the ‘Kinderschokolade’, which has gained a cult following in Germany and ‘takes everybody back to their childhood and brings back memories’. The Chocolate Can is described as a ‘funny product which guests like a lot’ and is often smuggled home as a gift for friends or lovers.

After satisfying their thirst and hunger, guests can move on to the Kinky Kehmist, an €8 pack for lovers including condoms and lubricants. A €5 Bender Mender is in fact gift-wrapped Alka Seltzer, to remedy the effects of overindulging on the mini bar’s alcoholic offerings. Finally, the €5 arm-worn Snoozers Are Losers energy pads will keep guests awake all night having fun with the mini bar!

BREATHING SPACE

If all these exclusive treats leave you gasping for breath, then the Westin New York in Times Square is the place to head as the mini bar includes an oxygen dispenser. Renamed the Purification Station, it forms part of the new £1166-a-night Renewal Suite, which includes a decompression chamber, spa bath, home gym, chromotherapy and water, music and light features. The Purification Station, launched in October last year, includes healthy snacks, organic wine, beer, cookies, and vitamin-infused gummy bears and jelly beans.

Westin spokeswoman Sarah Moreira says, “It is designed to offer enhanced body, mind and soul, and offers unique products such as oxygen, energy patches and anti-stress spray to combat the rigours of the road.” The contents include Oxia’s Personal Oxygen dispenser with six gallons of pressurised oxygen, Stress Mints (organic mint lozenges with homeopathic medicine to settle digestion), Skyn Iceland Anti-Stress Oral Spray to relieve stress, and Moondrops Homeopathic Sleep Lozenges.

The Westin New York is piloting the concept, with elements of it set to be rolled out across the 121 Westin Hotels in the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and Europe.

STAYING HEALTHY

Hilton International Hotels in Europe and Africa is putting its guests’ health at the top of the agenda and have introduced a new healthy options programme. Developed last year with the European Food Information Council, the programme offers food that is nutritionally balanced, with reduced saturated fats, cholesterol, carbs and calories. “Our guests want to know more about the contents of the food they eat, but more importantly, they are asking for lighter or healthier food and drinks,” says Daniela Heusel, marketing communications manager.

This means Evian, regional sparkling water, sugar-free soft drinks, light cereal bars and fruit juices. A helpful ’10 tips for a healthy diet’ bookmark in each room guides guests through their choices.

Surveys of Hilton guests show an increased desire for healthy eating options. “Making smart food choices while staying in a hotel is becoming more and more important to our guests,” adds Heusel. Brands and costs vary from country to country. In Dresden you will find Vaihinger Orange and Apple juice for €3 and Corny cereal bars for €2.50 with Hilton Berlin stocking Prinzen Start cereal bars for €2.25 and Coca Cola Light for €3.20.

The five-star Rocco Forte Lowry Hotel in Manchester is determined to help its guests avoid going home with an expanded waistline. It has jumped on to the low Glycaemic Index (GI) diet bandwagon and introduced a GI mini bar (called GIMI) in May last year. The GI diet is based on the idea of eating carbohydrates which raise the levels of glucose in the blood slowly (low-GI foods) rather than giving a rapid increase.

“The era of the uninspiring mini bar is over.”

“Staying in a five-star hotel often means that healthy eating goes out the window in favour of midnight snacking from the temptingly stocked mini bar,” says Helen Hipkiss, a spokeswoman for the hotel.

Now guests can opt for the GI mini bar on checking in which replaces chocolate and crisps with plain popcorn, dried apricots, oatmeal biscuits, low-fat yoghurt, canned fruit and unsalted nuts. Drinks range from orange juice to decaffeinated diet drinks – but no alcohol.

“Raiding the mini bar can be extremely tempting – and ruinous to a diet – but now guests can pre-order the GIMI before they check in and the entire bar will be re-stocked to help them stick to their chosen eating plan,” adds general manager John Philipson.

THE MAXI BAR

But when the emphasis is not so much on healthy living as indulgence, the mini bar really comes into its own. For example, 34 suites at the Riviera golf resort in San Giovanni in Rimini, on Italy’s eastern coast, were individually created by guest designers before the resort opened in 2004. As a consequence, each mini bar blends in with the designs in colour and shape.

An Asian-themed suite filled with fur rugs and white leather is equipped with a designer glass kettle, Japanese-style cups, bowls and plates and a full set of cutlery for serving up the complimentary goodies. The alcohol includes Philipponat Champagne for €28, Heineken and Gordon’s Gin. And for when the munchies strike there is a delectable treat of smoked salmon for €6 and St Gamey cheese.

Whether guests want a tailored mini bar, healthier snacks, more playful offerings or sheer indulgence, the era of the uninspiring mini bar is over. These days it seems that half the fun of entering a hotel room for the first time is discovering what treats lie in store behind the fridge door.