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Wilkinson Coutts & Matthews Integrity Training


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WILKINSON COUTTS / MATTHEWS INTEGRITY HUB: an up-to-the-minute information mix designed to help you with your lifework and career development in the asset integrity, inspection and NDE industries.

Matthew Petroleum Notes

‘Priceonomics’: The strange case of hotel minibars

When a German company invented the mini-bar in the early 1960s, it was an instant hit with luxury hotels. First trialed in the USA in 1963, mini-bars became an expected perk at fancy hotels and, despite eye-watering profit mark ups, guests munched and slurped their way through  the snacks and beverages inside of them. In 1974 a fancy Hong Kong hotel was one of the first hotels to include alcohol in its mini-bars and watched profits skyrocket on the back of the $15 Toblerone bar and Jack Daniels late-night combo. It’s a strange phenomenon, based on the strange principle of ‘priceconomics’ but seemed to work.

Minibar tales

Sadly it was doomed not to last. Many hotel minibars have now disappeared; hoteliers quoting loss of profits caused by persistent thieving visitors who looked ever-so-respectable when they checked in. 

Despite this general annihilation of mini-bars, some hotels have elected to keep them, and in order to viably do so, they’ve turned to technology. Many now have built-in electronic sensors and scales to detect when items have been removed or tampered with. Other types charge guests automatically using a system of infrared sensors if any item is even moved or touched. Big unfriendly yellow stickers warn you not to interfere unless you want to buy. Fondling has its price.

One of our website contributors fell foul of one of these big-brother plastic-coated bandits last year. Despite not consuming anything, he was still charged $20+ on his hotel bill for ‘incidentals’. That got us thinking; I wonder how they work and what do you actually have to do to get them to register a fictitious sale.

The test

Being NDE and integrity engineers born and bred on functional acceptance tests of equipment, we decided to write a test procedure and conduct a validation test. Shortly afterwards, our attendance at a London conference kindly supplied the nice hotel room venue and a 3-hour pre-test meeting in the Dog and Carrot next door. As the clocked ticked towards 11pm (we were careful to make the test realistic), we initiated the 6-step minibar sale test protocol (MSTP) and diligently recorded the results. Here they are;

  • Open minibar door and bash on the top with fist. Repeat with increasing vigour: bam..bam …bam… Result? A few flickering lights but no sale recorded.
  • Remove Toblerone bar, smash it up on the table with the ice bucket then replace it with wrapper intact: Still no sale. Wow.
  • Close minibar door and tilt it around a lot (think pinball wizard) : Ding…we’d bought a packet of salted nuts (£4)
  • Open door and shake  hand around inside like the Queen waving ,but without the white gloves obviously, as we didn’t have any of those: Ding, ding, ding…Yessssss....potato chips (£3),330ml  beer (£5) and packet of almonds (£3.50)
  • Remove all 6 spirit miniatures and drink as mixed cocktail with Toblerone fragment croutons, then put the bottles back in filled with a 50:50 water/shampoo mix. Amazingly this registered only 2 spirit sales and once again ignored the Toblerone (maybe the sensors don’t recognize triangles or something)
  • Finally, as a control experiment, take everything out and put it all back in again in random order on the wrong shelves. Goodness me, only one Ding…the ¼ bottle of wine (£9)

 We’re just saying what we found. We’re only inspectors ….. we just report the results.

 The TRAVELLER (and FRIENDS).