CHICAGO — Today's business traveler prefers to relax in the hotel room not with a cocktail, but with a bottle of mineral water and some candy.
This news comes from MiniBar North America, one of the largest companies in the in-room refrigerator bar and snack service business.
Because the company sells and leases the computer systems that help hotels keep track of and bill guests for the items taken from the bars, it can monitor what's being used.
The biggest seller by far in North America is bottled water, the company said, followed by diet cola, regular cola, orange juice, light beer, M&Ms, Snickers, potato chips, pretzels and meat sticks.
The move away from liquor consumption is a "noticeable trend" in the 150 or so hotels in the United States that have MiniBar systems, the company said.
"We've had a big change," said Stephen Reid, vice president for sales at MiniBar. "When the bars first came out, they were perceived as liquor bars. . . . That's still a part of the unit, but they're not the big sellers they once were. Today the bar is really like a refreshment center or a snack bar."
That change mirrors a well-documented drop in liquor consumption in the United States, which has accompanied an increasing emphasis on fitness, he said.
But the same effect is not being seen in Europe, where the company also operates, Reid said.
"Liquor is much more significant in Europe than in the United States, much more of an important part of the sales," he said. It is among the Top 10 sellers in MiniBars there.
Reid said a changing taste in potables is not the only trend showing up in the bars.
"There are more and more items of a non-food nature going into the bar--toothpaste, brushes, razors, all types of personal hygiene products," he said.
There have even been reports that some hotels have placed condoms in the units, though Reid said he had not personally seen them offered.
Hotels do their own stocking of the units and set the prices--typically considerably higher than normal as a premium charged for the convenience the bars offer.
Those prices sometimes tempt guests to replace the items themselves. A hungry guest who grabs a can of peanuts out of the bar despite the $4 price tag might be tempted to run down to a store the next morning, buy the same can for $1 and put it back.
Reid says that doesn't always work.
The company has a new line--the RoboBar--that looks like the standard in-room refrigerator bar except that each item is in an individual slot. Removing the item from the slot triggers an automatic charge that can't be undone by putting something back.