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I've had this question on my mind for a while now because I've never understood how this works. I began traveling two years ago for personal reasons and sometimes I've stayed in various hotels for the night. Some of those hotels had mini-bar service in the room but I've never taken anything from them since all the products inside them are overpriced compared to the nearest supermarket and for this reason I've always bought what I needed from the supermarket to save money.
But after a few stays I started to think: "How could the hotel know if one customer took something from the mini-bar during the night if he was checking out the day after he checked in? And he checks out even before the room is cleaned and/or someone goes to check the mini-bar"?

I thought that the hotel would check the mini-bar after the customer checks out and then charge all the products to his credit card registered during the check-in. But what if the customer used a prepaid card?

Can you please explain to me what the mini-bar policy is for a one-night stay in a hotel?

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Oops, I read one-night stand :) –  Bernhard Aug 10 at 12:23
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@Bernhard lol xD –  Aluminum Aug 10 at 16:00
    
The mini-bar is sometimes called the honor bar. –  Pete Becker Aug 11 at 12:18

5 Answers 5

up vote 39 down vote accepted

There are a few things you have to consider. I worked before at a hotel refilling those minibars. So I know a bit of how it works.

  1. Some hotels have an electronic system. This system registers if something has been taken from the minibar. Please note them some people replace a can of coke (or take it out and after putting it back) and the system will see that as "consumption" because of the technical limitation. In those cases they will check the minimbar to confirm.

  2. Some hotel force you to wait a few minutes. So they check if you used any paid items.

  3. After charge with Credit Card. Hotels can after charge once they discover something is missing. Only for CC customers.

  4. You might be lucky they discover it too late. Some will just ask and believe customers are honest. However they might charge you if you would enter your next stay there.

Always note that some hotels work with blacklists. Once you are listed and hotels use the list, they will reject you. Many hotels might even share these with other hotels to protect the entire business . I would always recommend paying these services if you are planning to use them. Or else just find a convenience store in the area.

I hope this might help you out a bit.

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Thank you for your detailed answer, I didn't know of those "checking" systems before so I think I'll continue going to the nearest supermarket for those things instead of using the mini-bar. –  Aluminum Aug 10 at 10:56
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generally good not to steal regardless of the chance of being caught! –  JamesRyan Aug 11 at 11:30
    
I never pay for hotels with a credit card and very rarely take anything out of a mini-bar but even where detection is not automatic have routinely experienced something like 2. (though never a long wait) even at the end of stays of several weeks. I take it such checks are not just of the mini-bar but also whether anything else is missing or trashed. –  pnuts Aug 15 at 9:47
    
Chinese hotels usually call up and have a girl check the minibar (and probably other things). Some even stamp the cans so that you can't get a Coke when you're thirsty and then replace it with another! –  Spehro Pefhany Sep 5 at 20:39

One thing to consider is that, despite what common sense or simplistic views of economic theory might suggest, many businesses actually rely to a large extent on the customers' honesty.

For example, I have worked at a café in an area with many tourists (i.e. people we don't know and who have no reason to fear having a bad reputation or being denied service in the future) and many tables outside that weren't visible from the bar. We tried to keep track of things, at busy times we asked people to pay right away but also often let people get their drinks first. We had no time to actively monitor all tables and it would therefore be pretty easy to slip away unnoticed. It did happen once in a while that someone left without paying but on the whole most people just pay what they owe, even come to the bar to pay if nobody is visible, warn us when we make a mistake or come back later if they accidentally forgot to pay.

Anecdotally, it seems that few people would just stand up and leave but it happened a few times that customers took advantage of mistakes (e.g. waiter asks “you had three beers, right?” and the person says yes even though they got another round from another waiter). Maybe the social pressure against doing that is lower since the process is initiated by someone else or something like that…

I have also seen self-service fruit stands in rural areas in France and Switzerland. Producers would simply set up a table with fruits on it, a box to collect the money and a sign with the price and not much preventing anybody from stealing the produce and/or the proceeds from previous sales.

It might not work in every context (most of the hotels I stay at actually don't have minibars, I guess people might have less prevention against stealing from a big corporation than from an independent business) but many hotels might just rely on this and consider mistakes and petty theft as a cost worth bearing for the sake of offering better service to other customers.

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Thank you for sharing your point of view/personal experience @Relaxed! –  Aluminum Aug 10 at 16:04
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This is also true for other areas. There are supermarkets where you scan your thing yourself and just pay in the end at a machine or cut-flowers-yourself fields with a box to put in the money afterwards. They all seem to work decently. –  magu_ Aug 11 at 7:12
    
@magu_: While the cut-flowers-yourself one is a good example, scanning one's items at the exit of a store does not mean the items are not electronically tagged in such a way that walking out without paying sets of a noisy alarm sound. –  O. R. Mapper Aug 11 at 7:36
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@O.R.Mapper. Well in this case it actually is, since one only scan's the things with a reader. Without interacting with any concealed RDIF chip, if that is what you are implying. Since the smart phone with the store app can be used as price tag scanner. Of course the store is still allowed to check if you made any mistakes and checks your things. But happens something like one in ten times. (Sources: coop.ch/pb/site/retail/node/70518401/Len/index.html & migros.ch/de/supermarkt/subito.html - both in german I'm afraid but the pictures should be self explanatory) –  magu_ Aug 11 at 9:59
    
@magu_: At least most of the stores I know scan a barcode with an optical reader at the check-out desk, yet the products are electronically secured in addition to that ... I think ... –  O. R. Mapper Aug 11 at 10:03

I travel quite a bit and there are a number of different ways that the minibar set up might work.

  1. In more upmarket hotels the mini bar is often automated. With small pressure sensors that activate it the item is removed. It tells the hotel billing computer to add the charge to your final bill.

  2. In a hotel where i stayed recently the minibar was empty, with a note saying that if i wanted it stocked then I would need to pay a deposit, or have a hold placed of £50 on my credit card.

  3. In smaller mid range / boutique hotels or guest houses it is often done on an more basic level. Where, as you described, the minibar is checked after checkout. If you were to check in using a prepaid card the hotel might clear the minibar.

I recently stayed in a chain hotel that had an honesty slip. Where I filled out what had been used and handed that in at checkout. However that hotel also took a copy of my id so would have had some recourse. At the very least I think they would blacklist you so you could not make a booking again.

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So you could restock the minibar from the supermarket and get away with it in mid range hotels? –  shortstheory Aug 11 at 10:08
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@shortstheory Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of using the minibar to begin with? You just created extra work for yourself and didn't cost the hotel anything... –  thanby Aug 11 at 12:20
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@thanby Perhaps you want something when the nearby stores are closed or you don't want to go to them (you're lazy or tired or it's raining or something). There could still be benefit to you in taking something from the minibar and replacing it from the store the following morning before checking out. On the other hand, the amount of money saved is unlikely to be worth the amount of time you'd spend doing this... –  David Richerby Aug 11 at 16:26
    
@DavidRicherby Fair point, I suppose it comes down to how badly you want that drink but want to avoid paying full price! –  thanby Aug 11 at 16:52
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@shortstheory: In my youth we went with a large number of youths to a very expensive 5 star hotel (paid for us by another organization). For a couple of them this was the first time they saw a minibar and they just assumed it was included in the price... So they ate some of it... then discovered there mistakes... and then spend the rest of the night visiting petrol stations and 24h stores to refill the minibar (as we were leaving around 8 or so). In the end they did a pretty good job, but what a mess that was :P –  David Mulder Aug 12 at 10:42

Interesting to see the number of references to hotel mini-bars being overpriced, which of course most are. It is for that reason when we acquired our hotel [a new venture for us] we decided to price it at local shop prices. We make our money from our rooms, the mini-bar is a facility for our guests. If the local corner shop can make money at their prices, so can we. As for the original question, our Terms include a clause allowing us to charge the guests credit card for undeclared mini-bar items PLUS a re-stocking service charge. Cash paying guests have to wait while their room is checked.

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Good to have the hotel's perspective too! –  Gagravarr Sep 5 at 14:02

Your main question has been answered by others, but regarding the prepaid card idea; most hotels will put a hold on your card (prepaid or not) for a certain amount (e.g. $40). That in essence, 'holds' the money for them, should they need to use it for incidentals. Therefore, you can't simply use a prepaid card that has $1 on it, because when they try to put a hold on it, it will fail, and they will ask you for another card. This is also why you can no longer steal gasoline using a prepaid card (a large chunk is 'held' to ensure that it can be charged for the gasoline).

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