Goodbye minibar, hello kombucha. Richard McComb looks at the changing face of in-room products and services in hotels
It was the ultimate symbol of high-rolling hotel chic, satisfying guests' desire for a G&T in the bathroom and a way to quell the 2am munchies. When it came to judging a hotel's ‘cool' credentials, the debate pretty much started and ended with the in-room minibar. In addition to dinky bottles of spirits and a Paul Masson-style wine carafe, the tiny fridge, recessed underneath the multichannel TV, featured such irresistible treats as KitKats, bite-sized pretzels and dry-roasted peanuts.
Invented by a German company in 1963, and popularised by the Hong Kong Hilton in 1974, the minibar was on the checklist of any discerning traveller. Rock bands and stag and hen party groups who resolved to "drink the minibar dry" were particularly devoted fans.
Fast-forward to 2019, and snacks barely figure when it comes to in-room perks. If drinks are offered, it's all about the kombucha. Guests are now invited to turn their rooms into a recording studio or wellness cocoons where they can bathe with a clean conscience.
The year's headline-grabbing move has been the decision by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to scrap small plastic toiletry bottles. The group, whose brands include Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, is introducing bigger bottles of bathroom amenities in more than 5,600 hotels to replace the 200 million bathroom miniatures it deploys across its estate each year. Last year, IHG also announced it would be axing single-use plastic straws by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, its Voco hotel brand now provide duvets and pillows filled with 100% recycled materials.
An IHG spokesperson says: "Our guests increasingly drive a lot of the change we are seeing in this space, and we know they want their stay experience with us to be as sustainable as possible. We have received some fantastic feedback from our guests around the world who are welcoming this change to bulksize amenities as part of our broader commitment to doing business responsibly."
Out of Eden has been sourcing and supplying refillable toiletry bottles for more than 20 years and has seen its sales rise for 300ml and 480ml refillable bottles, which use up to 60% less plastic per unit of content than mini toiletries. Founder Ian Hartley says: "With five refillable collections and an impressive range of dispensers to choose from, we have carefully selected and created ranges that will allow hoteliers to offer greener toiletry solutions."
Out of Eden has launched two refillable collections for eco-minded guests. The 300ml Eden collection is "100% vegan-friendly and cruelty-free", and offers essential oils of basil, cardamom, orange and peppermint. The collection is free from silicones, alcohol, PEG (a polyether compound), PG (a polymer) and phosphates. The 480ml Cole & Lewis Orangewood & Neroli collection, clinically tested on sensitive skin, contains natural botanical extracts such as shea butter, cornflower and passionflower.
At the Grade II-listed Palé Hall hotel in north Wales, owners Angela and Alan Harper have collaborated with local supplier Cole & Co to replace all single-use plastic bottles with reinforced glass bottles. A new unisex lime flower and bergamot signature scent is marketed as a "subtle combination of sweet floral undertones, a clean and mellow middle tone and zesty top notes". Angela says: "The fact it is organic and we can reuse the bottles is vital. We have an engraved glass block beside the toiletries that asks our guests to help us to be green and let us reuse the bottles. Our guests are being very supportive."
There is still a demand for luxury products in smaller sizes, though. Guest amenity company Groupe GM now supplies Jo Malone London's Lime, Basil and Mandarin line to five-star hotels. The new product range features 40ml and 75ml body and hand wash, shampoo, conditioner, and body and hand lotion bottles, along with 30g and 50g soaps.
Tapping into the lure of music nostalgia, London's Hard Rock hotel has Crosley turntables in its rooms that allow guests to listen to a collection of 10 iconic records chosen by music experts, ranging from cutting-edge bands to popular artists. Guests can also channel their inner Hendrix by reserving one of the hotel's 20 Fender guitars, which come with Nixon headphones and a Fender Mustang floor amplifier. Beginners can turn to the in-room video lessons to get started.
Although music is at the heart of the Hard Rock brand, wellness also makes the in-room checklist. A free yoga programme, Rock Om, promises to "refresh the mind, rejuvenate the body and re-energise the spirit". On-demand yoga videos are available on TV.
The one-size-fits-all guest approach is increasingly being consigned to the (recycling) bin. Adrian Ellis, general manager of the Lowry hotel, Salford, goes as far as saying operators are "wasting valuable time and money on a standardised service". He adds: "We will soon be modernising our traditional turndown services and launching a full new menu of welcome packages that can be personalised to each guest. A tailored approach ensures that the services and products being offered, if any, will be used and enjoyed by guests.
"With a growing trend for wellbeing, mindfulness and health within the hospitality industry, we will be offering a wellness turndown, incorporating a yoga mat and exercise video on arrival, a bottle of kombucha and an Aromatherapy Associates Revive & Reset Edit beauty package, to help awaken the mind and body while travelling."
Guests can also opt for a ‘sleep well' turndown, which consists of a sleep podcast, eye mask, Aromatherapy Associates Sleep Edit, and a pillow menu to create their ideal environment for nodding off. At the other end of the spectrum, there is an eco turndown for those who "wish to save on the energy and simply access their room with no bells and whistles, reducing waste".
Locality and heritage are increasingly important too, as exemplified at Hotel Indigo Dundee, which opened last year and takes inspiration from its neighbourhood. Bedrooms are decorated with commissioned artwork detailing city icons and supplied with Dundee cake and drinks from independent Scottish brand Bon Accord. National magazines have been ditched and replaced by locally printed Beano comics. Guests are given a specially printed jute bag bearing the hotel's logo to reflect Dundee's jute history.
The accent is on wellness and sustainability at the new Inhabit hotel in London's Paddington. The hotel promotes food waste apps Karma and Too Good to Go, and it is collaborating with "mindfulness café" Yeotown Kitchen for its F&B. "Non-essential" room service and minibars have given way to communal facilities: there is a ground-floor pantry, and the shared water stations on each floor come with still and sparkling Belu filtration taps. Toiletries, diffusers, in-room aromatherapy and cushions are "created by mission-driven enterprises that share our values and inspire our guests to make different purchasing decisions".
To learn more about Inhabit, read The Caterer's Hotel Design feature (bit.ly/2nphPOR).
Business or pleasure?
It's not all about wellness, though, and there are still opportunities for naughty treats. Startup company Diet Starts Tomorrow offers subscription boxes of gourmet sweets and is featured on the in-room dining menu of the May Fair hotel, London. YouTuber and cofounder Mikey Pearce says: "We all know there are times when the munchies strike, and you need to indulge your sweet tooth. What could be more convenient than a gourmet box of sweets in the comfort of your room?"
The new 195-room Mama Shelter in east London offers complimentary films and products from the Mama Skin range of organic amenities. If guests venture outside their room, they can sing their hearts out at the Japanese-style karaoke rooms, which have pinball machines, retro video games and 50s-style microphones.
Across the Channel at Brach hotel, Paris, the second city property from hospitality group Evok, the minibar has been replaced with an in-room "concept store" stocked with gastronomy and lifestyle products, ranging from high-quality sleepwear to gourmet snacks. The selection of books and novels is renewed every literary season. Among the products, guests can choose from candles, olive oils, Champagnes, teas, shaving kits and luggage tags.
Biophilic design – the use of natural principles to create a ‘human-centred approach' – is increasingly influential, according to Charlotte Deykin, sales manager of Pro Foodservice Reps, the UK office for Room360°. She says: "This architectural approach incorporates materials, textures, colours and patterns, and can bring a range of health and wellbeing benefits, particularly in heavily urbanised areas. But this is about more than pot plants and living walls.
"Designers are taking the opportunity to incorporate natural materials such as wood, not only into the design of the room itself, but throughout the guest room via products such as ice buckets and tissue covers – even bowls, plates and trays. Our Room360° collection of guest room products, for example, includes natural materials such as rustic wood, rubberwood, bamboo, palm wood, sugar cane and resin, fir wood and black bamboo, all of which are sustainable, without compromising on style or visual appeal."
In terms of in-room hot beverages, Café du Monde has launched its latest version of Service en Chambre with a platform base and ingredients box finished in synthetic leather. Options include the Café Plus coffee capsule machine or a stainless steel cafetière and kettle. Meanwhile, Gastros Switzerland has got round the age-old problem of hot food being delivered cold to rooms. Its new InductWarm Battery Module is designed for mobile food warming solutions, such as room service tables. The battery system keeps food warm at a constant temperature for up to four hours.
Looking to the future, Dan Bladen, co-founder of Chargifi, urges hoteliers to prepare for guests' demand for wireless power. The company's wireless charging spots act as a trigger point for a ‘connected hotel room'. Bladen says: "From lighting to entertainment and room service, a guest can configure the room to their liking by placing their phone on the charging spot."
Wireless charging transmitters can be retrofitted or designed into newbuild projects and transmitters can be designed to complement different interiors. Bladen adds: "Deploying wireless charging is easy and, with realtime data, hotels can improve space utilisation, and boost engagement and revenue. These subtle tech accessories offer huge return on investment and futureproof hotels in an increasingly digitally dependent world."
Take three: in-room service trends
Forbes Group, a specialist manufacturer of hospitality sector products, pinpoints the following ways to improve in-room service:
1 Box clever with local restaurant dishes Whether hotels cater in-house for room service meals or work with local restaurants, operators have to deliver hot food to the room in the quickest way. Environmentally friendly, electric-powered insulated hot boxes can be moved around the hotel efficiently.
2 Make room service a lifestyle choice Room service needs to be personalised. If guests are working or watching television, the set up needs to work seamlessly – and be Instagrammable. Noise-reducing, heat-resistant table protectors provide a neat surface for the table linen.
3 Create a home from home As self-service facilities and in-room kitchenettes rise in popularity, in-room service needs to stand out by offering unique, personalised products that can be pre-ordered using smart technology. This makes bigger, more efficient housekeeping carts and restocking trolleys a smart move to save time returning to the stockroom.
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