DEBATE CLUB • March 2021
Almost every hotel room has one, but what do we really think of the mini-bar? Below, two seasoned travel writers take a view. Question is, which side gets your vote: do you drink in its splendours, or just say no?
Crack it open
Says who? Rob Crossan, travel writer and host of BBC Radio 6 Music’s travel show, The Happiness Map
It stares at you. Malevolent and yet, so very, very tempting.
I’ve no idea what kind of nefarious feng shui hotels resort to when it comes to designing room layouts but, for some reason, I am always magnetically drawn towards the part of the room (or, ideally, suite) that contains the mini-bar before I do anything else of importance, such as check plug socket compatibility or pocket the complimentary hair conditioner.
It may be hidden underneath a desk, behind a cupboard door or, in one memorable hotel room in Hanoi, next to the toilet, but the mini-bar will always find me, hold me in its overpriced clutches and engage in a 1,000-yard stare with me until I submit to its exorbitant needs.
And, you know what? I don’t mind a bit.
Because pointlessly spending money on things you don’t really need is exactly what a holiday should be all about. Caution and restraint are things to behind at home, along with your laptop and the kitchen sink.
It’s why we over-tip waiters, tell cab drivers to keep the change and happily spend the best part of £20 on an airport breakfast when we could quite easily have just waited to eat on the plane, or better yet, snarfed something we’d made at home.
Of course, I haven’t completely given up on the prospect of finding the snow leopard of the hospitality world (the reasonably priced mini-bar). And it would be ever so nice if hotels were a little more imaginative and stocked theirs with interesting cheeses and craft ales from local producers.
But, until that day comes, I’ll happily delve into the seductively lit interior, pull out a half tube of Pringles, open a can of Heineken, sprawl on my oversized bed and care not a jot about the bill. You should try it some time. Just avoid the mini-bottles of red wine. They’re always, without exception, absolutely revolting.
Leave well alone
Says who? Monisha Rajesh, author of Around the World in 80 Trains
Most of my travels take place on trains, in the absence of hot showers, snug pyjamas and pillow mists that smell of forests. So, when I do check in to a hotel, or rather check out of one, I swipe whatever isn’t nailed down: toothbrushes, slippers, apples, teabags… you name it, I take it.
Except, that is, when it comes to the mini-bar. Unless you’re living it up on expenses, I don’t know anyone willing to pay double figures for a bottle of JD the size of their thumb and a rock-hard bar of Green & Black’s. And don’t get me started on the fear: is the legend of the mini-bar sensor true? Will you be charged for moving everything around in there to wedge in your bottle of water?
See, I won’t crack open a Coke and can of Pringles when I can nip down to the local off-licence for both, so show me that you know me. Dean Street Townhouse leaves full jugs of milk, homemade oat cookies and porridge pots from neighbourhood bakers, along with a catalogue of free DVDs. And on a family holiday to Bahia Principe in Tenerife, the complimentary fridge was restocked with chocolate milk for the kids, apricot juice for me, and local beer for my husband – practically personalised.
Although, who are we kidding: just scrap the fridge altogether, fill up a biscuit tin and pop half a bottle of prosecco on ice. Nailed it.
This begs the question: why don’t more hotels pay attention to this fabled little black box? On my travels I’ve encountered everything from Newcastle Brown Ale in Robert de Niro’s The Greenwich Hotel, stale milk in a North Korean guesthouse, and a chilled packet of Scholl Party Feet with paracetamol at the W in London – bravo for catering to your clientele.