Avoid a maxi bill, keep away from the mini bar

I'm lying in a hotel bed, head throbbing, memories of the night before disjointed and my mouth feels like cotton wool.

A bottle of water has conveniently been placed on the bedside table - a saving grace.

The seal is broken, the first sip is heaven, and then I pay for it. Literally.

Discretely placed items are part of a new wave of hotel mini bar evolution or some may say hotel robbery.

The humble mini bar has evolved from the miniature bottles of spirits and now covers more than just the boring basics. But be careful, the contents are still as pricey as ever.

A staff survey of 22 Accor hotels across Australia and New Zealand shows the most popular item in the fridge by far is water.

"The biggest change we have seen in the last five years in terms of mini bar usage is the huge increase in guests consuming water from the mini bar. A decade ago this would almost have been unheard of," Gaynor Reid, Media Relations Manager for Accor, says.

Women are more likely to sip the mini bar water, with three quarters of women drinking the water according to the Accor staff survey.

Beverage Contracts Manager for Accor Matt Graham puts the increase partly down to a technique called "ambient placement".

As part of this "marketing technique" items are placed in the guests' line of vision.

"By placing water on bedside tables, during the night, people are more likely to grab it than get up to get a glass of water," Graham says.

In another example, Graham has noticed ambient placement of speciality chocolates on folded down beds in other hotels. Anything beyond the complimentary mint could be costly.

Graham says that new items have also been added to the fridge to encourage people to make use of the facilities and meet all of guests' needs.

The modern mini bar is likely to feature Berocca, pre-mixed alcoholic beverages, energy drinks and even stockings.

The Accor survey found that female guests are more likely to make use of "responsible products" such as condoms that are on offer at some hotels.

Based on observation, Graham says that after water, women choose chocolate and wine while men prefer beer and chips.

The poll shows that 83 per cent of male guests will crack open a cold one from their mini bar.

He also mentions the concept of female-only floors of hotels in which mini bars cater to specific feminine needs.

"Some may have soaps and shampoo that women are familiar with or sanitary napkins," Graham says.

Housekeeping staff refilling bars notice that, when staying for business, men will consumer larger bottles of wine and women tend to stop at one glass, leaving the opened bottle half-full for another session.

The Australian mini bar market is very different from that of overseas hotels, according to Graham.

Aussies are much less likely to make use of the facility, favouring convenience stores with cheaper prices. And that's even with the mini hands of children dying to take over the mini bar.

"Australian markets are more conscious of the cost ... and they are competing with 711s," he says.

According to Graham, the stock's pricing reflects the cost of labour in maintaining the fridges.

"It is a time consuming process (re-filling fridges) ... and there is a lot of wastage when stock doesn't move," he says.

There are staff members dedicated to the role of checking each fridge in a hotel every day.

On top of this cost, hotels face the problem of "shrinkage".

Guests will make use of products and "replace" them with a substitute.

Not only does this leave the hotel out of pocket, it also leaves new guests with a bad taste when what appears to be a nip of scotch turns out to be flat iced tea.

And while this problem is hard to monitor, it is becoming easier with the help of technology.

Graham explains the idea of the Smart Bar.

"It is like a vending machine," he says. "There is one in the hall and everyone on the floor shares the same one."

In the cashless system, users swipe their guest card and their goodies are added to their bill.

Another technologically advanced option is the self-sensory fridge.

Reid explains that when items are removed from the fridge they are automatically added to the guest's tab making for easier management of the mini bar for guests and staff alike.

The mini bar has been part of the hotel experience for so long, that, whilst many guests don't take advantage of it, the little fridge would surely be missed if the convenience wasn't there.