Harvard-area hotel offers smart minibar choices

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Guests of The Charles Hotel, located in the heart of Harvard Square here, don’t have to go far to find a healthy snack if the craving surfaces. In fact, they don’t even have to leave their rooms. As part of a recent $20-million renovation that added “smart” features to the property’s guestrooms, a curated selection of superfoods and healthy alternatives were added to the minibars.

While the Dometic minibars still contain the traditional food and drinks that most guests find inside a hotel minibar, items such as LaCroix sparkling water, yogurt-covered blueberries, spicy toasted walnuts, dark chocolate-covered acai berries and kale chips can be found inside and atop the unit at The Charles Hotel.

“More and more people are taking the time to look at what they are putting in their bodies; our job is to provide guests with what they are looking for,” said Alex Attia, general manager of the 295-room property. “Beverages with artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup are being replaced with healthier beverages like LaCroix sparkling water. Greasy snacks are taking second billing to products made with quinoa and other healthy grains, seeds, nuts and legumes. We still offer industry standard items that do not fit this trend, but they are losing ground, and items like energy drinks with questionable ingredients that have done well elsewhere do not sell here.”

While the items in and around the minibars have changed, the units themselves—the Dometic HiPro 4000—have stayed the same. Attia noted that their features and reliability made for an easy decision as to whether or not to keep them or to upgrade to a different model.

“Since the Dometic HiPro 4000 minibars use an absorption refrigeration system, they are energy efficient and very, very quiet, which is important when you consider guests sleep only a few feet away. Condenser refrigerators cool down a bit quicker after being opened,” he said. “As we are not storing perishables like dairy or produce in the unit, and the unit is filled with mostly beverage products whose density helps maintain temperature, the tradeoff is favorable: a smaller carbon footprint and no condenser cycle making disturbing, intermittent noise. We considered purchasing new units, but of the 300 we originally purchased, we’ve only had serious issues with two units over several years, finding them incredibly reliable. At this time, we do not have plans to upgrade.

“That being said, not all of our items are placed inside the minibar refrigerator,” he continued. “The best sellers are predominantly not refrigerated, but offered out in the open where guests can see what we have to offer. This includes bottled water. Many health conscious and/or European guests prefer bottled water at room temperature. We offer both. As it turns out, the water outside the refrigerator sells significantly more.”

Even though the units are the same, the minibars did have a place in the Bill Rooney Studio Inc.-designed guestroom renovation, which included new furniture; Carrara marble bathrooms; “smart sleeper” mattresses; and an energy-saving light system, among other enhancements.

The Dometic HiPro 4000 minibar units are 15.9 in. wide, 22 in. tall and 17.8 in. deep, weighing 32 lbs., according to Attia. “During the renovation, we purchased new cabinets to house the minibar refrigerators in each room. As we want the minibars to be both easy to access and aesthetically pleasing, the type of cabinet depended on the room. For some rooms, they are inside of the desk; in others, a standalone cabinet; and in the suites, they may be under the credenza counter.”

The general manager pointed out that the minibars not only include healthy snacks and drinks, but they also feature locally based food and beverage offerings, noting, “Our minibar aims to hit every aspect of the guest’s palate when they need to feed a craving.”

He continued, “For those ‘eat local’ fans, we offer Taza Amaze dark chocolate bars. Taza is a ‘bean to bar’ chocolate factory only two miles away in Somerville.  They are so close, they deliver their product to the hotel by bicycle along with items from our local farms. On the savory end, we have items like I Heart Keenwah Quinoa clusters with dark chocolate and sea salt. Both of these items are top sellers. We offer high-end products like roasted jumbo cashews in custom silk-screened glass logo jars that allow the guest to view the product and keep it fresh longer than other containers; and they make nice souvenirs to take home. For alcoholic beverages, we offer champagne; wine; beer like Samuel Adams Boston Lager; and quality liquors like Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Grey Goose and Tito’s Vodka. Guests can also purchase Vita Coco coconut water, Fiji water, LaCroix sparkling water and Coke products like Glacéau Smartwater.”

The healthy snacks and beverages in the guestrooms are exclusive to the minibars, according to Attia. For those guests who want to venture out elsewhere within the property to satisfy that craving, he pointed to the all-day restaurant Henrietta’s Table, which serves farm-to-table cuisine.

“Our Executive Chef, Peter Davis, believes in serving fresh and honest food and has been a pioneer in supporting products grown using sustainable agriculture methods and native ingredients,” said Attia. “He is an avid conservationist, with close ties to New England’s fishing and farming communities that deliver ingredients to the hotel on a daily basis.”

The health-conscious craze wasn’t built in a day, and old favorites in the minibar will remain popular. But, Attia has found that more and more guests are passing on the chips and soda and turning to the new healthy offerings.

“The feedback we receive from guests is predominantly based on their purchases,” he said. “While the health-conscious items are trending very well and have increased our sales considerably, old favorites like Pringles are still top sellers. Whether it’s a guilty pleasure or that everyone wants something salty once in a while, the goal is the same as with the health-conscious products: provide your guests with the comforts they desire. The minibar is the ultimate impulse purchase situation and, judging from our sales mix, the impulse trends toward quality, health-conscious goods.” 

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