NATIONAL REPORT? Although minibars are increasingly regarded by hotel guests as an necessity rather than an amenity, properties can still use them to distinguish themselves from their competition. By offering a wide variety of products? some of which can be customized according to a guest?s preferences or the property?s location? many hotels have metamorphasized minibars from high-priced convenience centers into an extension of the property?s personality which builds competitive advantage. Although many travelers liken minibars to concession counters in movie theaters, where items are outrageously overpriced, Robert Bollinger, director of room service operations at the upscale Westin Century Plaza in Los Angeles? Century City, said that the hotel does not consider minibar sales a major source of revenue. ?Minibars are no longer a major profit center. We?re trying not to charge exorbitant prices,? Bollinger said. According to Bollinger, who spent nine years at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills before joining the Westin staff about a year-and-a-half ago, hotels have come a long way with minibar pricing. A can of Coke used to sell for $5, he said, but now costs about $2. While that?s not exactly a bargain, the markdown exemplifies a shift in hoteliers? mindsets? offering in-demand and creative items at more reasonable prices will ultimately increase sales, and even more importantly, distinguish a property in the mind of the guest. ?It is exactly the same as (having) a blow dryer or at some hotels, a bathrobe. A minibar used to be an amenity, but is now expected,? he said. With that said, hotels must pay attention to what is selling and what guests are asking for and then determine how they can set themselves apart by bringing together a unique collection of items. Healthier snacks continue to gain popularity in the minibar, so the Westin Century Plaza is creating custom, upscale trail mixes. Bollinger said the snack will be priced in the $2.50 to $2.75 range. ?We?re trying not to break the $3 barrier, which doesn?t leave huge profits; but signature items make the hotel stand out,? he added. While custom minibar items are one way to impress hotel guests, properties can take the concept one step further by including minibar preferences in guest profiles, Bollinger explained. Knowing in advance that a guest drinks two diet sodas a day, for example, enables the hotel to pre-stock a minibar with only those items he or she truly wants. It also demonstrates that the hotel took an extra step to accommodate a customer?s needs. Reflect Local Culture While non-food items like visors, golf balls and disposable cameras were discontinued at the Westin because they did not sell, the Sheraton New York in Manhattan has had great success by including New York Yankee hats and t-shirts with its minibar offerings. Bruce Sands, minibar manager at the Sheraton New York, said that the property has been selling Yankee paraphernalia ?for about two-and-a-half years, and the tourists love it.? In addition to providing a convenient solution for guests who need an extra hat or t-shirt, the hotel is also capitalizing on the popularity of the region and of the 1996 and 1998 World Champion universally beloved Bronx Bombers. While the clothing is not offered at wholesale prices it only slightly exceeds the average retail cost. The Yankee items are displayed in a basket on top of the minibar and are accompanied by other popular items like Snackwells products, M&M candies and various chips, including Nabisco Air Crisps, which Sands said are one of the best selling minibar items at the property. ?When the snack first came out, I tried it on the club level for 60 days and it did great? it?s one of our biggest sellers.? Unsurprisingly, Evian water is also the top seller in Sheraton New York minibars. According to Sands, Coke and Perrier follow closely behind.