NEWPORT, RI—When the executives at Grace Hotels opened the Vanderbilt Grace, here, last April, they were determined that the 104-year-old former mansion not appear stuffy or overly museum-like. The mansion had originally been the home of the super-wealthy family of Cornelius Vanderbilt and still retained many historic touches. But among the contemporary features the new owner added were a fitness center, outdoor swimming pool, and in the 33 suites, flat-screen televisions, iPod docking stations—and minibars.
The Vanderbilt Grace’s target guest is a leisure traveler, who wants to be able to enjoy the hotel’s own destination restaurant and lounge, Muse, and its breakfast restaurant, the Conservatory, as well as restaurants in the Newport vicinity.
But, noted current managing director Marina Aslanidou, guests also want to be able to satisfy the “impulse buy” that minibars encourage. The minibars are refrigerators from GE.
“Guests going sightseeing for the day may want to grab an item from the minibar on their way out or, returning in mid-afternoon, may want a snack or beverage to hold them until dinner,” Aslanidou explained. It’s one of the reasons bottled water is a particularly popular minibar item, especially in the hot summer months.
Given the Vanderbilt’s luxury positioning, the management team decided that the snack items offered would all be a high-end brand. The brand they chose was Dean & DeLuca, the SoHo, NY-based chain of gourmet food stores. “We wanted the caliber of the items in the minibar to match the quality of the rest of our services. Our bathroom amenities, for example, are equally high standard,” Aslanidou said.
The 12 Dean & DeLuca items in the minibar range from a chocolate bar with caramel to a tin of wasabi peas. Prices range from $4.50-$7.50. According to Aslanidou, the most popular snack items are gummy bears and salted cashew nuts.
Beverage items in addition to bottled water include juice, club soda, tonic water, ginger ale, Coca-Cola, and Sprite, 12 in all. Prices range from $3-$4.
Twelve alcoholic beverages are available as well, ranging from beer and wine to premium-branded liquors on the order of Smirnoff vodka, Tangueray British gin and Cuervo Gold tequila. Prices range from $7.50-$15.
The minibar fits into the hotel’s larger approach to guest service. “Our strategy is to give guests options. The more options, the better. We want them to feel as though they were at home. They may choose to dine with us. Or they may wish not to leave their room on a given evening,” Aslanidou explained. “Accordingly, they should have the option of doing whatever makes them feel comfortable.”
So in the same way each suite comes with a minibar, each suite is equipped with a coffee maker, which makes both coffee and tea, and a microwave. The coffee maker is by Keurig, the microwave by Avanti.
But the service actually begins before the guest checks in. Soon after a room reservation is confirmed, the guest receives an email request from the hotel, asking if there are any other services the guest would like to have available on arrival. And when it comes to the minibar, guests can choose to customize the contents of the minibar, ordering a special champagne, caviar or brie and crackers, for instance. The hotel will have it ready and waiting in the minibar upon arrival.
“It’s a way for us to provide a more personalized service, suitable, for example, for guests who are celebrating a special occasion,” Aslanidou said. “It’s proven to be a popular feature. People take advantage of it.”
Likewise, the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel reaches out pre-arrival to families with young children who have confirmed reservations. The minibars already offer juice, but the hotel will stock them with other beverages and snack items appropriate to children, if the parents request it.
Bottled water has become such a popular item in minibars—at the Vanderbilt Grace and other hotels—that the hotel stocks its minibars with both still and sparkling varieties. But bottled water also figures in the nightly turndown service. “We also provide a complimentary bottle on the night stand, separate from the minibar,” Aslanidou noted.
The hotel’s housekeeping department is charged with refilling the minibar. During both the morning housekeeping service and the evening turndown service, the attendant checks to see if any items have been consumed. If they have, the attendant replaces them and bills the guest accordingly.