Computers keep tabs on minibar usage in hotel rooms

  • Stacey Hirsh / The Baltimore Sun
  • Thursday, November 29, 2001 9:00pm
  • Business

By Stacey Hirsh

The Baltimore Sun

A hotel guest takes a beer from the minibar, and the front desk knows instantly.

How? A computer told.

Hotels in cities including New York, Las Vegas and Paris are using the technology to track what guests take from the minibar and which rooms need the fridge restocked.

Bartech Systems International, a Millersville, Md.-based company that developed the minibars, predicts that the technology will eventually drive down the price of, say, a beer or a bag of peanuts for consumers because a minibar saves a hotel money.

Here’s how it works: Microswitches and infrared beams inside the minibar read when an item is lifted off the shelf and send an instant message to the front desk, via a small computer hidden in the bar.

"We call it the intelligent room, and that’s the brain," Daniel Cohen, Bartech president and chief executive officer, said of the computer.

The minibars, or e-fridges as Bartech calls them, have already made their way into tens of thousands of hotel rooms. Bartech’s products incorporate one of the many smart technologies in the works or on the horizon.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Auto-ID Center, for instance, is developing a system where smart tags (microchips as small as a speck of dust on tiny antennas) would be on commercial products, and tiny radio antennas on supermarket shelves or residential refrigerators could read the smart tags. About 40 companies — including Procter &Gamble Co. and Kraft Foods Inc. — sponsor the project, but the technology is at least a decade away from consumers’ fingertips, said Kevin Ashton, the center’s executive director.

"Maybe one day, you won’t need to take all your stuff out of the shopping cart and line up and do all that stuff because the chips will be talking to the shopping cart," Ashton said. Then, you could simply swipe your credit card through something in the store without going to the register.

California-based Alien Technology Corp., which makes the tiny computer chips that MIT’s Auto-ID Center is using for the project, also makes display screens for smart cards.

The display screen could show, for instance, how much money a person has on his card or the last thing paid for with the card, said Jeffrey Jacobsen, Alien’s president and chief executive officer. Jacobsen said such cards are already being used overseas and are a year or two away from coming to the United States.

Bartech’s e-fridges are already standard in Europe, Cohen said. The first one was installed in Geneva in 1989, according to the company.

Today, the e-fridges are in 70,000 rooms worldwide — 13,000 in the United States, all of them in four- and five-star hotels. Cohen said the company, which had revenue of $15 million last year, expects to install at least another 20,000 minibars this year and 40,000 next year. The minibars sell for about $900 each, which includes software, installation and training for employees.

Philippe Striffeler, food and beverage director for Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, said the minibars have saved his hotel time and money. Before, someone had to go in and check minibars in all 533 rooms in the hotel. Now, the hotel knows beforehand exactly which rooms need to be restocked, so they require fewer workers to make the rounds.

Also, Striffeler said monitoring the minibar by computer makes it easier to keep guests from taking an item from the fridge and then denying they did it.

"From our end, one of the best things about Bartech is we can see if they take it or not," he said.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

MyMyToyStore.com owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Burst pipe permanently closes downtown Everett toy store

After a pipe flooded the store, MyMyToystore in downtown Everett closed. Owner Tom Harrison is already on to his next venture.

Lead climbers head up their respective routes at Vertical World North on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Beginner’s ascent: A newcomer’s guide to indoor climbing

Indoor climbing gyms in and around Snohomish County offer thrills without winter chills.

Alexis Burroughs holds a bigleaf maple leaf while guiding her participants through sensory observation during a forest bathing session Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, at Lord Hill Regional Park near Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
To restore human bond with nature, locals lead forest bathing sessions

A yoga instructor in Bothell and Adopt a Stream in Everett say the meditative practice evokes emotion, health benefits.

Instructor Gael Gebow checks her stopwatch while tracking her group’s exercises during her Boot Camp fitness class Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, at the YMCA in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
YMCA fitness instructor challenges, empowers Everett residents

Gael Gebow has made inclusivity and healthy living her focus in 23 years at the YMCA.

A view of the Broadway construction site of Compass Health’s new mental health facility on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Compass Health dedicates Everett block to housing and behavioral health services

The “state-of-the-art” project is set to total over $90M. The nonprofit has asked for public support.

More than 150 people attend a ribbon cutting event on Nov. 16, 2023 celebrating the completion of Innovation Hall at the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College campus. The building, which highlights STEM instruction and research, opens to students in January. Credit: Tara Brown Photography/UW Bothell
New science, math facility opens in January at UW Bothell

Innovation Hall is the first new building to be constructed at the Bothell university campus in 10 years.

Everett
Rairdon Auto Group acquires Pignataro VW in Everett

Everett VW dealership is the 12th for the Rairdon Group, which marks 30 years in business this year.

A Keyport ship docked at Lake Union in Seattle in June 2018. The ship spends most of the year in Alaska harvesting Golden King crab in the Bering Sea. During the summer it ties up for maintenance and repairs at Lake Union. (Keyport LLC)
In crabbers’ turbulent moment, Edmonds seafood processor ‘saved our season’

When a processing plant in Alaska closed, Edmonds-based business Keyport stepped up to solve a “no-win situation.”

Angela Harris, Executive Director of the Port of Edmonds, stands at the port’s marina on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Leadership, love for the Port of Edmonds got exec the job

Shoring up an aging seawall is the first order of business for Angela Harris, the first woman to lead the Edmonds port.

The Cascade Warbirds fly over Naval Station Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald file)
Bothell High School senior awarded $2,500 to keep on flying

Cascade Warbirds scholarship helps students 16-21 continue flight training and earn a private pilot’s certificate.

Rachel Gardner, the owner of Musicology Co., a new music boutique record store on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. Musicology Co. will open in February, selling used and new vinyl, CDs and other music-related merchandise. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Edmonds record shop intends to be a ‘destination for every musician’

Rachel Gardner opened Musicology Co. this month, filling a record store gap in Edmonds.

Melrose and Vine Collective owner Kara Langus in her vintage collection room at her store on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New and vintage women’s boutique aims to dazzle in downtown Everett

Add some sparkle to your wardrobe: Melrose and Vine Collective opened inside a former bank building on Pacific Avenue.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.