Counter-intelligence for mini-bars

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The Independent Online

Hotel mini-bar thieves are on their last free drinks thanks to the appliance of high-technology to the service.

In the past some hotel guests have gone to extreme lenghs to obtain a free tipple from using the bare-faced lie to secretly siphoning cans dry.

However, the advent of computerised minibar securitymeans the system is getting harder, sometimes impossible, to beat. Hotels are introducing a range of devices from movement sensors to infra-red detectors and fibre optics.

Old tricks, recalled by hotel managers, range from simply filling up the gin bottle with water to more ingenious thieving. One fell for a ruse where a guest pierced a can of lager, drained its contents with a straw, and then replaced it in the fridge.

John Josef, who runs room service at the the Park Lane Hilton, in central London, said he had seen them all. "At the Hilton the guests are less likely to behave in this way, but elsewhere I have seen bottles filled up with water and other tricks. Other people just say they have not taken a drink and if you say different, they say `prove it'. Then what can you do?"

Now the latest minibar technology is helping hoteliers fight back. At the Pan-European Hotel Technology Show in Amsterdam, the latest devices included a system that could detect movement in a minibar using sensors, an infra-red eye that "watches" every bottle and a gadget that allows staff to tell from outside a room whether the minibar has been opened.

Andries de Vaal, a leisure industries analyst with Deloitte and Touche, the accountants, said the new systems were curtailing minibar theft. "One of the best systems is to link the minibar to the front desk by using a fibre-optic," he said. "If you touch a bottle that sends a pulse down the fibre optic to the front desk and the drink is immediately charged to your bill."

He said the devices cost hundreds of pounds per unit, but "offset against the amount paid by guests over the unit's lifetime, the cost is practically nothing".