The more hospitable your hotel in terms of the amenities and conveniences offered to guests, the more likely you are to earn positive reviews, ratings, and repeat stays. To get to this trifecta in terms of guest experience, it might not be a matter of choosing between Vending or Pantry for your hotel: the answer might be both.

Benefits of Using Pantries & Vending Machines in Tandem

Vending machines and pantry services may have some overlapping capabilities, but they are very different. Each has pros and cons, and each provides specific benefits. Unless you simply don’t have the space, using them in tandem is best when it comes to your guests and your employees.

Regardless of whether you ultimately opt to have a full-fledged micro market (a self-service pantry) at your hotel or are only able to have vending machines, there’s a universal benefit: on-premises food. While it was always a convenience the pandemic made this benefit a must-have for getting employees to work and ensuring they had access to food on the job, especially with so many restaurants completely closed.

Vending machines don’t have as much product flexibility as pantries, but they have the advantage of being small-space friendly. This makes it easy to place them just about anywhere, from the ice machine room on each floor to the alcove near your meeting rooms or in your business center.

Pantries (which can also be called micro markets) offer far more product flexibility, including the ability to offer fresh foods, a variety of sundries and traveler-friendly supplies, uniquely shaped items, and more. With this comes an increased space requirement, and, if managed without technology, can mean higher risk of theft and increased cost to run.

The benefit to your hotel comes first in the increase in amenities you’re able to offer your guests. This benefit is compounded exponentially when weather or other factors limit their ability to access similar amenities outside of your facility.

Benefits aren’t limited to guest use, however. Having both vending machines and a pantry or micro market at your facility offers your employees the same access to not only snacks, but fresh foods, including fruits, vegetables, sandwiches, and more.

It can even become an employee perk that helps with recruiting and employee retention. For example, each employee could be awarded a set stipend to use in your micro market each month, or be rewarded with gift cards for going over and above in excellent guest service.

To determine which is the best option for your facility, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each as far as hotel food service solutions:

Pros and Cons of Vending Machines in Hotels

Pros of Smart Vending

  • Can be placed virtually anywhere it’s convenient for hotel guests
  • Don’t require much space
  • Easy to set up and manage
  • Management can be outsourced 100% to save you time and salary costs, or self-managed as a revenue producer

Cons of Vending-based Hotel Food Services

  • Limited inventory
  • Cash-based vending machines can be a hassle when they “eat” coins or bills (not to mention guests will be expecting you to reimburse them)
  • Require frequent cleaning of commonly touched surfaces in our post-pandemic reality

Pros and Cons of Pantries and Micro Markets in Hotels

Pros of Pantries and Micro Markets

  • Potential to stock a much wider variety of items than vending, including both refrigerated and non-refrigerated products
  • Ability to offer hotel guests access to fresh foods
  • Can be extended to include not only food and beverages but also sundries and gift or tourist items
  • Unattended micro markets don’t require additional cost in salaries when outsourced to an operator
  • Flexible tech and equipment can accommodate even small spaces
  • Can be 100% outsourced to save time and salary costs or leveraged as an additional revenue stream by managing it in-house
  • Can be accessed via traditional payment methods so a guest simply scans their items, presents payments and they are on their way

Cons of Hotel Pantries and Micro Markets

  • Takes up considerably more space than vending machines. However, emerging technology can offset this requirement
  • Self-managed pantries and micro markets require a considerable investment in time (and salaries) to plan, stock, inventory, and run
  • Risk of loss due to theft increases if security measures and smart technology aren’t in place

Factors to Consider  

Outside of pros and cons, there are other factors to consider when adding vending or pantry services to your hotel.  For example, do you have the space, staffing, and technology needed? Do the benefits of bringing in vending or pantry amenities even make sense for your hotel?Is there enough return on investment?

1. Space Required for Hotel Vending and Pantries

Vending machines come in a variety of sizes and some require very little space. When you think of a hotel pantry, you often think of a small room just off the front desk, but today’s pantries don’t require this type of set up.

If lobby space is at a premium, for example, unattended markets can be set up near your conference and meeting rooms instead. Since payments are made at a self-checkout kiosk, the market doesn’t need to be next to the registration desk. Likewise, smart vending systems include modular equipment, allowing for multiple configurations, even in a small space.

But in either case, you do need some space for equipment.

2. Technology Requirements

Old-school cash based vending machines don’t need anything other than access to electricity, in most cases. However, with this comes limited ability to serve up anything but non-perishable, processed foods or bottled beverages that fit into a limited vend-size space. Smart vending machines need electric and Wi-Fi, but with that comes much more flexibility.

For example, with our PicoVend Mini and PicoVend systems, guests can have a completely touchless experience. Smart vending machines also give guests the ability to pay with credit or with debit cards, or mobile wallets on their phones, eliminating the need to search for quarters and dollar bills, and instead offering a quick and seamless transaction.

Non-tech-based pantries don’t require additional technology, but they do require that you have staff available to process transactions any time the pantry is open. Our PicoMarket, PicoCooler, and Gen3 kiosk equipment require access to the internet, but in turn allow your pantry or market to be placed away from your front desk as an unattended, flexible, food, beverage, and sundries store.

3. Staffing

We touched on this in the last point, however, it’s worth noting that staffing goes beyond processing transactions if you have a pantry or micro market at your facility… unless you go with a technology-driven approach like the PicoMarket, PicoCooler, or Gen3 Kiosk solutions.

If you’re self-managing vending machines or a pantry, staffing needs go even further. For example, someone needs to plan what to stock, buy items, stock machines, handle cash or payment data, generate reports, replenish inventory, and clean everything. This, too, is easily mitigated, however, as you can outsource vending and pantry services completely or work in tandem with a food service operator to ensure your pantry has the items you know guests want most.

4. Security

The security ramifications of an open pantry are fairly obvious. If front desk staff are distracted or out of the area, anyone could walk in and take anything from the pantry. Likewise, cash-based vending equipment can also present a security risk.

Cashless solutions like those referenced above for micro markets and pantries mitigate a great deal of this risk. With smart vending applications, before guests can access items, a form of payment is submitted. With the PicoCooler Breeze, the technology takes it one step further by automatically recognizing items removed and applying payment.

For micro market solutions, guests use the self-service kiosk to pay for items they have selected from the pantry, without needing to interact with hotel staff.

In both cases, security can be enhanced with surveillance equipment, which is often all the deterrent a bad actor needs.

5. Costs vs. Return on Investment

Thinking about all the equipment and technology needed for vending or pantries (or micro markets) in your hotel might seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, you can have both vending and a self-service pantry in your hotel, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything. You can fully outsource these hotel food service solutions, leaving your only consideration as the space available.

Alternatively, if you have the resources, you can self-manage your own pantry and vending machines. While this will entail more upfront costs, it can also become a supplemental revenue stream for your hotel.

So which approach is best for your hotel? Do you think pantry services or traditional vending machines are a better fit? Regardless of your answer, 365 Retail Markets has a diverse array of equipment like smart stores, micro markets, and vending technology to help you provide a better guest experience. Interested in learning more? Schedule a meeting with us below!