Snack attack: Hotel lobbies sell them—but are they offering the right kind?

There was a time when a vending machine stocked with Nestle Crunches, Milky Ways and other chocolatey confections was the only reasonable thing around in a hotel to satisfy a midnight craving. “Hungry? Grab a Snickers!” might be a great tagline, but today’s travelers expect more out of their hotel minibar or grab-and-go market—healthier options, to be more precise—and there is now data that backs it up. 

A new survey conducted by third-party research firm Centiment on behalf of Nightfood and Hotels Magazine explores the attitudes and preferences of business travelers towards the snacks offered in hotel lobby markets. A total of 1,039 recent business travelers participated, broken down evenly amongst men and women, with more than 30% between the ages of 25 and 34. More than 80% of respondents belong to at least one major hotel rewards program. In total, the majority feel hotels should have healthier snack options for guests.

Travel by its nature often presents challenges in sticking to a healthy diet—or at least one that doesn’t mean burgers, wings, fries and candy bars every night. Travel presents a dichotomy: Many want to maintain a healthy diet but find it difficult to do so due to the lack of healthy options, the survey indicated. 

When asked if it is more difficult to make healthy choices when traveling, almost half of respondents said they agree, while 27% strongly agreed. Furthermore, when asked about the overall selection of snacks typically available in a hotel lobby shop/vending machine, 73% of guests said they find them either unhealthy or very unhealthy. 

Healthier available snack items can also be an ancillary boost to a hotel’s bottom line, according to the survey data. When asked whether they agreed with the statement: “I would buy more snacks from the lobby shop if they had healthier and better-for-you options” almost 50% agreed and 36% strongly agreed. A much smaller 14% disagreed.  

A significant portion of respondents said they buy snacks at hotel lobby shops/vending machines on most hotel visits (25%) and occasionally (26%). Most guests are either disappointed or very disappointed with the selection of snacks typically available in a hotel lobby shop/vending machine. Only 45% of guests said they are satisfied or very satisfied, suggesting it is an area hotels can work on to differentiate themselves and improve guests’ perceptions of the brand. In fact, 77% of respondents said their perception of a hotel brand is at least somewhat influenced by the selection of snacks in their lobby shop or vending machines.  

In an open-ended portion of the survey, travelers from a variety of hotel loyalty programs weighed in on the current status of hotel-snacking options. One said: “It would be nice to see healthier snack options in the lobbies of hotels.” Another said: “It’s time for a change,” while another put it more bluntly: “They suck.”  

When exploring specifically what might influence purchase decisions, 81% of respondents indicated more healthy snacks, such as yogurt and fruit, would either very much or somewhat influence them to buy snacks in their hotel.  Seventy-seven percent said availability of additional “better-for-you” versions of traditionally indulgent snacks would do the trick and 71% specifically identified snacks formulated to support better sleep would influence their decision to buy.

Turns out, healthier snacking is better for brands, bellies and the bottom line, providing hotels with a revenue boost. The hotel industry as a whole is shifting to a further focus on wellness, but getting there might require intervention by the brands and standardizing food items found in vending machines and grab-and-go. Brand equity matters: 77% of respondents were either strongly or somewhat influenced in their perception of a hotel brand by the types of snacks they offered. Listening to customer desires and acting on them is a fast way to build all-important brand equity.