This past week, I had the opportunity to spend a few days at The Wynn Las Vegas and, let me tell you, good ol’ Steve (this Steve, not this Steve) really outdid himself this time. I was upgraded to a “salon suite”, which is more like a 2000-square foot apartment. “Wow”, is all I have to say.
But more on that later…first, a little tech talk, of course:
I have to admit that I tend to rack up too many charges from hotel mini bars over the course of the year. Much of this is attributed to the fact that I am at the point in my life where I don’t spend any more time in a place away from home than I have to. As a result, I tend to fly into places at odd times and the mini bar often serves as my only source of late night sustenance when I am parched from a long flight or need a chocolate fix. So when I arrived at The Wynn after a quick flight from my meeting in San Francisco, I was desperate for a bottle of water, only to find that it cost a whopping $8. Yes, the Wynn is expensive and yes, I realize that everything left on the Stip is no longer part of the “old Vegas” (99 cent shrimp cocktails), but $8 for a bottle of water is a bit over the top in my books.
So given the fact that Wynn minibar and snack tray on top of it is now, essentially, a snack and beverage vault holding about $700 worth of goods, it’s only natural that Steve’s flagship property has deployed the latest in snack anti-theft technology. When you approach the snack tray or open the mini-fridge, you are greeted with the following sign:
Wow! Pick it up for 60 seconds and you get charged???
Heaven help you if you accidentally knock over the snack tray. You better have some serious luck at the blackjack tables to pay for it.
This got me thinking about the technology behind this:
- Someone designed a snack tray that can sense when you remove an item from it.
- Someone designed a refrigerator that can do the same thing.
- Each designated spot on the snack tray and refrigerator must know what type of item is in each individual slot. e.g. If you remove an $8 bottle of water, it shouldn’t charge you for a $5 bottle of Diet Coke.
- Once an item is removed for more than 60 seconds, the snack tray and refrigerator must then “talk back” to some sort of magic snack-tracking super computer, sunk deep within the bowels of The Wynn. Thus, the refrigerator and snack tray must be connected to some type of local network. (Images of Oceans 11 kept coming to mind – perhaps the gigantic computer in the basement of the Bellagio isn’t controlling security at all. Perhaps it monitors snacks?)
- The computer – we’ll call it the “snack tracker” – needs to interface with the hotel billing system so that the charge will show on in your account.
This raises a few interesting questions:
- Who the hell took the time to design this stuff?
- What type of infrastructure is behind the snack tracker? What level of high availability is built into the infrastructure? Presumably, the there is a average amount spent per hour on mini-bar purchases at The Wynn, so there should be an associated cost with each hour of downtime.
- Is there a manual backup process in place?
- What is the cost savings this provides the hotel? After investment in infrastructure, “intelligent” refrigerators and snack trays and ongoing maintenance, I assume the hotel realizes cost savings by reducing the amount of people required to manually check the minibar, as well as more accurate billing? This still doesn’t do away with manual intervention with the minibar – they still need someone to stock it, although I am sure they are working on a solution for that as well.
- Given that a person still must be involved, how do they protect against human error? What if the minibar stocker accidentally placed a bottle of Crown Royal in the Bacardi slot and I was charged an extra $4?
I wondered just how responsive the minibar system was. Is it a real-time system? Well, luckily, like most hotels, The Wynn gives you the ability to view your room charges on your TV, so I thought it would be good to conduct a little experiment. I would crack open the minibar, help myself to a refreshing-yet-overpriced carbonated beverage, wait for the 60-second “snack inspection grace period” to expire and then check my room charges through the television.
Wouldn’t you know it – a little over sixty seconds later the charge for the Diet Coke showed up on my room bill? So yeah, it works pretty close to real-time?
I’m just curious: Has anyone been able to pull off a Mission Impossible or Indiana Jones-like swap job to fool the minibar? Maybe replace a bottle of Jack Daniels with a mini bottle of the “citrus lime” body lotion from the bath?
The technology placed in hotel rooms today simply amazes me. You may recall my account of the San Francisco St. Regis’s over-engineering with the computer placed in each room (read: The St. Regis San Francisco: When your Hotel Room Needs to be Rebooted):
Other than the perplexities associated with the minibar, I must say that my stay here was amazing, in part to the massive suite that I was put in (there is a story behind how I got this room, but I’ll leave that for another day). It pretty much contained all the amenities that one would need for a comfortable adventure on the Strip or a quite night in with Paris Hilton, including:
A specious living room with Strip views:
Two bathrooms and a master bath that was larger than my entire bedroom back at home:
A massage table room. Or, as I like to call it, the “getting-a-happy-ending-somewhere-off-the-strip-is-just-too-sleazy room”:
A bar (shown here, stocked for a pre-dinner cocktail gathering I had there the last night):
And cocaine. Errr, yes, a bit of blow, as well. Given the the size of this room and the cost associated with it, it didn’t surprise me, but one of my colleagues spotted a small baggie hidden inside a living room vase (why she was inspecting the vases in the suite is an entirely different question). After further inspection, yes, it was cocaine:
For the record, we flushed it. Although, the room will always be remembered in everyone’s mind as “The Lindsey Lohan Suite”. As the overly-used cliche goes, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, and I’m sure, somewhere in this world, there is one junkie who is pretty damn upset about what he left behind…
I am back in Vegas in two weeks to speak at another conference, but I am sure that my stay across the street at Treasure Island will be nowhere where as fun as my adventures at The Wynn. Thanks, Steve.