Wireless fridges for grand old hotel

The storied Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington is adding a touch of cutting-edge technology to its guest services with Wi-Fi enabled mini fridges.

The in-room iceboxes, made by Bartech Systems International, maintain 802.11b connections to the hotel’s accounting and refreshment systems. When a guest takes out a tiny bottle of Gran Marnier or a chocolate bar, 30 seconds later that action is recorded on her bill, and Willard staff know what to restock.

According to Pascal Forotti, the Willard’s executive assistant manager, wireless minibars spell improved guest satisfaction. Hotel staffers used to verify the fridges’ contents when guests checked out. But with 341 rooms, mistakes were inevitable. The connected iceboxes do away with human error.

“It’s going to alleviate a lot of potential guest complaints,” Forotti said.

The .11b-bolstered boxes might alleviate maintenance headaches, too.

“We have a direct view of the minibar from downstairs,” Forotti said. “We can see what temperature the minibar is at, if the door is open. [elipse] If anything is defective with the minibar, we can fix it before the guest sees it.”

The Willard plans to use the minibar network to support in-room wireless Web access. It already offers wired, in-room Internet service, and wireless connections in the common areas. Forotti said in-room wireless service should be ready by mid-2004.

The Willard is where Julia Ward Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King finished his “I Have a Dream” speech. This year is the landmark’s 154th birthday.