Boutique Hotels are often at the cutting edge of service design because they cater to clientele that expects to be treated differently than at a normal hotel. Some examples include: Ace Hotel’s dog-friendly policy, Liberty Hotel in Boston gives guests free yoga classes, and many boutique hotels offer in-room spa services.
More fascinating to me, however, is that boutique hotels are trending toward “honesty bars”. Honesty bars are unattended bars that include all of the same drinks one might find at a normal bar. The hotel guests are free to mix their own drinks and pay for the drinks on the spot (sometimes even making their own change!) or charging their drinks to their room. Honesty bars wouldn’t work everywhere, but at boutique hotels there have been few if any complaints, and in fact, there are generally rave reviews. Imagine deciding to have a top-shelf martini (shaken, not stirred) and mixing it yourself, enjoying it, then paying for it all by yourself. Boutique hotels trust their guests, and in turn the guests feel compelled to be honest. It is akin to your father trusting his new car to you…you’d be terrified to wreck it and probably drive more diligently than you would if it were your own car.
So how can the concept of an honesty bar help user experience designers to create better online and mobile experiences?
First, it is important to note that trust is a two-way street. If a website shows that it trusts its clients, clients will be more likely to trust the site. Developing trust is a wide issue, but asking for too much information too quickly is the hallmark of a site that is untrustworthy. Websites that ask only what is needed of their users only what is essential are websites that foster trust. Additionally, be present. When your users send you e-mail, answer quickly and personally. Automated-responses are impersonal. Dealing with a real person will help to build trust and foster a great relationship. The honesty bar can only be effective once you’ve met the hotel staff and been shown to your room. Without that personal experience, it’s hard to believe people would be so willing to be honest about what they drink and what they pay.
Next, give something for nothing in order to encourage loyalty. Stephen P. Anderson’s book on seductive design describes how gift giving is an important aspect of great user-centered design. Today’s currency is information, so why not give away information for free? Allowing your users to have a free e-book (no login required!) or a link to a discount at another website is a great way to foster trust and to encourage loyalty. Once users trust a website and feel they’ve been given great service, why would they object to paying for other services on your website? If they enjoy the content, why not pay for a premium? The honesty bar gives something for nothing in that it includes all of the amenities you might see at a normal bar. Do you want your martini with one olive or ten? It’s up to you. Take as many as you’d like. Want to make a stiff whiskey and soda? There’s no one standing in your way. Coffee and snacks are almost always free, but the true “something for nothing” at an honesty bar is the ambiance. There’s no one to tip, no one to make you a “bad” drink, and thus, you can’t ever complain about the service in a self-serve setting.
Finally, trust and loyalty are the foundation of happiness, but part of the thrill of an honesty bar is that it’s fun. It’s fun to mix your own drinks when you have access to all the garnishes, mixers, instruments, and (at most honesty bars) a manual. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to try to make a fuzzy naval or a manhattan, but at a normal bar you shy away, instead opting for your normal gin and tonic. The honesty bar encourages creativity and play. It is well documented that happy people are more willing to pay, so what would be your motivation to avoid paying when you feel you can trust the hotel, you feel loyal to the hotel, and you’ve had a great time?
The internet is filled with great places to have fun and be creative, but the concept of the honesty bar works best when that playful experience is mixed with an experience of trust.