Daniel Cohen has spent his whole life in the hospitality business. As a child in France, he spent hours watching his father cater to guests and struggle with administrative duties in the family hotel.

After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in hotel administration, Cohen founded a company to sell Micros Systems Inc. software packages to hotels in France, before joining the Columbia firm himself. Cohen thinks he is now a pretty good judge of what will work in hotels.

When Cohen came across a small French company providing automated minibars in 1996, he was quickly taken with the idea and decided to invest in the firm. The next year he took over as president of the company, Bartech Systems International, and moved its headquarters to Millersville, Md.

To an average guest, a Bartech minibar, which costs from $700 to $1,500, may not look any different from those in most hotel rooms. The minibars are stocked with similar snacks, sandwiches and beverages, but the Bartech model tracks each product so that the cost is automatically added to a room's bill.

After a guest checks in, the Bartech "e-fridge" is automatically unlocked when the phone is turned on. If a candy bar or bag of pretzels is removed from its spot for more than 30 seconds, the customer is charged and housekeeping crews know the number of items that need to be replaced in each room the next day.

Cohen said minibars can traditionally be more trouble than they are worth for hoteliers that have to check daily for missing items and charge customers who may have already checked out. Bartech's system, he said, saves on labor costs and alleviates frustration for both guests and employees.

At a trade show earlier this year, Bartech introduced a line of products that automate thermostats, safe-deposit boxes and welcome lights.

"It was a dream two months ago, but now it's all completed. Imagine if you forgot your airline ticket in the safe. We can tell you that before you check out," Cohen said. "If I would not buy it as a hotel [general manager], I would not sell it."

Vice President Mario Agrario, at top left, shows a microcomputer board that sends billing information to a computer. Above, Bartech executives Daniel Cohen, right, and Marc Cohen display a stocked "e-fridge."