Hotel lobby front desks are no longer desks or located at the front.
It made perfect sense. Your first stop when checking into a hotel was the front desk. You had to collect your key and room number. But, you also might have needed to provide a credit card for incidental charges like the mini bar. Oh, and what’s the WiFi code?
Technology has rendered the concept of the hotel front desk nonsensical. Marriott, for example, now lets you check in up to two days before your arrival, skipping the front desk in favor of a direct route to your room. Your smartphone is the room key, and you can just tap on an icon to request the toothbrush you forgot to pack.
Not fade away
Don’t be so quick to write a requiem for the vanishing hotel front desk. It turns out that even if guests don’t have to check in, they still appreciate being greeted when they arrive. They’d rather do without the previous imposing piece of furniture or lobby resembling a financial institution.
If anything is disappearing, it’s the formality of the hotel front desk. Lobby design reflects our current yearning for connection. We don’t want to stay in our rooms, and the lobby is where we meet up. We expect that hotel public areas should look and feel more like our living rooms.
First impressions count, and guests no longer want to feel as if they’ve been summoned to appear before an authority who determines entry. The lobby is often now subtly subdivided into comfortable areas where groups can gather, and check-in might be accomplished at the bar while you sample a flight of IPAs from a local microbrewery.
The lobby has become the epicenter of a hotel’s connection to its locality, and the experience attached to it. Design pulls in elements that establish the hotel’s ties to what’s nearby, and it also helps to satisfy the Millennial-defined preference of “Bleisure,” or business-leisure. Guests look to the hotel to help them integrate unique leisure experiences reflecting the locale into a business trip.
Leave the transaction to technology
No matter where or what you designate as the front desk, it has to be a welcoming space. Los Angeles-based Jeff Pochepan tells Inc. magazine that desks with high counters can act as barriers and make people uncomfortable.
Guests today want to control how much interaction they have, so it’s critical that modern design choices reflect that. They’re looking for flexibility. They want the choice of texting a request for an extra towel or sitting down and having a face-to-face conversation with a confident concierge who can offer recommendations on where to go and what to do. As the hospitality-focused marketing organization Skift puts it, technology can take care of many transactional things, but it can’t be a proxy to human experience.
So, where – exactly – is this location in the lobby? Radisson RED has made it what they call a “social space.” It looks like a bar, but RED calls it a “pod.” Arriving guests have no problem identifying it because it’s where the action is happening.
Moxy by Marriott also uses the bar as a physical check-in area. The bartender can make you a martini and take care of checking you in. Marriott’s global brand director told the Asian American Hotel Owners Association that the turning the front desk into the bar “conveys the feeling of walking into your friend’s house while still providing the functionality of a seamless check-in experience that is quick and painless.”
It could be a bar or one of the cozy gathering spaces that have divided and conquered the monolithic lobby space. The main thing is that no longer has to be a desk (and if it is, not a tall one). Now it’s the comfortable place defined by its welcoming design. It says, “Welcome, we can help you here if you need it.” We can help you make this space speak to your guests.