While check-in pods and kiosks never gained widespread traction in hotel lobby design, technology is having an effect on the way designers approach front desks. “We don’t have to have as many machines behind the desk as we used to,” said designer Lauren Rottet. With machines getting increasingly streamlined, a front desk can even look like a simple table, she added, citing the desks in Apple stores as inspiration. “It can be a floating island, or stand on legs. It can be more elegant.” But while many devices are smaller, and some are even wireless, they still need to be powered. “You need power cords and more outlets everywhere,” Rottet said.
Kara Smith, president of SFA Design, agreed. “Front desks used to have to house so much equipment,” she said. “It really got in the way of the design, and they would be bulkier than they had to be. Now, we have the opportunity to create a beautiful, appropriate-to-the-space design.” Because some luxury hotels now offer refreshments to guests as they check in, she said, her team occasionally builds in refrigerators, icemakers and devices to chill glasses around the front-desk area.
As Moxy hotels move to mobile check-in or staff using tablets to complete check-in functions, global brand director, Vicki Poulos, said, hotel lobbies will require fewer dedicated check-in stations at the bar. “We can recapture that area for revenue-producing counter space,” she said.
Todd Garvin, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt Regency Lexington (Ky.), predicted that tablets will become increasingly more integral to the front-desk process. “With smartphone key access and credit card readers available on tablets, PCs at the front desk will likely be short-lived,” he said.
Rottet agreed that many hotels are jumping on “the smartphone bandwagon” for easy check-ins, but the front desk still plays a vital part in the experience. “Part of a hotel brand is how the doorman and the front-desk person greets you and how they make you feel,” she said. “Getting away from a front desk altogether will not be seen in five-star hotels anytime soon because it’s all about guest and customer service—but that doesn’t mean that the front desk will remain a big formal bar.”