Front desks, check-ins take a new direction

(The traditional front desk may be falling by the wayside, but more options are popping up to take its place.)

The front desk has many forms, but the longest-standing option, the traditional front desk, may be falling by the wayside.

“One word: intimidating,” said Michael Smith, GM of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. According to Smith, the purpose of the desk is to be the hub of the lobby social space, something a large front desk is counterintuitive to. The biggest argument for using a traditional front desk was for the presumed effectiveness for checking in large numbers of guests at once. But Smith’s New Orleans hotel has nearly 1,200 guestrooms and performs well using a combination of pods and check-in kiosks.

“Is the traditional front desk going away? It’s already gone,” Smith said. Another option is “floating” attendants: front-desk workers who roam the lobby greeting new guests as they enter. This type of operation is most effective in smaller, boutique or luxury properties that can afford to spare the extra time.

The traditional front desk is often called "intimidating," which is why new options are replacing it.

“I like the idea of roaming employees for a focus on guest engagement, but that way of operating presents an execution-based challenge,” said Gary Isenberg, president of asset and property management services for LW Hospitality Advisors. The idea of meeting guests curbside, checking them in in the lobby and then escorting them to their room is the ultimate form of interaction, but pulling this off is labor intensive.

Pods, however, are considered a happy medium between the two options. Ron Mader, regional VP of operations for Hospitality Ventures Management Group, said pods present an opportunity to engage with guests in a specified location without being obstructed by a traditional desk. “The customer touchpoint becomes much more genuine with this method and creates a larger opportunity to create a connection between the guest and hotel,” he said. Andrew Stegen, GM of Dolce Hotels & Resorts’ Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club in Galloway, N.J., said the entire check-in process is gravitating toward mobile apps. As this happens, hotels are going to have to embark on a new educational process

“The process can’t become sterile and robotic,” Stegen said. “We will always need a friendly smile at the front desk to answer guest questions or solve problems. That will never go away.”