Prioritizing responses at the front desk during busy times

In today’s world of austere hotel budgets, front-desk employees are increasingly being asked to perform more functions and serve more guests, with fewer associates to help them shoulder this burden. There will be occasions at the front desk when there may only be one associate or manager to serve the needs of the hotel’s guests. While this can be a stressful situation, surviving it will require good organization, the ability to multitask, communicating positively with guests and, most significantly, prioritizing each service request.

Realize that the front desk will not always be busy; there will be periods of minimal activity. This is when associates should rotate out for their employee breaks, not during the height of expected activity. Use slack periods to reorganize the desk, refill office supplies, perform bucket checks and credit limit checks, review city ledger accounts and profit and loss statements, pre-print registration cards (if still used), organize group check-in packets, update budgets, restock the hotel’s convenience store or gift shop, gas up the shuttle vans, or restock collateral materials and brochures. Hold all front desk associates accountable for restocking supplies at the beginning and end of each shift unless busy times prevent this from being accomplished. Do not allow associates to pass the responsibility on to the next shift.

In an ideal situation each front desk clerk would focus exclusively on the task at hand or serve only the guest presented in front of them before engaging in any other activity. Unfortunately, sometimes other aspects can cause disruptions to quality guest service, or might be perceived negatively by guests who are present. Think about the phone that will not stop ringing. After a period of time just about everyone wants to pull the phone out of the wall because the noise becomes too distracting. Others might assume that, “That could be me at the other end of the line and no one is willing to answer the phone!”

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Most guests will understand when an employee is by themselves and attempting to serve many people. But this period of empathy will only last for so long before guests become upset and frustrated. The most effective way to keep guests happy and empathetic is to acknowledge them when they arrive and to thank them for waiting. Once you are able to serve them directly don’t forget to thank them for their patience.

No one likes to be kept waiting but the reality is that someone will have to wait; somebody has to be served first and some will be served afterwards. Prioritizing who you will serve first is critical to maintaining harmony.

It seems logical to serve guests in the order which they arrive at the front desk, especially for check-in and check-out situations. But what happens when the phone rings while you are serving another guest? Should you answer it or just let it keep ringing? It is best to answer the phone, but ask the guest if they can hold or if you may call them back. Always advise the caller that you are assisting another guest but that you will assist them as soon as you are available. Never place a call on hold without a guest’s consent because, unlike a face-to-face encounter, it is impossible to ascertain if a guest may be in distress and need immediate assistance. If you know that the caller will have to hold for more than one or two minutes always advise them of this in advance and offer to call them back. And don’t forget to write down their name and room number or telephone number.

As a general rule, always attend to guests that are present at the front desk first, then answer telephone calls that are holding or place call backs. Deal with faxes, package deliveries and other paperwork next. And don’t forget to restock the front desk and keep it clean and organized.

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