HOTEL FRONT DESK: THE QUESTION OF SITTING OR STANDING

by Egi Gaisie

Most noticeable at hotel front desks worldwide are standing front desk agents. Inevitably, throughout my working life at hotel front desks I also experienced this –not sitting down behind the front desk. Reason..? There was no stool or chair to sit on! This never caught my attention until I found myself working at the hotel front desk. It was a workplace culture shock; however, once I plunged in, I went along with it.

The mode of operations of hotel front desks have metamorphosed over the years! Some of us never imagined the key rack would become redundant, yet today if you should see one at a front desk, it would only be serving as an antique as at La Beach Hotel, Accra! Technology has taken over what once used to be a complex manual information management system particularly in hotels with more than one hundred rooms. Despite these changes, I continue to see front desk agents still standing behind their desks and it seems it is becoming a concern for our ‘Millennials’ ( those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) working in the industry.

If I recall right, standing was really never an issue in my days at the front desk. A 6am to 2pm shift went so fast that I hardly realized I had been standing for that long (there was often an hour’s break or two 30-minutes’ break). The 2pm-10 pm shift seemed a bit slower particularly in the early hours of the shift, but it was ‘no big deal’ standing behind the desk. The deep night shift (10p.m to 6a.m) which I did occasionally, included night auditing and generating reports (manually); often kept me wide awake and on my feet all night through the early hours of the morning!

A few hotels (can count them on my fingers), are beginning to place chairs/stools behind their front desks. My findings are that while some personnel do not mind, many more  have very strong views against standing at the front desk.

Management policy

The general corporate standard is a “no-chair” policy at the front desk. Personnel are expected to stand, so sitting is a NO-NO!

The public may not know but there are chairs at the back office where staff may go and sit if they need to. This provision though thoughtful of management may become a snare. Guests going to hotels which operate on lean staff often meet an empty front desk and find themselves often calling for attention and service.

Guests’ opinions

Generally guests do not seem to expect front desk agents standing 100% of the time. Some guests do not actually see any problem with the front desk agents sitting down at the front desk so long as the agent is professional and courteous in handling them. Guests expect that when they approach the front desk, staff stand up.

With some other guests, what matters is that the chair or stool provided for the front desk agent is high enough for the counter so that they (guests) do not have to come announcing their presence (for sometimes, staff are so buried in administrative duties sitting on the lower chairs, they hardly notice the presence of a guest).

Front Desk Agents’ opinions

A number of front desk agents do not get the whole “sitting isn’t professional” idea, usually given by management. They think the policy is absurd.

Front desk agents who work the deep night shift feel no one is coming through during those hours so there is ‘nothing wrong grabbing a chair and sitting behind the desk’ at the dead of the night. They suggest their colleagues working the day shift sit on a stool behind the desk ‘when it’s slow.’ They also suggest that when their colleagues see guests approaching, they stand to interact with the guests. According to them, they conduct themselves in the same manner, during the night shift. Yet I have seen front desk agents fast asleep on the floor behind the front desk after midnight!

Other front desk agents’ opinions are influenced by the sight of their managers sitting behind their chairs at the back office while they(the front desk agents) are standing. Many complain about their backs, knees and feet hurting and have even concluded that management does not care about the welfare of the employees. A few front desk agents play the ‘cat and mouse’ game (when the cat’s away, the mice will play); standing when management is around and sitting when management is out of sight. That can be very tiring, I think!

Standing or Sitting?

First, if you were a front desk agent, how would you feel sitting down while checking in a guest who is up standing?

As personnel working in the hospitality industry we must be aware that our work environment is international irrespective of the location of the hotel.  If we were actors on a stage, our audience would be multi-cultural. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are engaged in cross-cultural communications; different cultures are sensitive to various verbal and non-verbal exchanges, work values, view points and different practices.

Standing or sitting should really not be about us, front desk agents. Our guests’ expectations matter.

A business environment where participants from different countries or regions interact, bringing different values, viewpoints and business practices. Often this setting requires substantial training and employee support.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/cross-culture.html

different countries or regions interact, bringing different values, viewpoints and business practices. Often this setting requires substantial training and employee support.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/cross-culture.html

different countries or regions interact, bringing different values, viewpoints and business practices. Often this setting requires substantial training and employee support.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/cross-culture.html

My Opinion 
The traditional design of the front desk is a standing desk. To sit behind it would therefore require a stool high enough that anyone sitting on it may be seen by the guest. However, should a standard chair be used, several things could go amiss.

I once went to a hotel to make a reservation. It was a Sunday afternoon. The front desk agent on duty was sitting on a standard chair behind a traditional front desk.  I did not see her until I got real close to the counter. She on her part was so engrossed eating her fufu and palm nut soup, it was not until I said ‘hello’ that she looked up, obviously very embarrassed and I, equally embarrassed.

A hotel in Takoradi provides seats for both the front desk agent and the guest. The desk however, is not of the traditional front desk design. It makes sense to offer seats for both parties, but as indicated the traditional desk design was not in use.

Hotels generally operate 24/7 irrespective of size; big, medium or small, compelling front desk agents to run a shift system. Standing throughout an 8-hour shift is not peculiar to front desk agents! There are several hotel personnel, bell men and porters, waiters, restaurant hostesses and bar personnel, who all stand throughout their shift. They are all front line personnel. Should they be provided with stools/chairs like the banks do at their teller counters? Mind you, while our visitors are ‘guests’ to us, they are ‘customers’ to banks, so there should be no comparison between these two distinct service worlds as some mistakenly do.

Fortunately our large hotels with adequate front desk and uniformed personnel will hopefully not have this ‘headache.’

By the way, there is almost always a backroom (back office) where there are seats which can be used by front desk agents when business is slow. So what is the fuss? There must always be a presence at the front of the house unless the front desk is of a fully automated self registration operation (yet to see in Ghana)!

Guests approaching a front desk form impressions; negative impressions will obviously be formed if there is no presence at the desk.

A CCTV appropriately installed will enable a front desk agent resting at the back office to view anyone walking towards the the entrance.

I have observed that in small hotels where just one person operates during a shift,  the front desk agent is often multi-tasked, carrying out a number of minor accounts work on a computer buried behind the high counter.

To stand or to sit depends on the time of day and perceived traffic flow.

On the part of front desk agents, resting adequately before the work shift (which many fail to do), preparing the mind and wearing comfortable shoes could all contribute to reducing the strain and stress of standing for long hours.

A win-win solution?

Redesign the front desk with multi level counter tops (as in the picture above); working heights should be comfortable to write on with both the guest and the front desk agent either sitting or both parties standing. In such work spaces, front desk agents would naturally stand when interacting with guests and when carrying out other administrative duties, they will have the choice to sit.

Another challenge likely to crop up is having an appropriate stool/chair for the guest who would rather sit- a food for thought.

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4 comments

Raquel Balboa May 10, 2021 - 3:22 am

I agree that we should always stand to greet our guests/ customers while attending them. I don’t agree that the Agent has to stand all day while there are clients in the lobby or sitting down. An Agent should be able to rest their feet or back peroidically especially if they’re doing administrative work between customers.
The mind works better when the body is not tired or stressed.

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Kay August 13, 2021 - 6:04 pm

I wish the image was bigger!
I work in a hotel and yes front desks do need to be redesigned as we NEVER have breaks, its just too busy. When checking in a guest we generally side step to get paperwork so are standing. We had stools but they were not designed for front desk so were taken away. My feet ache i have issues with veins and we are told we can get some more stools that are more suitable.
IT would be good to have a sit stand stool, with a low profile base so it is not tripped over but is solid enough to actually sit on when it is quiet… So far…there seems to be a bit of a gap in the market as i search online…

Reply
H February 26, 2022 - 6:27 pm

I work in a hotel where it’s a one man show and after 8 long hours of standing, my feet hurt and makes me not want to do this job for long. I don’t see a problem where the agent cab take a seat when nobody is around as long as it stands up to greet any guest at any time.

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Mocha May 6, 2022 - 2:29 pm

Health Issues. Working 8 hours on your feet without a chance to sit. Will cause damage on your knees and feet. You are literally in pain for some hotels who still do not offer health insurance. Its not worth it.

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