The technology operations playbook


5 Ways to Optimize Front Desk Operations in the Hotel Industry

“A front desk might have had four people at it before; now it has one person at it for a 500, 600 room hotel. People are waiting in line 45 minutes to an hour to check in.”

This is what Curtis Crimmins, Co-Founder of Roomza, said when we talked to him about how hospitality labor shortages are impacting hotel front desks. “Productivity is down… And the reason productivity is down is because burnout is up.” 

So, you have issues with team performance and guest experience, with each intensifying the other. The light at the end of the tunnel, though, is that a solution for one is a solution for both, which is what we explore here.

In this article, we talk through what steps you can take to:

  • Minimize errors at the front desk
  • Improve morale among your team
  • Reduce costs 
  • Improve guest experience

We also look at which tech solutions will make your job easier, faster, and more effective.

Accelerate check-ins with an automated process that takes pressure off your front desk.

Discover Operto Connect.

Hotel front desk operations: What are the key functions to focus on?

Hotel front desks aim to ensure a frictionless guest experience throughout the entirety of a stay. 

From managing keycards to assisting with requests and managing check-outs, the front desk isn’t only a hub of essential guest-facing processes, it also plays a key role in expressing your brand and engendering customer loyalty. 

Its core duties are:

  • Managing reservations. This includes managing room numbers, handling changes, and communicating about check-in and check-out times. 
  • Handling guest requests. Think concierge services such as managing package deliveries, offering recommendations, and actioning unique requests.
  • Assisting with room access.  Front desks print and hand out keycards, log check-ins, and manage luggage. 

How can you improve hotel front desk operations?

With 87% of hotels reporting staffing shortages in the last quarter of 2022, the need to optimize front desk operations has never been clearer. Efficient and scalable processes reduce your dependence on staff and allow you to improve working conditions for a leaner, more effective team. 

When your front desk doesn’t have long lines of increasingly frustrated guests to deal with, it can focus on high-value tasks and be more responsive to issues as they arise. 

Here are some key ways you can improve front desk operations and provide a better service to your guests.

1. Prioritize the guest while minimizing guest interactions

When we spoke about how to prioritize at the front desk with hotel operations and front office manager, Rut Morales Archs, she highlighted the complexity of the task:

“First would be the guest that’s at the front desk. But you also have to combine that with the guest on the phone, and also oversee the requests by email. But the guest in reception is your priority. It’s not that easy.”

And of course, it’s not—which is why you need a way to minimize the number of guests at the front desk, on the phone, and making requests by email. 

You can do this with a guest experience platform. An effective guest experience platform gives your guest all the information they need so they never have to line at the front desk for assistance. You can use it to provide digital support by virtue of a remote team, and to automate essential processes like check-in and ID verification, which we look at more, below.

But the key value proposition of a guest experience platform is to make your guests autonomous, and reduce the need for your front desk to provide face-to-face guest service. That way, when guests do need in-person help, your front desk team can provide the meaningful, attentive service your guests rightly expect.

Further, with a digital solution to guest care in place, you won’t need to operate a 24/7 front desk. You can optimize your staff, and give your teams the breathing space they need to become less reactive and more productive in their roles.

Hotel front desk
With a guest experience platform like Operto Guest, you can take lines away from the front desk and create a leaner, more effective team.

2. Use SOPs to support staff training and retain institutional knowledge

Curtis Crimmins spoke to the problem of dealing with labor shortages and high turnover by using your most experienced team members to train up newcomers: “You’re using your best people to train these high-turnover people and so you’re also burning them out.”

Meanwhile, if you’re using your best people to train new staff, you’re taking them away from where you most want them to be, which is in front of your guests.

So your staff training needs to be supported by concrete standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are clearly documented, easily accessible, and regularly reviewed and updated. This will give new hires the insight they need and reduce the workload for experienced front desk staff.

Your SOPs should feature:

  • Repeatable processes that are easy to remember
  • Logical steps that are simple for trainers to share
  • Checklists that staff can refer back to
  • Criteria to help supervisors assess performance

But, as Curtis pointed out, “If you’re turning over a front desk agent three times a year, there’s a lack of institutional memory and knowledge. The guests and productivity suffer.”

So, SOPs are essential for consistency of performance across a high-turnover team, but you also need to document the idiosyncrasies of day-to-day operations and guest communications—what problems to anticipate, who to turn to depending on what issue arises, who your regular guests are and their preferences.

3. Empower your guests with check-in automation

Curtis spoke passionately about the working conditions of front desk staff: “We are doing a disservice to the people in hospitality by not innovating and creating better jobs for them.” 

He also said that, by using technology, you can not only solve labor shortages, but save money that you can then invest in your existing employees. 

A fantastic example of what innovation and hospitality technology can achieve is the story of Prague Residences. With Operto’s contactless solution, they: 

  • Gave guests autonomy with automated check-in
  • Went from four front desks to one
  • Began saving over $10,000 each month

To follow that example and take lines away from the front desk: 

  • Connect your PMS to a guest experience platform
  • Use that platform for user-friendly online check-in that guests can complete pre-arrival
  • Note that with Operto Guest, online check-in includes automated ID verification

Now you’ve streamlined arrivals, you can automate even further with keyless entry. 

For example, Operto connects your smart locks to your PMS so that every time a new booking is confirmed, a unique access code or mobile key is auto-generated. This is then shared with your guest via the guest experience platform upon ID verification.

Screenshot of Operto’s mobile self check-in solution
Take stress away from your front desk with automated check-in.

4. Use digital guides to share essential information and local knowledge

Your guests love to receive insights and recommendations on local experiences, but, to optimize front desk efficiency, you need to minimize guest-staff interactions. 

So, make your guests independent with a digital guidebook. This puts information about arrival, your amenities, and local events, all in your guest’s smartphone.

With Operto Guest, you can curate all your information in one, easily accessible mobile web app. It’s easy to keep up to date, and guests can access it from wherever they are, even before their stay.

Guests can use customizable smart buttons to see your add-on services and partner pages with a single click—or they can use them to request poolside service, organize a guided tour, or arrange equipment hire. And they never have to consult your front desk to make all this possible.

Screenshot of Operto Guest’s smart buttons.
Operto Guest smart buttons make it easy to link to other sites or email addresses.

Here are some of the things you can include in your digital guidebook to make your guests independent and your front desk more efficient:

  • Arrival and parking information
  • A hotel map highlighting the location of each guest’s room
  • WiFi passwords
  • Details about hotel amenities
  • Local information on tours, monthly recommendations, and special events
  • Smart buttons that connect guests to your special services and partner websites

5. Find a digital solution to gathering guest feedback 

A key component of optimizing your operations is gathering guest feedback and using it to inform and improve your service. However, the front desk is the last place you want guests to be standing around filling in forms. 

So you need to make gathering guest feedback an online process to achieve two things:

  • Make it quick and easy for the guest to complete
  • Make it quick and accessible for the management team to review

You can do this by using two-way chat within your guest experience platform. At the end of each stay, ask a small number of closed questions alongside the opportunity for guests to provide open feedback. 

Here are a few examples of template questions you can ask guests within your guest experience platform:

  • How would you rate the digital check-in process? 
  • Did you receive enough information about your stay before your arrival?
  • Did you enjoy our recommendations?
  • What extra information would you like to see in the digital guidebook next time?
  • What can we do next time to make your check-in or check-out smoother?

And you can easily change up your questions if you need insights on more specific areas, like:

  • Food and drink quality
  • A specific bar
  • Your digital guide’s in-room instructions and information
  • Your restaurant service
  • Your front desk service

Now you can get highly focused insights about the guest experience and quality of your service without adding to your front desk team’s workload.

Optimizing hotel management from the front desk

Across the hospitality industry, labor shortages are putting pressure on front desk staff. 

So you need to respond to the issue of staff burnout and an impacted guest experience by utilizing tech solutions that give guests independence and reduce the front desk’s workload. Optimizing processes with automation is the obvious solution. 

Alongside a guest experience platform and the documentation of procedures and in-house knowledge, you should implement:

  • Mobile check-in and keyless entry
  • An automated workflow for generating access codes and mobile keys
  • Digital guidebooks
  • A digital solution to gathering guest feedback

With tech solutions that make your front desk leaner and more focused, you can facilitate a smooth, contemporary guest experience, and reduce your operating costs in the process.