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Hospitality Conversations: Where Is Your Desk?

In the Lobby…Where it’s Been Since October 16, 1991

by Dr. John Hogan, March 30, 2010

Lessons for Hospitality Managers

Effective hotel and hospitality leaders deal with a wide range of challenges and opportunities every day in the specialties of marketing, service and operations.  Technology and training can contribute to profitability but the constant balancing act of “high touch” and “high tech” often comes down to visibility, accessibility and the ability to listen.

In the book and movie version of Arthur Hailey’s HOTEL, the hotel manager (or at least the manager on duty) was stationed in the lobby at an oversized desk.  The first manager whose desk was in the lobby that I personally viewed was at the former Statler-Hilton (now Park Plaza) in Boston.  Presumably, the desk location was to enable him to deal with situations as they arose, particularly those that required special attention.  The “tradition” of availability continued through the days of large full service hotels, but took a turn to the “back office” with the introduction of rooms only and smaller properties in the 1960s-1990s.

Several months ago, I wrote an article that generated a high level of reader interest, judging by the email responses and re-publication of the article in a number of journals.  Where is Your Desk?  struck a chord in many readers, and one of them was an industry professional that I worked with more than 20 years ago.

When Rick Harris, General Manager of the Embassy Suites Chicago (North Shore, Deerfield, IL),  sent me a note saying that his desk was “in the lobby…where it’s been since October 16, 1991”, I felt that other readers would benefit from some of his insights and approaches.

I reached out to Rick and asked if he would like to join me in a Hospitality Conversations column and I feel you will enjoy his thoughts.

A General Manager Clearly on the Front Line

“I responded very innocently, (or so I thought), to John Hogan’s, Hotel Common Sense column “Where is Your Desk?” back in late 2009.   My email reply to John about the location of my desk was “in the lobby…where it’s been since October 16, 1991”,   was met with a “thank you” and an invitation to share some of my perspectives in a co-authored article.

Me write an article? Oy.

The reason my desk is in the lobby is because it used to be an Embassy Suites standard back in 1984 when the chain upped the ante on the all suite hotel.  So this is not something new, but rather a throwback to different times… more innocent, less pressured times. Yet, I believe it is  something worth keeping, especially now when we are all trying our darndest to keep what customers we have. 

Those of us from small town America will remember. Did you open your first bank saving account with your mom or dad taking you into the local depository only to be met by the bank manager or better yet, the bank president?  Did he or she take you by the hand to the teller’s window… maybe lift you up to the smiling face of the teller and even state “take care of our newest customer”.

Well, a hotel manager sitting in the lobby is an outgrowth of just that picture. True, times are different… people in a hurry… not willing to spend the time… too many e-mails to which a response is required…. too many spreadsheets to glean and then surgically cut to next to nothing.

That’s true of both the hotel manager and the in-coming hotel guest… but it’s still our job, and hopefully our passion, to greet as many guests each morning or each evening as we possibly  can greet into our hotel… our living room.

Customers get a kick out of seeing the GM in the lobby.  Many of them ask if “you have your real office some place in the back?”…or “how do you get anything done?”

But they also ask about the best steakhouse in town or pizza joint… a question about the hotel’s services… or give you a complement about “Mary,  behind the front desk”.

… and yes they will kvetch about the quality of the bath soap, the coffee or some one else’s noisy, unruly children.

You will also get the opportunity to be a bell person and even a security guard.  You will also see people sit at your desk so as to use your phone… or watch  a proud father take a photograph of his 3 year old son positioned  in your chair and behind your desk because his son’s name matches yours. 

You will also be able to talk with a corporate customer who was just promoted, or console those who, on that day, had colleagues on the top floors of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Maybe you will get the chance to escort a celebrity from his/her car to a meeting with the board of directors of a company which s/he is the “face” in all advertising.  Or maybe you will move the irate customer, who has your desk clerk in tears, away from the Front Desk and over to yours, and hopefully, eventually turn him into one of your most loyal customers.

You will also have the opportunity to watch the interaction between your Front Desk staff and your guests, or call the FOM, who is busy in one of the back offices doing paperwork that you require (just at the wrong time), to get out to the Front Desk and help with check-ins… or go over and converse with guests to take their mind off the line… or assist with check-ins yourself.

Be aware though, you will also see and speak with the person who thinks that having 11 three egg omelets at your complimentary breakfast is good training for her stardom on “The Biggest Losers”. Or recognize and greet the former governor of a state where you used to live, only to realize the woman he’s with is definitely not his wife… Oy

You will still need to answer those e-mails, surgically cut those forecast vs. budget spreadsheets, and religiously “tweet” to different generations of customers.

BUT… your customers, your guests will connect with you and your hotel!!! 

Granted, it’s not as cool  as Twitter, but you’ll have more than 140 characters to work with… especially if you allow yourself to be one… Oy.

Rick has been the General Manager at the Embassy Suites Chicago North Shore since 1991.  At this property, he has been part of management teams with Promus, Coastal Hotels and most recently, Aimbridge Hospitality. The hotel  has been owned by Felcor Lodging Trust since June 1996.  His career has included management assignments with Harley Hotels, Trusthouse Forte, PLC, Dunfey Hotels in Dallas, and the Braniff Place Hotel in New Orleans, LA.

Richard M. Harris / 847-945-4500  work /

We must remember to regularly reinvent ourselves and avoid doing things the way we always have because that way is easy or it used to work.   Technology continues to evolve and improve, and those improvements that remove some of the people contact make  the need to retain the “high touch” of hospitality  more important than ever.

Where is your desk?

What are you doing at your hotel today?

“Excellence is not a skill.  It is an attitude.”
Ralph Marston

Keys to Success Hospitality Tip of the Week: 
Start each day with a visit to every one working BEFORE you go to your office or desk.  It tells your staff where your priorities are!

KEYS TO SUCCESS is the umbrella title for my new 2010 programs, hospitality services and columns. This year’s writings will focus on a wide variety of topics for hotel owners, managers and professionals including both my "HOW TO" articles and HOSPITALITY CONVERSATIONS. My segments Lessons from the Field, Hotel Common Sense and Principles for Success will be featured at appropriate times in the year as well.

Feel free to share an idea for a column at anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements …………. 

And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES are available from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE,  and other industry sources. 

All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.   The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication 

John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events.


Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE

Also See: Keys to Success - A Fresh Look at the 4 Ps of Marketing or An Unlikely Salute to Collin Raye / Dr John Hogan / March 2010
Hospitality Conversations: Property Improvement Plans or PIPS / Dr John Hogan / March 2010
Managing the Intricate Challenge of Today's Hospitality Leadership / Dr John Hogan / March 2010
Hospitality Conversations: Selling Your Hotel In a Sluggish Economy / Dr. John Hogan / February 2010


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