The Front Desk Must Die!

Spas are working harder than ever to be innovative in their designs, but there’s one convention that just won’t seem to die: the monolithic front desk. Once upon a time, we had big fat computer monitors and hulking CPUs to hide in those enormous desks. So why, in this age of flat screens and cloud computing, are we still confronted with these intimidating beasts when we enter a “state of the art” spa?

Front desks create a barrier between guest and client. In restauranteur Danny Meyer’s parlance, it’s hard to convince a guest you’re “on their side” when you literally are not. Check-in, a simple enough transaction, can be accomplished with about two keystrokes–and for that matter, on a handheld. Why use up valuable square footage that you could use for retail merchandising? Because architects and interior designers think we want these things.

Instead, guests could be welcomed by a friendly host who is visible from head to toe, whose full-frontal greeting will feel much more sincere. He or she checks guests in with his or her handheld, or at a simple podium. (Seeing staff engulfed by giant desks reminds me of those little old ladies you see piloting massive cars.) Perhaps we could even stop calling our spa concierges “front desk staff.” (It’s a bit like calling massage therapists “massage table staff,” isn’t it?)

In the new spas Wynne Business designs, we include a comfortable “checkout lounge” that encourages lingering, with tables where home care recommendations can be reviewed over a cup of tea and some conversation with a Home Care Advisor. This salesflow strategy separates the departing spa-mellowed guest from the frantic incoming one, who often induces the departing guest to unconsciously “giddyup.” Not good for retail or rescheduling. Even when there isn’t room for a checkout lounge, we include in the design a “checkout bar” with stools. “If you perch, you purchase,” we like to say.

The front desk is one part of the spa business that has never undergone a serious rethink, which is very strange. Yes, we store things in those massive desks, we conceal trash cans and we hide our Starbucks cups (heaven forbid.) But our front desks carry tremendous symbolism. They are the physical manifestation of the intimidation that so many guests still feel when they enter a spa. I have no idea why they are so often front and center, like some sort of altar. Talk about scary.

They also function as a sort of fort, from which your staff defends the spa from the clients. Visit a new spa and try to get a spa concierge out from behind their desk. It’s like prying off a barnacle. Behind a desk, it’s easy to look busy as long as you’re not leaning on it, chin in hands. Imagine what happens when there is no longer a desk to hide behind. Shelves get dusted, products are straightened, guests are interacted with, refreshments proffered, doors are opened.

So why not do away with them altogether? Handhelds make it possible for the “point of sale” to be anywhere the client is–another way to encourage more natural interaction with staff, better customer care, more spontaneity, and oh yes, larger purchases.

As we look for new ways to draw the ellusive Millenials into our spas, rethinking the front desk may be a very good place to start.

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