Is the Reception Desk an Antiquated Idea?

January 30, 2023

The role of the reception desk, once a key consideration in the floor plans of most client-facing spaces, has diminished over the past decade in response to the rise of self-service tech as well as our changing needs. 

In an effort to tap into contemporary design trends and reduce overhead costs, our hotel and workplace clients often ask us if its presence is necessary at all in a lobby’s interior design. Our answer tends to be somewhere along the lines of “yes and no.” 

Towards a hybrid model

It’s not an either-or situation between kiosks and receptionists. Check-in kiosks tend to be useful in streamlining processes and can significantly assist teams, but the key word here is assist. While technology and all its impressive developments can lend a helping hand for methodological tasks, ultimately, human needs aren’t scripted. Personal interactions are likely to be needed at one point or another.

A hybrid approach where kiosks are installed and team members are on alert can be a strategic way to reap the best of both worlds. 

Besides, receptionists allow for the human connection in a tech-saturated world and businesses that focus on providing experiential stays — such as hotels and resorts — should reflect on whether screens and automation can ever suffice in truly providing guests a memorable getaway. 

Formality, security, and boundaries

One of our workplace clients wanted to skip the reception desk for a more contemporary look and feel, but, upon noticing that tech couldn’t fulfill the role of the receptionist nor uphold the needed security standards, requested that we retrofit it in post-project completion.  

The reception desk has so many functions; in fact, much more than we realize. One that is implied is its role as a boundary; its placement acts as a marker for areas that are restricted versus those that are open, and for larger firms, this periphery is often essential for security. And much like the desk is a boundary, the receptionist often acts as a secondary guard.

These security protocols and precautions might not be needed for smaller teams. The mere presence of a reception desk can actually be “off-brand” for some. We’re seeing more and more startups skip the desk entirely, instead opting to have meeting hosts manage the visitor welcome process themselves. For teams that value a flat hierarchy, this choice can be a way to communicate a welcoming work culture. 

And on the other side of the coin: traditional companies — like law firms — often view the reception desk as a fundamental feature that is in line with their formal, legacy-oriented corporate branding. 

Crafting a sculptural, multifunctional focal point  

For businesses that aren’t entirely sure if they’ll have the reception desk staffed at all times — or that only need it for events such as conferences — treating it as a sculptural piece can be an clever way to allocate the floor space for ad hoc needs without tarnishing the overall look of the lobby. With this strategy, the lack of personnel isn’t noticeable when the desk is empty. It’s a worthwhile consideration: an unserviced desk makes it seem like someone isn’t attending to their job, and that eventually reflects poorly on the company.  For the Vancouver Centre 2 office tower, a project focused on bringing West Coast Contemporary design to the workplace, we designed the front desk so that it doubles as a large-scale wooden sculpture, creating a dramatic statement wall. All the while, we were faithful to the nature-forward spirit of the concept by approaching the desk as a biophilic feature in wood.

For a more discrete aesthetic, a technique worth exploring is the camouflaging of the reception desk with floor-to-desk or wall-to-desk continuity, achieved by seamlessly blending materials or colour finishes.

Multifunctionality aside, the reception desk is a focal point in the lobby and helps shape the first impression for visitors entering the premises. All the more reason to approach it as a high-priority, bespoke area.

Evolved form, evolved function 

With contemporary design trends and the cost-saving allure of tech, will the reception desk — once a lobby staple — face a fate similar to that of the cubicle? 

We’ve designed dozens of hotel and office lobbies at MCM Interiors over the past five years. 90% of those have included a reception desk. Form and function have certainly evolved over the past decade, but the trusty reception desk has continued to prove its value. 

While smaller businesses and startups can get away without one, larger firms and hotels are likely to need the reception desk for reasons like security and quality customer support. Companies that aren’t entirely sure if they’ll always have team members available can treat it as a multifunctional piece of furniture that is ready to be staffed when needed.  

Evaluating whether or not you’ll need a front desk at your business premises? Ask yourself which of these tasks you’re ready to either relinquish entirely or hand over to kiosks:

  • Welcoming and greeting
  • Check-in and visitor management 
  • Customer support  
  • Security
  • Mail handling 
  • The “human experience”

Interior design trends are exciting and drastically help shape innovation across industries. But it’s important to reflect on whether they’re appropriate for the space at hand. Forcing a reception desk-free vision on an organizational structure that can’t accommodate it results in awkward foot traffic, expensive retrofits, and compromised security. 

From the looks of it, the reception desk will be sticking around!

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