Plenty of room at the “Hotel COVID-19”: Lobbies, rooms and dining

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By Larissa Hunt & Nicole Pineda

The lobby as flex-space

What happens to the customer experience when communal spaces are removed or restricted? Our research has shown us that the lobby needs to be flexible for different types of travelers (leisure vs. business) and group types (alone vs. with family or friends). Flexibility means not only options for different activities to take place in the same space at the same time, but changing functions across the day and week. For a particular hotelier, we noted, “On the weekends, the lobby actually became less communal. There was a decrease in the number of people relaxing with others, and an increase relaxing alone or waiting for others”.

Design and maintenance industries across the globe are taking advantage of lower traffic patterns to enhance and uplift spaces for a ‘new normal’ for personal space. Hotel developers in Asia are using this time to rethink renovations, including creating negative pressure spaces, enlarging public areas to enable social distancing and removing carpets. 1  

It is important for already existing hotels to consider the potential uses for lobby spaces. An actively-working hotel employee suggested using the shared spaces under a reservation system for some kind of entertainment: “The lobby area is always an area where people want to gather. People tend to stay with us for entertainment purposes, for family purposes, for celebrations, so hotels have to start looking into using some of their meeting spaces [and other shared spaces] as entertainment hubs for some guests under a reservation system”. Consider rearranging a few areas heading into the weekend to offer a few more private spaces. Hotels, just like retail, need to embrace flexibility as a solution. 

With the whirlwind of changes due to COVID-19, information is key. Digital screens can include content that not only informs guests of health and safety practices in parallel to whatever phase of reopening or closing is happening in the local region, but also helps guests navigate the hotel, recommend places to visit and eat around the area, and advertise services the hotel can provide. However, all of this has to be done thoughtfully to make sure that messages don’t compete with each other and tell a cohesive story. 

Sleeping soundly

Even before COVID-19, Envirosell found that 83% of hotel respondents highlighted cleanliness as the most important attribute of lobby seating – imagine how they feel about their rooms!

83% of hotel respondents highlighted cleanliness as the most important attribute of lobby seating

Envirosell’s own research

Hotels like Hilton’s Tru have never had in-room carpets – making their rooms hypoallergenic and easily sanitizable. Where possible, hotels could consider copper fixtures and countertops – copper has anti-microbial and antiviral properties (much more so than plastic or stainless steel). 2

Other design considerations for guest rooms include Marriott’s decision to remove excess décor3, like decorative pillows. Instead, provide hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and disposable masks in all rooms. To save on refill times and waste, consider industrial-sized versions for each room, similar to Tru’s in-room soap dispensers (which hold about a quart and are fixed to the wall).  Our hospitality research always shows that if you can make your guest feel that the brand has thought about their needs, they enjoy their experience more. 

Bye-bye breakfast buffet!

Don’t get your hopes up on expecting a free continental breakfast with your stay at hotels like SpringHill Suites and Hampton Inn.  Buffet-style breakfast and dining is now a practice of the past.4 Although, some hotel associates are hopeful for its future return, “a la carte will be the new norm, instead of buffets.”  Another interesting practice has been to provide a wide range of prepackaged foods for guests. “Our food & beverage team are getting creative with their box breakfast/lunches/dinners for guests” a sales account manager said, sharing some of her hotel’s practices. If there is dining allowed, guests may be given QR codes to scan to view the menu. It’s one less thing diners have to touch, and this way restaurants avoid wasteful one-use paper menus. It’s also easier for the kitchen to make last minute changes and substitutions should items become unavailable. QR codes have huge potential to replace in-room menus, TV remotes, and other high-touch areas in the room. 

With limited dining, now is the time to expand the hotel giftshop and snack bar into the lobby for to-go items. The snack bar and lobby area are “definitely something that hotels are going to have to… utilize and make a profit from [it’s a] 2 for 1… And that makes your guests happy too. Instead of going outside to a grocery store or convenience store, “oh look I can buy a sandwich here [at the hotel]” if someone is running out to a meeting or going to run and errand.”

This change must be paired with testing and learning to ensure viability and ROI. Markets vary drastically when it comes to food and beverage needs on-the-go. There is also opportunity to showcase local flavors, delicacies and trinkets, to further enhance the experience for your guests, as we have seen from past research. 

With limited dining, now is the time to expand the hotel giftshop and snack bar into the lobby for to-go items.

Despite the barriers set between guests and employees, hotel staff are hopeful that safety precautions can both reassure and entice customers to continue to visit and stay at hotels. “We have definitely gone above and beyond [in safety and hygiene] to make guests feel safe, because we want them to visit again… on a scale of 1-10 how safe do we think the guests feel? I would like to be boastful and say 10”, noted one manager.

We have seen many great ideas fail due to the lack of research to fully support new concepts and strategies – we can help with that part. Contact or check out our Services page for more information.