When we use the term Front Office, we may be referring to two different things. The narrower definition is simply the front desk, or hotel reception, while the broader concept encompasses several departments which cover the day-to-day operations of the hotel. In general, Front Office is a term use to make the distinction from the Back Office: Front Office is the public face which deals with customers, while Back Office carries out the tasks which can be accomplished without meeting guests. The broader definition will be addressed on another occasion, so for now we will assume that the Front Office is simply the reception desk with all its attendant functions.

The Front Office is very important because it represents the public face of the hotel. Therefore the first impression of the hotel that guests will take is that provided by reception and lobby staff. The brand image is projected through the welcome and the service levels offered: for upper scale properties this may be a formal and discrete service becoming of a five-star hotel, while in budget properties the service may aim to be friendly and informal. In either case, it is important that the staff have the personal characteristics necessary to provide the type of service that fits the brand.

The duties of the Front Office staff involve a variety of tasks and functions. The first of these is deal with guests who have reservations, checking them in and out of the hotel, and to sell any remaining rooms to walk-in customers. The ability to up-sell to these customers is useful since it can help to maximize revenues from the available room inventory.

Front Office staff will also have to communicate by telephone, taking bookings and answering inquiries from guests, often in languages other than their native tongue. They may also have to liaise between customers and other departments within the hotel in order to resolve problems. Strong listening and customer service skills are therefore needed to make sure they are able to respond appropriately. It is also helpful if Front Office staff have a good degree of cultural awareness so as to understand how best to serve customers from different national backgrounds. They must also have the ability to be diplomatic in dealing with complaints, since they are the first point of contact for guests when something goes wrong.

The Front Office staff may also have to work as cashiers, taking payments for various services provided by the hotel, and ensuring that the paperwork is completed correctly for the accounting staff.

Increasingly, however, hotels are moving towards technological advances which will allow guests to bypass reception altogether. Guests will be encouraged to check in using smartphones, which can then be used as door keys, and will be able to arrange other services within the hotel via their phones as well. This will lead to a change in the traditional role of the Front Office staff as their contact with guests is reduced. It appears that many hotels feel that the increased convenience this will offer to guests outweighs the loss of opportunity to impress through Front Office service.

One hotel type which is not likely to go down this path is the travellers’ hostel. These places are worth mentioning in terms of Front Office approach, because their nearest competitors on price are budget hotels which tend not to provide very much in terms of Front Office service. At the hostels, however, the staff are often a wonderful source of local information, and many are experienced travellers themselves. They understand what their guests want, and they are usually quick to provide assistance. In the informal and friendly atmosphere that many hostels seek to provide, the Front Office staff are a true asset and can make a big difference to the experience offered to guests.