How to Hire the Best Front-Desk Team

Front-desk staff

The front desk serves as the gatekeeper and the heart of a hotel—the hub that greets guests, acts as a local guide, answers questions, and quells concerns. A guest’s stay can quickly go from average to extraordinary with a positive and memorable front-desk experience.

Without the best associates providing travelers with a positive first and last impression of the property, the hotel’s bottom line will not thrive. As front-desk positions are usually associated with a high turnover rate, how can hotels find the best people for the team?

Qualities for Success

Great front-desk associates exude certain qualities—some of which can be trained and others that are innate.

1. A caring, positive spirit


Most importantly, front-desk associates need to have a natural caring spirit. A hallmark of excellent front-desk associates is empathy and putting the guests’ needs first. Front-desk associates who are driven to go the extra mile are ultimately the ones who help build guest loyalty.
Likewise, front-desk associates should have a sunny disposition, smile often, radiate positivity, and always be courteous—even in the face of an upset guest.

2. An empathic mindset

Guests will have complaints, and some will become angry. Even so, great front-desk associates don’t falter, but rather put themselves in the guest’s shoes and go into recovery mode. Simply put, stellar associates take the HEART model—Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Resolve, Thank—to heart.
Perhaps a guest complains that her room wasn’t cleaned every day. A great front-desk associate will respond with empathy: “What can I do to make this right?” or “I want to make certain that you enjoy all aspects of your visit and would like to know what I can do to ensure this happens. Are you planning to spend the day enjoying the city? Would it help if you had a late check-out time?”
A top front-desk associate brings emotional intelligence to the role, asking the questions that provide clues to reaching a resolution.

3. Ability to follow-through

Great front-desk associates also need to read between the lines. For example, consider a guest at check-out who is asked how he enjoyed his stay. “It was OK,” he replies, a response that is less than enthusiastic. Is the front-desk associate aware enough to realize the guest didn’t have the best experience? There’s a missed opportunity if the associate fails to follow up with, “What could we have done to make your stay better?”

This follow-up question allows the guest to share concerns that maybe he wouldn’t have voiced otherwise. It shows that the associate cares and is willing to remedy a complaint, and it sets a mental anchor that all his concerns were addressed. Otherwise, he won’t become an ambassador for the brand. Rather, he is likely to tell friends or review sites what went wrong during his stay. That means you lose repeat business and potential new customers—and take a hit to the bottom line.

4. Local Experts

Whether guests are visiting from an hour away or are flying across the country, travelers are interested in experiencing destinations the way the locals do. The front-desk team should be well-versed in what the area has to offer, from new restaurants and gallery openings to the best tours. This knowledge will allow for natural recommendations and organic conversations when guests are looking for a specific restaurant, experience, or museum to enjoy while visiting.

Hiring Best Practices

Front-desk associates need to have certain qualities to do their jobs. How can hiring managers ensure they are doing their due diligence when it comes to bringing on the best and brightest?

1. Look for the passion

An ideal front-desk candidate will have an interest in the hospitality industry and not just be looking for a placeholder job. With high turnover a major concern—especially at the front desk—hotel hiring managers need to look for the associate who has the gusto for the job. The candidate should understand that the front desk is the best place to learn about different departments in the hotel and can be a stepping stone to higher positions with greater responsibility and financial reward.

How to know: During the interview process, focus on nonverbal cues just as much as verbal ones. For instance, if a candidate states he or she is interested in hospitality, ask, “What has brought you to that conclusion?” Watch for cues that validate his or her excitement, such as eyes lighting, open body language, and smiling when talking about hotels or serving guests.

2. Sort through the seekers

Not everyone considers the front desk a lifetime career, and that’s okay. Hoteliers shouldn’t expect candidates to say they see themselves in the same place five years later—nor should they want that answer. It’s the hiring manager’s job to sort through those simply looking for a job and those searching for a hospitality-focused career path.

How to know: Ask what an ideal job would look like 10 years from now. If she answers, “Someday, I want to be a GM,” then she’s someone who has envisioned growth and who has the fervor and drive to get there.

3. Ask for examples

Use the interview process as a way to glean insight into the candidate’s inner self. Managers can learn a lot by asking behavioral questions, such as: “Can you tell me about a time you took care of someone who needed a helping hand?”

How to know: Listen carefully to the response. Does he talk about a time he helped a family member, or does he talk about a stranger? We all have stories about helping family, but a person who truly exudes a caring spirit can share a story or two about how he helped someone not close to him. Those with a hospitality-oriented mindset will naturally speak to times when they served others or gave back to the larger community in some way.


About the Author
Brad Harvey, CHA, is the general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton Charleston – Historic District. Heavily rooted in luxury hotels and resorts, Harvey’s tenured career spans multiple disciplines in both independent and branded properties. His diverse expertise in hotel operations, sales & marketing, as well as food & beverage has groomed him to be an excellent leader with a constant focus on talent development and retainment. DoubleTree by Hilton Charleston is managed by Charlestowne Hotels—a leading full-service hospitality management company offering innovative expertise in hotel development, operational controls, marketing management, revenue optimization, and financial reporting.

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