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Designing for the "help experience"


On a recent flight from New York to Seattle, I watched the film “Triangle of Sadness,” a black comedy satirically intertwining wealth, privilege, and Instagram culture with the staff dynamic onboard a luxury yacht. Unexpected twists of fate turn an established hierarchy upside down to reveal some raw, uncomfortable truths about the difference between the server and the served.

 

There is a scene where, at the whim of a wealthy guest, the boat is stopped, and she insist all of the crew, from captain to engine room staff, join her in drinking champagne and descending an inflatable slide into the sea for an afternoon of swimming. This co-mingling and brief sharing of a common, interactive experience provides an unexpected break in normal guest relations, revealing a message of potential social opportunity.

 

This fleeting scene resonated with the work we have been exploring in our design studio surrounding how the guest and the staff could interact more thoughtfully to complement a stay – in particular, how to blur the lines between the front and back of house program to provide a Heart of House thesis. We think this is worth studying given the fact that there still exists a staffing crisis within the travel industry.


In a recent survey of AHLA of hoteliers, 82% of respondents said they were experiencing a staffing shortage. Kevin Carey, interim president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) said that, “as the hotel industry struggles to return to regular staffing in our post-covid world, hotels are looking at new ways to attract and retain employees.”


The “guest experience” has always been at the forefront of hospitality design, but by also including the “employee experience” in the design process, we think these investigations can augment overall wellbeing, build community, and assist with staff satisfaction and ultimately retention.

 

Often, it is the people you meet during travel who are a large part of an immersive experience. It could be argued that the staff you encounter during a given stay are a majority of these people who have an intimate wealth of local knowledge that can guide a traveler’s journey or direct guests to genuine experiences otherwise missed.

 

It then makes logical sense to pay more attention to this asset by giving enhanced design attention to all program areas of a property where people come to work and play regardless of function. It could be simple elements, such as natural daylight or elevated materiality, within the dark depths of support space. However, a more significant impact would be design strategies that encourage these assets to cross-pollinate and share their knowledge. This is especially possible with Food and Beverage programs calibrated to highlight the “maker” concept.


Design considerations could pay attention to open, interactive kitchens where guests could either view or participate in creating a dish together with staff or even just have shared dining spaces to create opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue with each another. The ‘work from wherever’ culture is obviously not practical for hospitality staff. However, consideration of allowing some managerial and office related tasks to be performed in blended lounges that are flexible and shared with guests could serve to encourage porous professional and social interactions.

 

By using the power of design focused on both the server and the served, small human-centric moves in how all spaces are programed could not only provide more efficiency, cost and revenue benefits but more importantly, reveal an opportunity for mutually shared experiences. With a cultural shift already underway toward more genuine travel and workplace wellbeing, who wouldn’t want to take a plunge down the slide of community and drink champagne?

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