Back-of-house design and worker comfort

As hospitality designers, we are constantly thinking about how to create something beautiful for guests—a world-class resort, a luxurious guest room, a 5-star restaurant—but how many of us go into a project saying, “I want to design a really nice employee area”?

Contributed by Danae Tinsley, JCJ Architecture, Hartford, Connecticut

During an ongoing labor shortage, employees are in high demand. The time has come to think about how attracting and retaining top talent can be achieved through more than just a paycheck. It’s an employee’s market and the importance of back-of-house design has taken higher priority than ever.

Front-of-house solutions for the back-of-house

We know that strategic front-of-house design contributes to the overall guest experience and plays a huge role in bringing in and maintaining customers. By this logic, applying the same principles to back-of-house design will help businesses better retain the employees who support that guest experience. So, what do we do for the facilities team, housekeeping, administrative staff, and call center employees? The design features we prioritize for guest areas—daylighting, sustainable materials, spaces that promote relaxation—translate well into employee areas. Just as guest comfort and amenities play a large role in attracting and maintaining guests, so too do employee comfort and amenities play an important role in attracting and maintaining team members.

Creating moments of respite

In the gaming industry, casinos have long been required to provide employee dining rooms but gone are the days of cafeteria-style servery. Now, these employee dining rooms are built with stations offering fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and healthier options. Some even incorporate an action station, where a meal can be prepared by the chef or even the employee themselves in real time. In terms of decor, decorative lighting and comfortable seating have ousted fluorescent fixtures and plastic chairs. The purpose of these spaces is to provide employees with an opportunity to recharge the body and mind so that they feel prepared to accomplish their daily tasks upon returning from break.

Work zone comfort, ease of circulation

Beyond the break room, work zones should also take employee comfort into account. Certain material selections provide enhanced comfort, such as carpeting or anti-fatigue flooring in areas where staff are expected to stand for extended periods of time. It is also important to provide a facility that considers operational efficiency. As designers, we should always consider how we can create a more convenient way for tasks to be completed that will simultaneously lessen the strain on employees. If a guest spills a meal on the restaurant carpet, do we want the Environmental Services team to travel to a distant location for cleaning supplies? Or do we build in a housekeeping closet discreetly tucked behind a column? The more convenient it is for employees to do their job, the better the job will be done.

The bottom line

Some may question the value of spending extra budget dollars on back-of-house and employee workspaces, but in my mind, it is money well spent.

Creating thoughtful spaces that increase employee comfort and job satisfaction improves the hiring and retention process. Employee commitment will shine through across their interactions with guests, which in turn supports a more fulfilling experience for the customer. The bottom line: happy employees make happy guests. Is the hospitality industry ready to commit to the workers who keep it running?