Four Design and Layout Considerations Amid COVID-19

By Tonya Dybdahl

Safety and cleanliness are core tenets of the hospitality industry and, historically, the industry is at the forefront of comprehensive practices. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the heightened need for disinfecting and distancing has posed its own unique challenges to hotel brands everywhere.

While thoughtful policies and consistent application has led the charge on virus mitigation, physical changes to layout, materials and amenities show hotels are willing to go above and beyond to create a safer environment for guests. Along with placing signage and visual cues, subtle restructuring will maintain a pleasant guest experience while still showing your brand’s attention to health and safety. Here are some suggested strategies to consider:

Appoint an In-House Expert
Create accountability for all layout, cleaning and replenishment responsibilities by appointing one or more employees as a point person for COVID-19-related practices. Ideally, this person will be adequately trained and informed on best practices passed down from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as those that have been shared by authorities in the industry. The property should also invest in any additional training or certifications in order to ensure this person’s competence and understanding of the “new normal.”

This person should be responsible for initial layout adjustments and purchasing requests, as well as seeing through any installation and continued maintenance for these items. Initially, conversations with a space planner or interior designer may prove beneficial, as well as obtaining service from installers to ensure safety during any moving or rearranging.

Repurpose Furniture for Distancing
In order to create adequate separation, establishing immovable barriers can prevent guests from deviating from your planned layout. To avoid any jarring visual noise, seek out solutions that are in line with your space’s aesthetic and flexible for use as regulations are relaxed or even tightened up.

  • Use low-profile bookcases, fully finished buffet tables and other storage options to establish walkways between seating areas, providing both visually attractive and physically restrictive boundaries.
  • Place end tables between seating to prevent guests from moving chairs or benches closer together.
  • Utilize artificial or real plants between seating, along walkways and on top of surfaces that should not be used as meeting, rest or workspaces.
  • Further invest in transparent sneeze guards that can be placed on reception desks, on shared tabletops and in any communal areas. Standing-height guards are good to use at valet or security stations as well.
  • Place communal cleaning supplies, and take-along items, throughout the space to encourage guests to practice good hand hygiene as well as cleaning behind themselves. Branded sanitization-related takeaways can emphasize your hotel’s commitment to cleanliness.

Material Considerations
In every part of a hotel—lobbies, guestrooms, business centers and F&B areas—materials matter. When selecting commercial-grade furniture, pieces are often made from materials that are designed for high-volume and rigorous use, as well as constant cleaning; however, these are not necessarily optimized for the solvents necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Fabric is one of the most porous materials, even when treated with stain-resistant or antimicrobial coatings. As much as possible, avoid these upholsteries and seek out synthetic alternatives. Many major retailers have developed nonporous surfaces that are on-trend yet durable, mimicking the look and even feel of fabrics. Compared to polyurethane and other synthetics, vinyl retains the most durable and cleanable properties that can stand up to industrial solvents and constant cleaning.

Wood provides its own unique challenge, as it requires more gentle cleaning and polishing agents to properly care for its porous nature. Tables, storage items and desks can be topped with custom-cut glass in order to keep replacement costs low. The glass also adds a luxurious look to any existing furniture. Laminate, by its nature, is a more durable and cleanable alternative that comes in an array of trending styles. Be wary of veneers as these finishes are thin strips of wood that retain all of the physical properties of their solid counterparts, and cleanability guidelines should follow suit.

When in doubt, look toward furniture that has been designed for healthcare environments. Modern design elements have become more popular in recent years, often mimicking stylish hospitality furniture in order to create a less sterile visual appeal. Seek out solvents that are well-suited for these pieces but be mindful of skin sensitivities and possible allergies.

Evaluate F&B
Throughout your facility, F&B needs are extremely varied. From in-house dining and casual shops to room service and minibars, these amenities all pose a unique set of challenges that require new layout considerations.

  • Dining areas should follow the best practices of stand-alone restaurants, which starts with repositioning seating and removing tables to achieve proper spacing. Seek out dividers as necessary and ensure that any bar seating is well-spaced at all times.
  • Buffets and continental breakfast should be suspended for the time being. Seek out a structure for individually dispensed food items that are handled by hotel staff. Similarly, coffee and beverage stations should be moved out of public areas and dispensed as requested.
  • Room service options, when handled by a staff member that has been cleared for work, remain relatively safe; however, a contactless option should be implemented. Put station carts or trays in corridors so that they can be easily placed outside of guestrooms to accommodate orders.
  • Minibars should be emptied for the time being and proper practices should be followed for cleaning out refrigerators or microwaves between every guest stay. Similarly, toiletries and personal items should all be dispensed on an as-needed basis or disposed of after every guest.
  • Self-serve convenience stations should be properly monitored to ensure that food and toiletries aren’t overly handled.

As hotels begin to return to the “new normal,” owners and operators who invest time and resources into making some strategic changes to physical layouts and design will not only reduce risk but also increase customer loyalty in the long run.

Tonya Dybdahl is a space-planning and design assistant manager for National Business Furniture.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.