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Front Desk

A cool Chicago hotel

I just got back from a one-day conference in Chicago on condo hotels sponsored by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants. Great speakers and great content, but more on that at another time.

I spent the night at the Hotel Amalfi, the Hostmark Hospitality property across the street from Harry Caray's restaurant in River North. The property, which Hostmark hopes is the foundation for a new chain, is a condo hotel with a cool vibe that's also warm and friendly. Everyone from the doorman to front desk clerk was inviting and friendly in a genuine, non-programmed way. As a non-hip Baby Boomer, I felt as welcome as my 27-year-old son would have been.

From a facilities and services point of view, the Amalfi has a few touches other hoteliers could emulate. The front desk is unconventional in that agents sit behind desks, and guests are invited to sit across from them during the check-in transaction. This isn't a new idea, but itâ€â„¢s a great one, and I'm surprised more hotel don't adopt it. The arrangement takes more space than a front desk, but it would work well in a lobby that also incorporates kiosks for those guests who prefer self-service to a face-to-face check-in.

One of the Amalfi's unique approaches is its breakfast service. First of all, it's free, a nice touch in an urban hotel. Instead of serving the meal in a sometimes-bleak, often-impersonal breakfast room, the hotel sets up its juice, coffee and carb offering in the elevator lobby on each floor, making it easy for guests to go get breakfast in their robes and then head back to their rooms to watch Matt and Katie (and soon Meredith), Imus or Mike and Mike. Obviously, the service is more labor-intensive for the hotel, but it does save a space that in most hotels is only used a couple of hours a day. What do you think?

One beef I had with the property: lighting in the bathroom wasn't bright enough for me. I imagine woman travelers would also find it inadequate for their makeup regimes.

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