Spotlight on: the evolution of hotel lobbies

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Bakeries, bookshops and fashion boutiques are among the innovative ways in which hotel lobbies are standing out – while luring locals and further entertaining guests. Click. investigates

Ever since Ace Hotels made their debut, hotel lobbies have been diversifying. Ace’s much-imitated model is to provide free wifi, copious plug sockets and top-grade coffee, in a bid to tap into the gig economy – reinventing the lobby as a buzzy place filled not just by guests, but locals, too.

This has multiple benefits. Most obviously, it lends the lobby a satisfying vibrancy. Then there’s the satisfaction of being on-trend: with travellers increasingly hankering for local experiences and a connection with their destination, a hotel where residents regularly spend time automatically becomes far more attractive. Finally, the patronage of locals assures revenue even when occupancy rates are down.

Providing workspace is far from the only common hotel-lobby innovation; recent years have seen cool cocktail bars, musical performances and retail pop-ups become commonplace. 

Palácio Tangará reception

Photo: Palácio Tangará reception

Ways to stand out

All of which makes it increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Difficult, but not impossible.

Some hotels are getting ahead is by turning, inventively, to bakeries. One such is Paris’s luxury hotel Le Meurice, whose lobby welcomed La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet – exclusively helmed by the award-winning pastry chef – last spring.

Grolet’s creations are renowned both for their visual flair and sumptuous taste. But added enticement is provided at La Pâtisserie du Meurice by the factor of limited availability. “Every day the kitchen cooks only a certain number of cakes,” explains Press Manager, Alexandra Chlopek. “We open the shop at midday and close whenever there are no more products left.” This creates a buzz and renders the hotel a source of hard-to-get goods.

Another type of food shop has taken residence in southern France amid St Tropez’s Hotel Byblos. A stylish delicatessen, L'Épicerie sells fresh Mediterranean produce, olive oils, vintage wines and champagnes plus dishes prepared by the hotel’s executive chef.

“We launched the delicatessen in order to offer everyone – hotel guests, other travellers, locals – the opportunity to discover regional products and our own cuisine,” reveals marketing director Romain Pirat, “in an alternative format to sit-down dining. The idea is that our visitors can enjoy a part of Hotel Byblos at home.”

Other retail routes

In this case, the purpose of a lobby’s expanded retail offering doesn’t merely serve to increase footfall, but additionally to allow a hotel to extend its reach into private homes via quality product. Such thinking also underpins a branch of independent bookstore Boekhandel Van Gennep within the central hall of Rotterdam’s iconic Hotel New York.

Yet another means for lobbies to stand out is via art – by, effectively, becoming a gallery

On sale are a carefully-curated collection of books covering everything from poetry to shipping (the hotel occupies the Holland America Line’s former art deco headquarters), via, of course, Rotterdam guidebooks.

Hotel New York’s Michel van Jaarsveld, Marketing Executive, says the store appeals to staying guests and transient visitors for distinct reasons. “It offers lots of guides or literature as an extra service for guests to enjoy reading in their room, but is also a good place for passing Rotterdammers – perhaps those visiting our restaurant – to buy a nice gift for someone, or for themselves.”

Other hotel lobbies have gone down a similar retail route. The Ace Hotel in Downtown LA has a lobby store hawking not just in-room items such as slippers but also independent Angelino jewellery brands. Barcelona’s Casa Bonay hosts the flagship store of funky Spanish shirt-makers Batabasta. And, returning to books, the Hotel St George in Texas has installed a minimalist outpost of the local Marfa Book Company.

Yet another means for lobbies to stand out is via art – by, effectively, becoming a gallery. Take Sao Paulo’s opulent Palácio Tangará, whose lobby showcases various artworks. Most extravagant is Laura Vinci’s ceiling-based Papéis Avulsos (‘Rough Papers’): gold-foil ‘leaves’ arranging in an oval shape.

“We understand that a hotel lobby nowadays has an important social aspect,” explains Stephan Ferreira, the Rooms & Division Manager, “and must allow both guests and clients to relax.” Along with those artworks, afternoon teas and live jazz further enliven Palácio Tangará’s lobby each week.

“Far from just a venue for transactional interactions like checking in and out,” Ferreira underlines, “our lobby acts as a hub – it brings life and atmosphere to the hotel.”

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Hero image: Epicerie by Byblos, Hotel Byblos Saint-Tropez, by Adrien Daste 

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As well as pleasing staying guests, an enticing lobby lures locals and other travellers, creating a steady revenue stream at times of low occupancy
Some lobbies achieve this by hosting bakeries which sell hard-to-get products, making the hotel a place of demand, or by doubling as an art gallery
Others retail solutions have seen the installation of delicatessens, bookstores or boutiques, allowing hotels to sell gifts which can be enjoyed in private homes
A successful, vibrant lobby acts as the social hub for a hotel, and defines its atmosphere