Imagine that you have just arrived at a hotel after a tiring 7-hour overnight flight. At the front desk, the staff person welcomes you, gives you a warm smile, confirms your reservation quickly and hands you your room key. They tell you the complimentary breakfast is still being served in the dining room.
You now feel completely at-ease, thanks to a hotel receptionist who did their job well.
Front desk staff are available for direct communication with guests all day, every day. They reserve rooms, check guests in and out, respond to all kinds of questions and resolve complaints. They may also recommend places to eat and shop and sights to see.
People travel for many reasons, and tourism is one of the biggest. In 2018, 1.3 billion people traveled overseas as tourists, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization.
Whether traveling abroad or domestically, hotel guests often decide if they will stay at a hotel again based on their interaction with hotel staff.
And hotels around the world have at least one other thing in common: They use English as their lingua franca – Hotel English, to be exact.
So, what exactly is Hotel English?
It is polite spoken English that includes a lot of hotel terms and expressions. For example, a receptionist might say, “Welcome to the Potomac East Hotel. How can I assist you today?” and other expressions many times each day.
But, a hotel staffer’s day is never routine.
Guests make a range of requests. That is why a good ear for spoken English in a range of accents and speeds is critical to the role.
All in all, Hotel English is nothing to fear! Hotels generally offer training in what to say and how to respond. And, usually, perfect English is not mandatory. The staff are instead expected to be effective communicators and offer outstanding service.
Mona Faal has been working in the hotel industry for nine years, first in Iran and then Washington, D.C. She has worked for the Hilton and Graham Georgetown. Currently, she works at the front desk at the Hyatt. She joins us in person to talk about language she uses on the job and give advice to those interested in the profession.
ALICE BRYANT: Mona, thanks for being with us today.
MONA FAAL: Thank you for having me.
AB: Can you start by telling us some of the things you enjoy most about your job?
MONA FAAL: I would say the most enjoyable thing in my job: You can see different people every day. And, sometimes, they are coming with -- as a family. And, they are [excited] to be there. And, when you are nice to them, they appreciate you. And I really enjoy this feeling. I always appreciate them as well.
AB: Oh, great. Great. And, you have the opportunity at the place where you work now to talk with people from all over the world, right?
MONA FAAL: Exactly. They are coming from everywhere – from Europe, South America and any state. Because of this job, you can see the people from around the world. And the people has a different job, like some of them working in NASA, some of them are working in military. And, this is really interesting. This is really enjoyable.
AB: Oh, very nice. Next, we’re going to do something fun. So, imagine that I’m arriving at the front desk as a new guest*...
Taking a Reservation
MONA FAAL: Hi, good afternoon. How can I assist you?
AB: Hi, how’s it going? I’d like to make a reservation for today until Thursday. Do you have any vacancies?
MONA FAAL: So, what kind of room you looking for? Are you looking for king or double queen? Or we have king suite as well.
AB: I just need something with a simple bed. But, I’m hoping to have a room with a nice view.
MONA FAAL: Okay, the thing is…yeah, right now we are in middle of the city. But I try to find a nice room for nice view and quiet room. Is it important to be far away from elevator?
AB: It’s better if I’m not near the elevator.
MONA FAAL: Okay, so let’s look up our occupancy for tonight. And you said what’s your departure date's going to be?
AB: So, today – Monday – until Thursday.
MONA FAAL: Okay. So, our rate for tonight it looks like $219 before tax. Is it ok for you if I go ahead and make you a reservation?
AB: Okay, and what’s included in the price? Do you have a gym? Do you have a pool?
MONA FAAL: Yes, ma’am. Our hotel has a 24-hour gym. We have a pool, which is 10:00 to 10:00 – from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. And we have two restaurants at the hotel which is one at the rooftop and it’s open every day except Sunday. And our restaurant here at the third floor, it’s 24 hours.
AB: Oh, great.
MONA FAAL: Okay, so I’m going ahead and make your reservation with this rate. Could I have your ID and your credit card as well?
AB: Sure. Here you go.
MONA FAAL: Okay, thank you. I’m going to put your information at the system. And, let’s find a nice room for you...
I’m going to give you a catalogue which is all hotel information there. You can find any restaurants nearby and some more information about the check-in/check-out time. And If you need any map of the area, it’s right behind you. If you need any tour for D.C., we have concierge here from morning until 6pm.
And let’s go ahead and check you in. Thank you for staying with us. And let’s give you the room number. There is a keypad at the elevator. You need to tap your key first and after that press your floor.
AB: Okay, great.
MONA FAAL: Is there anything else I can help you today, ma’am?
AB: Yes, actually, I would like a wake-up call tomorrow at 7 a.m.
MONA FAAL: OK, Ms. Alice, I’m going ahead and put the wake-up call for you. I’m here until 11. If you need anything else, I’m Mona, I can help you as well, OK?
AB: Thank you so much. Great.
MONA FAAL: Enjoy your stay.
AB: Thank you.
Advice from the Field
AB: What advice would you give to non-native English speakers who are interested in a job as a front desk person?
MONA FAAL: So first thing I would say: If you have a chance to be a volunteer and just watch, just listen to the people who is working.
…If you got this opportunity, just listen. This is the things I do a lot. Sometimes I’m just listening too – because, in my hotel right now, not everyone is American. Everyone has accent.
…And the first thing that’s really important at the front desk: You can’t be a shy person and be at the front desk.
AB: So would you say you have to be a people person?
MONA FAAL: Exactly! You should be really really nice with communicating with people because you going to see a thousand different people. And, they are tired. They are coming after a trip, sometimes after a long flight.
You should understand probably they’re not always in a good mood with you. Try to be like the people who can communicate with every kind of people.
AB: So, you have to be a people person, a good communicator, you have to be patient…
MONA FAAL: Exactly. Another thing I would say, you should have a good memory, too, in this job. This is the job you should be multitasking and doing a lot of things at the same time and you should have a good memory.
AB: OK, that’s great advice. Very good. Well, thank you so much again, Mona, for being with us today.
MONA FAAL: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
*Mona notes that in the hotel where she now works, people normally use a computer to reserve a room.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Do you work in a hotel? If so, are you at the front desk? How often do you use English? Or, do you plan to work in a hotel in the future? Tell us about your experience.
Helpful Words and Terms
receptionist – n. a person whose job is to deal with the people who call or enter an office, hotel or someplace else
front desk – n. a place where people can get information or be served at an office, a hotel or elsewhere
staff – n. a group of people who work for an organization or business
reserve – v. to make arrangements so that you will be able to use or have something, such as a hotel room (noun: reservation)
check in – v. to report to someone when you arrive at a place (such as an airport or hotel) to let them know you are there
check out – v. to leave and pay for your room at a hotel, motel or somewhere else
complaint – n. a statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something
complimentary – adj. given for free
lingua franca – n. a language that is used among people who speak various different languages
recommend – v. to say that something is good and deserves to be chosen
mandatory – adj. required by a law or rule
vacancy – n. a room in a hotel, motel, etc., that is available for use
occupancy – n. the number of people who are in a particular building or room at one time
ID – n. an identification card, such as a driver’s license or passport
catalogue – n. a book containing a list of things that you can buy, use, etc., and often pictures
king, double, king suites – n. types of rooms offered at many hotels
ma’am – n. short for “madam”
concierge – n. an employee at a hotel whose job is to provide help and information to the people staying there
people person – n. someone who is good at
multitasking – gerund. the act of doing several things at the same time
Hotel English Training
If you already have strong English skills, especially in speaking and listening, you may not need to formally study Hotel English. You will likely receive training when offered a job. However, preparing yourself to obtain such a job could be a huge help.
For example, you can:
1. Study hotel-related vocabulary and expressions. Note that these can vary. For example, five-star hotels may offer specific services. Hotel websites contain many of these words and phrases, so be sure to visit them.
2. Check out video-based websites, such as YouTube and Vimeo. YouTube, for example, has several series on Hotel English.
3. Practice listening to English in many accents and at different speeds. You could, for example, spend time in places with a lot of tourists. Travel programs on television are also a great resource.
And, be sure to follow Mona's advice as well!