The end of the front desk?

As ever, we are at present involved in helping several clients refurbish their practices and we’re helping a few others start new practices. It’s always a great opportunity to rethink the layout of a building and question the status quo; for many years I have wondered why dental practice receptions are configured the way they are and, in particular, why most people persist with the traditional large wooden front desk.

Here are all the reasons I can think of for having the traditional large wooden front desk. It’s:

  • A focal point for patients arriving or departing from the practice
  • To greet arriving patients and check them in
  • A place to site the computer screen and keyboard
  • A place to site the till and credit card payment machine
  • A place to site the phone
  • A place to site the printer
  • A place for pens, paper, Post-its, keys, coffee cups, phone chargers, receptionists’ lunch boxes, mobile phones, lucky mascots etc
  • A place for the receptionists to sit
  • A place to store stationery
  • A place to put boxes of leaflets, charity collecting boxes, free toothpaste, a vase of plastic flowers, practice policy on late cancellations etc

That’s a lot for one piece of furniture to host and probably explains why in most practices they are so huge! Let me suggest what your front desk’s real function might be. A place to:

  • Check in arriving patients
  • Check out departing patients

That’s it! Everything else can take place somewhere else, out of sight and earshot! So if you have a front desk serving just these two functions, what would you need fulfil them? Maybe just a laptop, a credit card machine and something to rest them on. No chairs, no wires, just an elegant lectern-like piece of furniture with a small footprint, freeing up all that space your humungous front desk currently occupies, allowing your receptionists to greet your patients face to face.

Of course, nearby to this minimalist reception furniture you will need a high-tech, well staffed office that’s equipped to:

  • Answer incoming calls
  • Deal with incoming email
  • Make outgoing calls
  • Organise reminders for patients coming in soon
  • Reactivate lapsed check-up patients and outstanding unbooked treatments

In fact if your reception lectern and your back office were sited close to each other your receptionists could easily switch from meet and greet to office roles whenever they needed to. A little further away you will need a space to provide some or all of these other functions:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Practice administration
  • Stock orders
  • Managing suppliers
  • Compliance
  • Rostering
  • HR
  • In-house marketing

Amazingly, I still find people trying to perform these activities at the front desk, within sight and earshot of patients…

If your patients are met by receptionists who stand up to greet them and then seat them personally, how might they feel? Better cared for, more relaxed, better listened to and better served maybe?

Many of the clients we work with are now taking this approach, and it’s time for you to consider whether you really need that large piece of furniture for your receptionists to hide behind. But if you’re not ready to free yourself from the tyranny of your huge front desk then please do this: when everyone has gone home, take a large bin bag and sweep all the paraphernalia off the top of the desk into it, and then get rid of all the rubbish stowed in all the drawers and nooks and crannies. You will find that, apart from the satisfaction of decluttering this bit of your practice, there are unnecessarily large amounts of space being taken by this huge (and probably ugly) piece of furniture!

We work with several great dental practice designers here at Breathe Business. If you would like some help with reconfiguring your practice for the modern world then contact me for a chat:


m. 07770 430576

p. 01548 853660

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