Hostel Reception Desk 101: Checklist for a Smooth Shift Change

This post was written by Ewa, the talent behind Don’t Mess with The Receptionist. She has worked in hostels all over, from her home country of Poland to England, Portugal, Spain and the U.S.

If there is one thing that I have learned throughout many years of working behind the reception desk, it’s that no two hostels are the same. All these differences make working in hostels very exciting.

However, some things do not change, like the workflow from one shift to another. I have done it in different manners (as each hostel has its own standards and needs), but the goal is always the same:

Make the change as flawless as possible.

Some of you might know the feeling of excitement when the end of a shift arrives. For some, it’s one of the most desired moments of the day. But it can also be one of the most stressful times: card differences, cash is missing, people are waiting to check in, the phone is suddenly starting to ring all the time (this is what I call overbooking), and you still need to find the error.

I have learned that if the shift change didn’t go well, my entire shift can go…umm, wrong.

In a small-sized hostel it is easier, as fewer people are expecting the reception to complete their check-in and give them all of the tourist information. However, in hostels with over 100 beds, this procedure becomes more stressful because of the time pressure.

But the shift must change. So, how to deal with it?

First of all, you need to have a good property management system that allows you to create reports at the end of each shift. A shift-switch tool. (You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out what purpose it serves ;)). This is the point from where you can start to close one shift and start another.

Below you will find the list of tasks that should be included in the shift-change procedure (made by methe receptionist):

  • Create a transaction report from your PMS, including how much money should be in the cash box and how much was paid with credit cards
  • If you take deposits from guests, your report should also include the total of the deposits that you should have in your deposit box
  • Make sure two receptionists count the money (the one who leaves and the one who arrives)
  • Check that the amount from cards matches the total from the card terminal
  • If there are any differences, the receptionist should find the mistake
  • Make sure that each receptionist has and uses their own user login
  • Pass all necessary information and urgent tasks to the arriving receptionist

It’s great if the cash made during the shift is taken from the main cash box and stored in the safety box, until the supervisor, front desk manager or owner can take it to the bank. This prevents too much money from accumulating at reception. Depending on your hostel’s needs, you can establish the base of the reception cash box—let’s say 300 euro—that every shift starts with.

And what to do if there is a mistake?

It often happens that there is a mistake in the type of payment. We tend to make mistakes such as placing a payment by Visa card when it was actually Mastercard, and vice versa. Another common mistake is to place a payment in cash when it was paid by card. These errors can be easily found with the right PMS, one that allows you to filter each transaction by type of payment and quickly correct it to the appropriate one.

Information is the key.

Another very important aspect of the shift change procedure is information. I have learned so many times that passing all information can be the solution for so many possible mistakes or future complaints. Receptionists always need to know what is happening in the hostel. That is why it is inevitable to have some kind of a logbook. It might be in your PMS, in Excel or in an external application. The important thing is that it works and that receptionists use it.

I will always stress how essential it is to have a property management system that fits your hostel’s needs (and is user-friendly)! You might still keep up with your Excel, but I can’t imagine the reception life without a PMS that does half of the work for me. It simplifies daily operations and helps us avoid mistakes. 

Establishing a functional checklist for the shift change will spare you and your front desk staff trouble when passing a shift from one to another. Not to mention, it will set you up for a flawless work shift.