Hotel chains are replacing them with smaller desks or individual pods that take less space and let employees provide more personable service.

Also, hotels can design more open desks because cash transactions are becoming rarer, and security is no longer the concern it once was. Smaller computer monitors and printers also make it easier to cut down on the desk size.

The pods are individually manned stations equipped with a computer and a room key programmer. Many Embassy Suites, Hyatt and Westin hotels now feature such pods. Wyndham, which recently hired designer Michael Graves to re-do its hotels, will introduce them in late 2007.

How hotel guests wait for service varies. Some hotels maintain a single-file line while others have a separate line at each pod. Other chains, such as Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo and Marriott, are borrowing a chapter from the retail sector and are testing or installing check-in desks that look and function like cashiers' desks at the Gap. Larger than pods, they are open desks with several computer stations for check-in.

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