Something is disappearing from hotel lobbies: the imposing, impersonal front desk.

Desks that resemble tables or podiums are replacing those long, marble barriers - for decades the cold centerpiece of the American hotel lobby - as more hotels experiment with new check-in procedures aimed at cutting down long lines and making guests feel more welcome.

Technology is a big part of the front-desk evolution. For years, clerks were tethered to the desk answering phones, working the cash register or guarding keys.

Today, kiosks allow guests to check in, get their keys, and check out without ever talking to a hotel employee. That unchains clerks from the desk, allowing them to pay closer attention to guests. They can walk guests to the fitness room, for instance, instead of just pointing.

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