Reception areas and color (Proceedings)


Marketing experts say that the most significant factor affecting the perceived value of a product is the place where it is purchased.

Marketing experts say that the most significant factor affecting the perceived value of a product is the place where it is purchased. Just as a nice restaurant needs to have a clean and stylish reception area to give people confidence about what is happening in the kitchen, your reception area must communicate to your clients about the quality of veterinary care that you provide.

Traffic Flow. The design of your reception area is dependant on how you organize traffic flow.

Start by thinking about how your clients enter and exit. It is important to visually align your reception desk with the entrance, so clients will know exactly where to go when they enter. If you wish to have separate entrance and exit doors, the traffic flow must be very well defined, because people are naturally inclined to try to leave the same way they came in.

If your clients are greeted and moved quickly to an exam room, you may be able to minimize the size of your waiting area. However, if your clients are likely to wait for longer periods of time, your waiting area must be more spacious and comfortable. Define how many seats your waiting area should have, keeping in mind that one person and an animal may occupy two or more seats.

The placement of the reception desk relative to other hospital functions can affect how you design and use the reception desk. In a typical traditional layout, it is common to align the reception desk with the exam rooms with staff only circulation behind it. This type of layout works well for smaller hospitals, but in larger hospitals, it may create too much activity in one location.

If you desire to have circulation around the desk, you will most likely want either an island reception desk or one that is on a wall opposite the exam rooms. A benefit of this layout is that it tends to minimize the times when clients and their pets cross paths with each other. A drawback to this approach is that it is not as easy for the receptionist to dash into the back to fetch a prescription or lend a hand in treatment.

Size and Volume. As the size and volume of the hospital grows, chaos at the reception area increases. This is especially true of "rush hour" practices that have many people dropping off animals or picking them up at the end of each day. If you are planning a large hospital, consider the following:

  • Separate desks for separate services. If your services are divided into distinct categories, such as inpatient and outpatient or boarding and medicine, you may find that having separate reception areas, or at least separate desks, may help alleviate crowding and confusion. However, be sure that it is obvious to your clients where they should go so they do not end up in the wrong place.

  • Function-specific reception. Instead of having a one-size-fits-all desk, you may find it helpful to have separate check-in and checkout functions. The checkout function can be divided into individual cashier stations for efficient processing and space usage.

  • Seating Alcoves. Design your seating in alcoves, so people can naturally separate themselves. You may wish to have an alcove dedicated to cashier waiting as well.

Philosophy. Consider how much veterinary reception areas have changed over the years. In the past, it would have been common for the receptionist to be in a separate room, greeting clients through a small window that opened into a waiting room. Compare that with today's open and airy reception and waiting areas. Future trends continue to reduce the physical barriers between clients and staff.

  • Greeter's Station. Imagine how much happier your clients would feel if they were greeted by someone who did not also have to answer the phone. By separating the phone answering function from the front desk, it is possible to provide better service and to minimize the size of the reception desk, which creates more of a "concierge" relationship between the greeter and the client. Greeter's stations work well in paperless practices, because it is easier to physically separate the greeter, phone, and cashier functions while maintaining a virtual connection between them.

  • Client Liaison. The next step in the evolution of the reception area is to eliminate the desk completely. By removing the desk, your clients will feel like they are the first priority. Also, if your receptionist is liberated from the desk, he or she can provide other services, such as facilitating curb-side drop off and pick up, or sitting with, comforting, or educating clients while they wait.

  • Views to Other Spaces. Views into other areas of the hospital from the reception area can reduce psychological barriers between the front and the back, and demonstrate that you have nothing to hide. Some veterinarians choose to create views into surgery rooms, special procedure rooms, or cat and dog boarding areas, which creates a more interesting reception environment and can also help educate clients about the services you offer.

Fine Tuning the Design. The layout, look, color, and materials of your reception area can create various impressions. Designs can range from a space where clients feel comfortable enough to take off their shoes to that of a high-tech medical center. As you work through the details of your reception area design, consider the following factors:

  • Study spatial relationships in order to minimize the number of steps between the reception desk, file shelves, business office, work room, and treatment area.

  • Allow enough space around the reception desk for several people and their animals to check in and out at the same time. Six to seven feet of clear space between the desk and seating areas should be maintained.

  • Consider your space requirements for computers, telephones, printers, and credit card machines. Find solutions that minimize crowding and cluttering of the surface of your reception desk.

  • Give yourself adequate lighting at all work surfaces. Under-counter lighting can be very effective for task lighting. Overhead task lighting can help to highlight the desk.

  • Provide conveniently located cubbies for prescriptions, handouts, and forms.

  • Choose durable materials for the reception area, especially where you expect the most wear. For example, you may want to invest in a more durable counter top material at the reception desk than you use elsewhere. Protect all outside wall corners in the reception room with corner guards, and choose easily cleanable, durable furniture. However, remember that durable does not have to look clinical.

  • Use color. A bright and cheery reception area sends the right message to your client. Put color where it is easy to re-do, such as on the walls, and choose a more neutral color for cabinets, which you are likely to have for a long time.

  • Provide conveniences for your clients, such as a coffee bar and/or information station.


There is no formula for designing a reception area. The design can be a direct reflection of your individual practice philosophy and the way that you run your business. Before you get started, take this opportunity to think carefully about what your waiting area says to your clients about the quality of care that you provide. Although you will not spend much time in the reception area once the building is open, your clients will base their idea of what happens in the treatment area on their experience of walking through your front door.

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