Understanding the Third Space and Your Property

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The third space describes the place where people meet outside of the home (first space) and office (second space).  Engineering parts of your hotel as flourishing third spaces will play to your advantage for higher occupancy levels and hotel cache.

Whether you have heard the term “third space” before or not, it is something that should be given some thought going forward.  Recent shifts in consumer behavior dictate that you fully understand this concept and its potential to enhance your property’s atmosphere.

The term third space was originally coined by the sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book “The Great Good Place” to describe a public or neutral center for community building, civic engagement, intellectual discourse, peer encouragement and group validation.

Some examples of third spaces in your community may include cafes, markets, bazaars, pubs, bars, clubs shopping malls, barber shops, recreation halls and even post offices as long as they are designed correctly.  Third spaces, in essence, are places where people can unleash their inner social animals by exchanging opinions, stories and theories to the benefit of everyone present.

Starbucks provides an excellent example of a third space.  Over the past two decades, the franchise has experienced exponential growth thanks to superb products, but also because of the atmosphere the store exudes.

The vibe surrounding this java haven is not one of “grab and get out as quickly as possible.”  Instead, Starbucks uses warmly colored furnishings and humble décor to encourage customers to sit and enjoy their beverages and snacks.

Why Care?

You may be asking yourself, why should I care about promoting a part of my property as a third space?  Third spaces are almost as important as the home and the offices because they are the places that individuals frequent to enrich their lifestyles.

Working in the hospitality industry has to mean more than just looking at the numbers.  Property owners and hoteliers should aim to nurture guests and offer them a common area to develop their own identities.  This quality is not captured in accounting ledgers, but will certainly have an emotional impact on your guests.  You will see this impact with increased loyalty and positive word of mouth.

Because more people are working from home – thus combining the first and second places – there is a developing desire to offset the monotony of a single space.  Visiting a local hotspot, for example, can service the need for the external, novel stimulation.  People want to be where the action is.

Why Now?

In addition to this tech-dependent trend (as digital communications have accelerated the merger of first and second spaces), neutral third spaces such as cafes, bars and restaurants  are now much more likely to double as hosts for casual business meetings and interviews.

You have probably already seen some sort of shift in consumer behavior that corresponds to the rise in buying power of the Gen X and millennial generations.  More surplus cash equals increased spending and more time allotted for public gathering, and both of these outcomes make these two demographics key proponents of the third space, especially as they continue to mature.

These groups are also most associated with Internet fluency, electronic communications and social media usage.  All of these digital interactions are forms of social discourse and provide numerous platforms to speak out in this ever-increasing social world.

Smartphones and other mobile devices play a significant role in our collective culture.  Any individual who is accessing the Internet for social discourse in a neutral setting is, in today’s standards, a third-space participant.  They could be on their device anywhere, but they choose to be in, and contribute to, a social ambiance.  With greater smartphone proliferation comes a greater need for third spaces.

Third-Space Criteria

It is your job to ensure that different parts of your property are optimized for a third space.  It is not necessary to meet all of these standards, but the more you can check off, the better your chances will be or creating a hotspot in your hotel.

  • Accessibility – Consumers must be able to find your neutral space, and that means making your restaurant, bar or lounge convenient for everyone.  A spot in the lobby, within sight of the front desk and elevators provides maximum visibility, and appropriate signage helps consumers identify your space.  Extended hours and a reduction of barriers (cover charges, membership requirements, dress codes, etc.) help promote belonging and equality of conversation.
  • Ambiance – It is important to strive for an informal, unassuming manner in your overall décor.  Excessively dim lighting and loud music do not allow guests to gather for work or casual purposes.  Try to aim for a playlist that inspires a lighthearted spirit.  Additionally, you can consult an interior designer to learn some more clever ways to induce a steady flow of conversation.
  • Stylish yet Ergonomic Seating – Try to give your patrons comfortable, upright chairs positioned around tables large enough to spread out a few papers or laptops.  An abundance of these set-ups allows a large group to congregate.  It is also important to allow for a reasonable amount of people watching.
  • Quality Food and Beverage – Good dialogue and a great experience can be enhanced by quality food, coffee, craft beers and mixology.  The third-space lubricants of yesteryear were pints of ale.  Today, you must weigh the positives and negatives or libations in your third space.  Alcohol and food are not mandatory, but it can certainly help set the tone for a great atmosphere.  Fascinating cuisine and cocktail choices can also make great conversation starters.
  • Tech Support – People are not hanging out “alone” in the 21st century.  Everyone has a device they are traveling with whether it is a smartphone, tablet or laptop.  Power outlets should not be sparse or hidden, even if that means running a few extra wires around the place.  If you are really looking to create a bustling area, make Wi-Fi free!
  • Savvy Staff – The final main characteristic of a modern third space is the presence of regular patrons.  Just like the hit TV show “Cheers” pointed out, sometime you just want to go “where everybody knows your name.”  The wait staff at your third space provides the connective glue to nurture stead guests and convert first-timers into long-standing “regulars”.  You cannot just hire anyone for this role.  Staff members need to be socially smart, remember who regulars are, be thoroughly knowledgeable on all menu items and receptive to inducting newcomers by opening conversation.

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