Hotels are amping up their efforts to make a good first impression.

The goal: Dazzle guests during the first, crucial 15 minutes of their stay—or at least avoid annoying them.

Some hotels train front-desk employees to glean information during check-in chitchat that they can later use to impress guests. (Sending complimentary cups of tea to people who say they have a cold, perhaps.)

Others are prettying up lobbies—and even driveways—to enhance views and make them easier to navigate. Some lavish welcome goodies on kids and pets. And at least one brand, Denihan Hospitality Group’s Affinia, has hired a body-language expert to train employees how to read travelers’ moods to help figure out the best greeting approach.