The issue of 'reception' has changed from a typical function for every office-based business from corporate headquarters to DMV clerk to a begrudging necessity for those who can't eliminate the receptionist. Baring elimination, combining job functions becomes the next step. Some of the solutions are to use a security person to also greet and direct people, or place a clerk or secretary at the reception counter.
If you find that a reception counter is needed, the first decision is to determine the full role of that person. From that determination, the next step is to decide on the size of the station and the height that is desirable. Rarely is the reception counter 36" high because this would require the clerk to sit on a stool; or, if the clerk side is 30", then the client is looming over the clerk. The stool or the 'looming' is always a deal breaker. 30" is always desirable for the clerk side.
The degree of customization is always an early decision to resolve. Systems furniture can provide both customization and changeability. Haworth and Herman Miller offer very attractive systems solutions.
In a prestigious setting where interaction with the receptionist is brief, a desk or table (with modesty panel) is a good solution. Telephone reception is the only other job function that is easy to combine with this station without ruining the effect. Because of that, the 30" reception counter is used less and less, except for any portion of the counter that needs to be accessible per ADA.
The more common solution is to provide a 30" counter height on the clerk side and a 42" high transaction counter on the client side. (See this Detail) The 42" height offers decent screening for the equipment and cables that would otherwise be exposed to view and tinkering. The transaction counter works best if it is 14" deep, which allows paperwork to be easily handled. A two or three inch difference between the edge of the transaction counter and the base board prevents the client from kicking the counter as they move close. This recess can be provided in the toe space or in the overhang of the transaction counter or both.
One other configuration that can be used is a raised platform on the clerk side. A 12" high platform places the client side at 42". This creates a comfortable eye-to-eye arrangement with the clerk seated at a 30" counter and the client standing. (See example)
The finishes of the counter can be almost anything - plastic laminate, solid laminates, solid surface material, wood, stone, etc.
A few other things to consider are the flooring that will get the most wear at the clerk stations, electronic equipment placement and wiring needs.
You might also consider an unmanned station using a flat screen display for greetings, logo, company news and a CCTV link to a behind the scenes workstation(s). Years ago Fidelity Investments used a kiosk for guests at one of its regional offices. You logged in and were directed to the appropriate floor where you were greeted by an escort. I think that is what the future reception process will look like.