07 October 2011


Dry Cleaning Shop, Amsterdam

"I'd like to drop this jacket off for dry cleaning."
"Is this leather and silk?"
"Yes, it's both, but the spots are only on the silk area. Can you spot clean?"
"No we cannot. We have to send it to a leather cleaner. But I suggest you wear it more and bring back to clean because cleaning leather is very expensive."
"So I should wear it dirty to make it more dirty?"

01 October 2011

The Weight of Coffee?

Pacific Coffee Company, China

From a Chinese barista to an Italian coffee-holic, I'm not sure how this means of measurement indicates the balance of milk, foam and coffee. But before a 12 hour flight, does it matter?

04 September 2011

Retail by Owner

Venice, California

"If no one here, call:
### ### ####
or ring

16 August 2011


Equinox (fitness club), West Hollywood

"I'm driving East on Sunset. What is the cross street of your gym?"
"What is your exact address?"
"8590 West Sunset."

(I see a glass building on the right, guessing the gym is there)

"Are you located in the glass building on Sunset?"
"No, we're in the gym."

"Is there parking?"
"Yes, turn right onto Alta Linda. When you come out of the elevator, we're right in front of you."
"Is there a floor that you're located on?"

15 August 2011


Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport

Depending on which Play Station 3 game whets your appetite, you can kill 10 minutes, or 2 hours,
at one of these beauties.

30 June 2011

Let the People Choose

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

Since when is this possible with two, not one, attendants monitoring the taxi line? This option is offered in order to facilitate large groups with taxi vans and four or fewer passengers with sedans. If only all cities had sedan and van taxis widely available.

28 June 2011

The Little Things

From a friend in the field: Burger Up, Nashville, Tennessee

A lint roller in the restaurant bathroom came in handy for the white, Eco-friendly cotton napkins that shed and pill.

13 June 2011

Room Service - Service for the Room

I once read that a hotel is only as good as its room service is - between menu selection, delivery time and attention to quality. Pricing is sometimes left out of this run, but oftentimes a reason to cough up at - EUR 8,00 for an expresso at The Park Hyatt in Paris?

The kitchen for in-room dining is either separate from the hotel's signature restaurant or at other times not. The jury is still out on which is more efficient for the hotel, but as a guest, one is hard pressed to turn down ordering from Nobu while staying at The Metropolitan Hotel in London.

What I find even more interesting is how a hotel manages the delivery and presentation of in-room dining orders. Is it on a tray, and what kind? On a wheeled table with expandable leaves, with or without a warming box? Are metal covers used to keep the food warm? How are dishes stacked? After all, these are extensions of a hotel's guest experience.

At The Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara*, someone decided to include an in-room dining table in each guest room during the design process. There it was, folded and placed in its own cabinet in the closet. They were consciously enabling a smooth transition from delivery tray and wheeled table to a solid table of our own, as table linens were being laid out. It is clear that the interior design planning took a step further into considering in-room dining - and the overall function of activities and services offered.

Another someone, at Babbington House in England, decided to source copper covers that allowed the stacking of hot bowls and platters. Genius.

Breakfast at The Four Seasons Hotel in Florence* was wheeled in on its own table, replete with decorative Richard Ginori china, reflecting the frescoed ceiling of the room and for every item on the table: separate white and brown containers, a berry bowl with lid and heating candle in the warming box beneath the table for the frittata, also on china. A linen napkin was folded in fours and left to handle the hot plate. It was deliciously decadent. So decadent that it broke my camera.

At a hotel in the South of France, the cover for our soup at was made of porcelain, a match to its bowl. But where was the soup? In a separate carafe to be poured by the server or ourselves. All of the porcelain was white and accented with bright, aqua-colored napkins - refreshing and reflective of the Cote d'Azur just beyond the windows. There was no wheeled table in this case, but a full set of linens was laid out on our in-room table. A wheeled table could have worked here, but perhaps the elevator could not accommodate them? I felt for these servers.

And by the way, all of the food served in the aforementioned hotels was exceptional, as it's probably no surprise if they've gone the distance with presentation and function.

*The inclusion of two Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in this entry is purely based on their diligence in this area of service. There was no advertising support nor contact with the management company.

12 June 2011

Function As Service

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Function: Instead of the impossible task of outlawing chewing gum at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, make its disposal convenient.
Design: Simple and usable, but I wouldn't want my fingers to touch the sides of the opening.
No gum buried in between archaic pillars of stone.
Placement: Almost camouflaged, it is hung next to a cigarette disposal on a wall along a walkway from the toilets and ticket booth to the parking lot.

05 June 2011

Hong Kong: Easy Spending at Harbour City

It's often still surprising how a little effort with some long-term foresight can go a long way, even in the short term.

Harbour City shopping center, in the busy Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon, Hong Kong, has mastered how to capture, service and move shoppers through their 2 million square feet, indoor shopping center with finesse and sophistication.

Firstly: Dedicate opening hours of Monday - Sunday, 10:00a - 9:00p.
Secondly: Establish facilities that keep a recorded 200,000 shoppers per weekend moving from shop to shop.
Thirdly: Offer a range of tenants in their 450 shops that targets every kind of savvy shopper.
Lastly: Air conditioning. And lots of it.

Not only are the hours of operation convenient for early or late leisurely shoppers, it also caters to the development's 60,000 office tenants and 500 adjoining service apartments.

Facilities and services include 2 cinemas, the 50 restaurants, 3 hotels, various parking lots and a 'Shoppers Care Centre' that has thought of everything to make your stay, and shopping experience, all the more comfortable from mobile battery charging services and baby stroller loans to facial masks and vehicle battery boosting.

What is also not overlooked are the public restrooms. Typically attendants service high-end restaurants' restrooms by holding out a hand towel and a tip bowl. Here, an attendant assists an electrically-prompted light board that announces which stall is vacant for the next user. Not only helpful to the user, it drives us in and back on the shopping floor in no time.

And if mixing the human element with technological advances needs to be further expounded on, Harbour City has developed the 'i-Concierge', installed at various busy intersections of the shopping center. Not only is there a map, but a button to call a live concierge who by video can see us, and we him or her. "Where is the nearest Birkenstock shop?", we ask. As the screen changes to our current location, "Wendy", with her e-pen, draws where we are and where we should walk to get to our destination. If only she can print it out for us. Maybe that will be Wendy 2.0.

This "one-stop shopping experience", as Harbour City promotes itself, offers a specific range of decent brands to the varying consumers that come through. In addition to main stream brands, a section has been devoted to sports-oriented brands and gear where New Balance lines up near to Puma and a multi-brand sneaker/sportswear shop. If running or racket ball in Hong Kong is not your gig, then Chanel, Joyce and Dior line the Canton Road side of the complex. And the message is as clear outside these shops as they are inside the mall: efficiency through order, politely.

A center as this would not be possible without the sophistication and vision of its developer, Wharf Holdings, so it's of no coincidence that luxury department store, Lane Crawford, and Joyce Boutique in Hong Kong, are also owned by the same company.

Harbour City I 3 - 27 Canton Road I Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong I www.harbourcity.com.hk

19 April 2011


Hotel AC Milan, Italy

"I am sorry, I can-not help you with connect-ing your callr."
"No, thee managerr is not herre."
"It ees not my problem that yourr call can-not be connected."
(hangs up)

(A receptionist, upon our check-in, speak to a guest by phone)


Bath, England

Back to basics - trading only.

01 April 2011

Function as Service


Function: Obvious.

Design: Universal language of imagery.

Benefit: Friendly reminder.

Placement: In the middle of bustling London.

28 February 2011


Il Fornaio Restaurant, San Francisco

"I might have made a mistake with my order; I wanted the grilled salmon, not the salmon salad."
"Well, then you'll have to come back."

21 February 2011


Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

"I'd like to arrange coffee delivery tomorrow morning, please."
"We can offer 5:30a - 6:00a. There are no other options at this time but you can call in the morning if you like."

Next morning:
"I'd like to order room service of coffee and a pumpernickel muffin."
"It will be 70 minutes for delivery."

Lesson learned:
During trade show season, confirm room service delivery for the duration of stay at time of check-in.

18 February 2011


Barbacco, San Francisco

"Everything looks great. What would you suggest from your menu?"
"I don't want to suggest anything because I don't know what you like or don't like."

30 January 2011


WP Lavori in Corso, Florence, Italy

If your dart hits a ticket, you get it for free.


Brussels, Belgium

Couldn't turn this down.

The Little Things

Malibu Beach Inn, California

Something that I always leave home without,
was taken care of for me here.

Then and Now: Frozen Food

I am not a fan of frozen food. But in this case, I am a fan of how a French frozen food company manages to service and anticipate today's customer needs in a thoughtful way.

In the 1940s and 50s, households in America were filling their supermarket baskets with Swanson's TV Dinners - the pre-cooked, frozen meal in a box inspired by airplane food from a decade earlier. It was a hit. Advertising in the 50s and 60s mixed the industrially-manufactured meals with family life around around the television set. Today, there remains a mixed feeling of nostalgia about frozen dinners.

Across the Atlantic in France, a family business in delivering ice blocks to restaurants, cafes and some private homes in the early 1900s in Fontainebleau evolved into what would become an empire, and homage, to flash-frozen foods. Today, Picard has 825 stores in France alone and has expanded into Italy and Belgium.

Pricard doesn't just produce and distribute pre-cooked meals. They sell a variety of items from starters to desserts, raw ingredients to prepared meals. In circling around their store in the Marais neighborhood, I was impressed by the colorful, modern packaging for the products and found no trace of freezer burn, neither frost nor wet boxes, in the freezer cases. There was no wrestling with ice sticking to the boxes. Although the store felt more like a laboratory with colorless, flat lighting and no music, it was CLEAN.

The only time one sees the frozen food product in its packaging are at the stores and on its extremely successful e-commerce website. All catalogs, recipe books and signage above the freezer cases are images of finished dishes showing what we can make ourselves at home. Picard recipe developers don't just dream up dishes with their alloted ingredients, but they also track trends in Parisian restaurants. And if you ever thought "satisfaction guaranteed" doesn't exist in France, it does at Picard. One can even call Picard for health questions about their products and speak with a dietician. Interestingly, Picard doesn't encourage snacking, so all of their items are targeted for making meals. There are no frozen snacks, unless you like to snack on spinach or scallops.

By the 1970s, Picard was selling over 300 varieties of frozen items through their catalog while offering home delivery. That's right, Fresh Direct. In 1974, Picard opened its first store in Paris and initiated full scale brand recognition as well as a system to test new products on a 4-month trial rotation - in lieu of paying for consumer research. Each year, items are cut if the sales don't measure up. Sort of like what G.E. does with its employees.

When supermarkets started encroaching on their market with their frozen food offerings in the 1980s, Picard quickly decided to differentiate itself by: 1) manufacturing and branding its own products and 2) positioning itself as high-end quality and innovative. In order to further compete with supermarket discounts, Picard put a selection of standard stock items on promotional sales - this was not because they were about to go stale, but rather to encourage customers to try new items. In the end, the average total customer sale was in fact equal to that of supermarkets.

Locations of Picard stores are also a key to their success. They are in neighborhoods where people work and live, and therefore where customers can get to on foot or by mass transit. It's no wonder that in 2005, 95% of frozen food in France was either produced by, or produced exclusively for, Picard. Not only has Picard kept up with flash-freezing technology with their suppliers, they have also kept up with the customers' tastes. Who has time to watch TV when making coq au vin with Picard's ingredients? Today's Parisians.

28 January 2011

Japanese Perfection 2.0

Eatly Japan, Daikanyama, Tokyo

I dare any barista at New York City's EATALY to challenge one of Tokyo EATALY's to do one of these. And these are not cappuccino - they are macchiato, 2/3 smaller than a cappuccino cup.

Service? Maybe. Client bemusement: A+.

06 January 2011

Spreading the Wealth

China Union Pay is the bank card that will save world from the deepening recession - if the two billion count Chinese population continues to tour the world en masse. One billion will be enough, too. To further assist China's ambition for global domination, UnionPay is now strategically linked with the National Tourism Administration (China) where they will cross-promote each other's services for domestic and oversees spending. Not only will Chinese be able to travel more within their own country, they will now be able to put money back into their own economy more freely. And when they're not staying local, they will be happy to know that Cartier in Italy accepts their burning piece of plastic in their wallets.