The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


You Can Tell How Much A Restaurant Cares About Their Customers By The Questions They Ask …

Way back in 2014, I wrote a post about my favourite restaurant in Shanghai – Din Tai Fung – and how their ‘comments card’ only had a satisfaction scale that went up to good.

In the post I mused why the company might be so stingy with levels of praise customers could bestow on their excellent staff and suggested it was to ensure the company was always in a position of control.

I loved Din Tai Fung.

In fact it was one of the big reasons I was sad to leave China, so you can imagine my happiness when I discovered they had opened a branch 8 miles from where I live.

Din Tai Fung – the American Edition – is very different to the classic Taiwanese offer I enjoyed over 7 glorious years in the Middle Kingdom.

For a start it is trying to look much trendier.

No Taiwanese/Chinese celebrity cartoons on the walls, instead all earthy tones and oversized lampshades.

Then the choice of food is very different and it doesn’t seem to have as much attention to detail.

The dumplings texture is not as delicate, the soy sauce isn’t as high quality, the ginger looks half dead and the chili sauce is almost sweet.

Then, just as you think they can’t screw things up any more, they serve cocktails. COCKTAILS.

And all for a price that is at least double that of China.

But as much as I can just about cope with that [as it still makes me feel happy] I can’t cope with this …

Yes, I’m talking about their comment card.

Sure, I know that gives the impression they want to improve – but when you read it, you notice a couple of things.

1. The scale of satisfaction is much, much broader.
2. The range of questions is much more general.

In the Asia version of the comments card, there is a huge emphasis on the quality of the food.

The texture. The flavours. The noodle quality.

Each food type is open for critique whereas the US version is simply summed up as ‘food quality’.

Now I get why the US would do that … it’s more concise and doesn’t ask the customer to judge a bunch of criteria … but the Asian version highlights something else.

Food enjoyment is much more than just taste and presentation.

Consciously or not, people constantly and continually are evaluating their experience, so if you want to show you actually care about their perspective – actually care about improving things – then you have to offer them options in the way they will be considering their food.

And they’re right.

I am absolutely the opposite of a foodie snob, but 7 years in China taught me the difference between good dumpling texture and bad.

To simply ask me ‘food quality’ as a blanket question for the overall experience is simplistic to the extreme.

Which is why the US Din Tai Fung will continue to serve me dumplings that are not as delicate as they should be, offer me soy sauce that isn’t as high quality as it should be, ginger that is not as vibrant and fresh as it should be and chili sauce that is far too sweet to complement the food they are serving.

America used to be the blueprint for service.

Asia – or should I say, some elements of Asia – are miles ahead.

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You Can All Thank Thanksgiving …
November 20, 2017, 7:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, America, Comment

So this week is my first official ‘thanksgiving’.Like many of the American holidays I’ve experienced so far, I’m pretty sure it’s going to make me feel weird.

July 4th set the tone by asking me to celebrate the day America kicked England’s ass.

Then there was Halloween … where America goes more over-the-top than a Versace, Disneyland collaboration.

And so we come to thanksgiving … a day that is arguably, even bigger than Christmas here.

Where you get together with those you love and express what you’re thankful for while tucking into a turkey dinner and eating pie.

OK, so the eating bit is going to be good, as will the days off … of which you also benefit as this is the only post of the week … however, before you start taking the piss that I’m always on holiday, please note I’ve not had any personal time off this year annnnnnd this holiday makes up for the fact I didn’t get to enjoy the annual national October holiday in Asia for the first time in over 10 years.

Better? No, didn’t think so.

Anyway, to ensure the whole holiday shebang gets off to a good start, I’ve organised the inaugural Thanksgiving Deutsch Planner Pie-off for later today where we all bring in our handmade masterpieces and do battle for the ultimate accolade of Prince/ss of Pie.

Think Great British Bake-off with more swearing, threats and stomach aches.

And pie.

However despite all that fun and frolics, the other bit of Thanksgiving will be bloody awkward … by which I mean the whole ‘what are you thankful for’ bit.

Not because I’m not thankful for a whole bunch of stuff, but because I have absolutely no desire to share it with people I vaguely know.

Maybe it’s my British genes coming through.

Or maybe it’s because I hate being told to do stuff that others want me to do.

Which I guess is additional evidence that I am an only child … hahaha.

So I will end this post with the same response I gave when I was recently interviewed by a magazine and asked, ‘what do yo love about being in America’.

“Your bacon and free soda refills.”

They didn’t find it funny either.

So Happy Thanksgiving everyone, see you in a week.



You Know How Boring Adland Is Becoming When A Leaflet Is The Best Thing I’ve Seen In Ages …

If you’re wondering what the photo above is, it’s an insert that was placed in the X-Ray machine trays that you place your electronic items in at airports.

In other words, it’s a paper insert in a plastic tray.

And yet it’s the most fun piece of advertising I’ve seen in ages.

OK, so part of the reason I like it so much is because the standard of advertising right now is pretty poor, but the other part is that whoever was behind it, understood what the brand – in this case, Narcos – was all about.

The cheekiness of advertising a TV show about drug smuggling at the very place in an airport that is designed to stop them, is brilliant.

Yes, you may say it’s obvious … but there’s many obvious things that don’t get made because ‘ambient media’ doesn’t have the reach of mainstream broadcast or the targeting of digital.

And yet this paper insert in a plastic tray made me smile.

Made me take a photograph of it.

Made me write about it.

And while the reach of this blog is about 5 people, that’s still better than 99% of campaigns churned out in the mainstream world.

I admit I’ve always been a sucker for good ambient media stuff.

Sure, it got a bit mad there for a while … where it was less about extending the spirit and purpose of the brand in interesting and relevant places and more about just putting ads wherever you could get away with … but when it’s done right, well thought out ‘brand experiences’ can have an impact that is bigger and better than many multi million dollar ad campaigns.

So to whoever did it, thank you … you reminded me that creativity is more than just what you do, but where you do it.



If More Proof Was Needed …
October 17, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: America, Attitude & Aptitude, Corporate Evil, Culture, Death, Social Divide

A few weeks ago I wrote about everything I thought was wrong in America.

For such an amazing country, it’s mind-blowing to me that there is resistance to dealing with the issues undermining it.

Worse, there’s resistance to even talking about the issues undermining it.

In the post, I highlighted one issue in particular.

Gun control.

Despite the mountains of evidence, the NRA continues to ignore the damage and dangers of gun ownership.

They fight aggressively against any challenge to it.

Any.

They use ‘government control’ as their reasoning behind their obstinance.

That if they give in to this, what else will the government want to take away.

It’s a fucking stupid argument made worse by the fact I received this in my letterbox recently.

Admittedly it was addressed to the person who used to own our house.

A cop.

But that doesn’t take away the fact an organization felt it was necessary to send out a pamphlet about how to deal with school violence – specifically violence that goes ‘beyond the active shooter’.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me ill.

School should be a place of safety.

I know that’s unrealistic, but there’s a massive difference between worrying about bullying and worrying about being shot.

And yet the NRA choose to ignore their role in this situation.

Preferring to blame the shooter rather than acknowledge any role the guns play in allowing people to kill on a mass scale.

The fact this pamphlet had to be sent out at all should be enough for America to realise the gun laws in their country need a major overhaul.

Sadly it won’t be.



America Has A Portion Control Problem …

As many know, America is the most obese nation on earth.

When you know this, I guess it’s less of a surprise when they say anyone who spends 2 weeks in America will put on approx 8 pounds in weight.

I could talk about the many, many reasons that contribute to this situation – from poverty to profit to, as I read recently, that the biggest fear for anyone who has guests is running out of food … hence they overcook by significant amounts.

Anyway, this is all an excuse to show you this picture …

As you can see, it’s a mountain of onion rings.

If you look carefully behind them, you’ll see the look of shock on my sons face.

Now you may think that is an optical illusion, but it’s not … it really was that big.

But here’s the amazing thing.

That wasn’t a portion of onion rings … that was a half portion.

HALF!!!

Seriously!!!

Apart from the fact if you ate that amount there isn’t enough toothpaste in the World to stop your breath smelling of onion for 19 years, that was the starter.

The bloody starter.

Now I like onion.

I bloody love onion.

But even I couldn’t eat more than a few strands and so there was an enormous amount left which – I presume – was then thrown away.

A while ago – 3+ years to be exact – I wrote about the insane portion control of the Hard Rock Cafe in NYC.

What made it worse was they were running a campaign at the time about stopping hunger.

Well given that obesity is a cause of so many illnesses in America – illnesses that have a huge, detrimental affect on the economy – I can’t work out why the government don’t mandate portion sizes at restaurants. Yes, I know for many people, they take what they don’t eat back home … but how much of that is actually eaten versus kept in the fridge for a few days and then thrown out.

The irony here is that fast food restaurants – the ones who often get the most abuse – are way, way, way better than more ‘formal’ restaurants.

Part of that is because they don’t want lawsuits against them … part of that is that they know their audience so well that they know how much they actually eat and part of that is that they have a huge number of stores, so they don’t have to win on quantity but simply offering the convenience of giving people what they want when they want it.

But these big ‘restaurants’ aren’t like that and that’s why I feel they are particularly guilty of creating food wastage.

For me, it is one of the worst things in society.

We have people hungry and we have people getting ill because of obesity.

It wouldn’t take much to actually start helping to reduce this, but sadly America has been sold the belief that quantity always trumps quality and until that attitude starts changing, then the allegedly most powerful country on Earth, will continue to act in a way that seems weak.



We Are All The Same. We Are All Different.

So for the past 2 days I’ve been writing a lot about equality.

It’s a subject very close to my heart.

To be honest, it always has been but being a Father has raised it’s importance.

In some ways, having Otis grow up in China made things easier as it meant he was exposed to different cultures from day 1 but I didn’t want to take that for granted, so when we knew we were going to move to the US, I spoke to a friend of mine – a Brit, who is black and lives in the US – about the [thankfully small] issues his kids faced being in the US and what he thought parents should teach their kids to stop that happening.

His response was phenomenal.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was the obvious one – treat every person from every culture the same way – with respect, appreciation and consideration.

So far so good … but it was the next bit that really made an impact.

Don’t tell Otis different cultures are all the same.

Don’t ‘whitewash’ our differences, acknowledge them … enrich Otis with understanding about different cultures history, struggles and values.

Or said another way … celebrate the differences but treat everyone the same.

Brilliant.

Absolutely brilliant.

In a World where so much hate is built simply on ‘being different’, helping break down those walls through knowledge and understanding is even more powerful than just saying ‘don’t see the colour, see the person’.

Of course it’s vital to treat people the same, but understanding the background isn’t just a mark of respect – it’s a way to celebrate strengths and understand behaviours that you may otherwise judge for no other reason than your own in-built prejudices.

So among Otis’ books on animals and dinosaurs and Peppa fucking Pig, he has books that explore the cultures associated with Africa [‘Africa Is Not A Country’ & ‘Sundiata’], Mexico [‘Tequila Worm’] and the Middle East [‘My Fathers Shop’].

Now I appreciate some people may think we are going a bit over-the-top with this.

After all, Otis is only 2 and a half.

But, as I have written before, I’ve learnt not to care what others think.

I’ve learnt people often mistake being a parent with being an ‘expert’ on kids.

I’ve also learnt kids develop so many of their behaviours by being masters of mimicking how their parents behave.

[Jill hopes she can stop him fall victim to ironic t-shirts and Birkenstocks]

At the end of the day, we believe we have a responsibility to him – and society as a whole – to encourage the values and beliefs that can enable him to be a good human being … someone who doesn’t just contribute to society in terms of what he achieves, but in terms of what he helps others achieve.

Of course we know he will face challenges.

Peer pressure. Unexpected circumstances. The allure of mischief.

And while we can’t dictate how he handles those things, we hope we can prepare him to deal with them in a way where he can hold his head high … which is why on top of being loving, supporting parents, we will buy him books on understanding different cultures, give him dolls to play with and encourage him to play with his beloved pink kitchen.

Being a Father is one of the most amazing things that has happened in my life.

I feel embarrassed to admit I had no idea how good it would be … and while being a good parent is basically a matter of trying things with good intent, I want to say a big thank you to Karrelle Dixon … because he may not realise it, but he made a big difference to how my little boy will grow up. Not in terms of respect, but in terms of understanding … and when you think about it, that’s one of the most wonderful gifts you can give anyone.

I hope my parents would think we’re doing good with their grandson.

I think they would.



Equality Is About Letting People Be Free To Express Themselves, Not Conform To The Majority …
September 20, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: America, Comment, Culture, Equality, Happiness, Insight

Equality.

A little word with big consequences.

It’s also a word that – in my opinion – is often misunderstood.

I have been very fortunate in my life.

I’m white.

Male.

British [with a large dollop of Italian]

Loved and supported by wonderful parents.

But if you don’t have one of these attributes – or god forbid, have none of these attributes – your life is going to be impacted negatively in some way.

Now there is definitely a movement to try and improve things … to ensure people who have been subject to prejudice in the past to be treated fairly in the future … and that is a great thing [even though it should never be something that needs to be consciously done] but the word ‘fairly’ often translates to being allowed to act like the majority act.

On first impression you might think that is a good thing, but it isn’t, it’s saying that rather than be able to express yourself without fear or judgement, it’s saying you are allowed to express yourself as long as it is in ways the majority regard as acceptable.

At the heart of it, it’s still based on prejudice and that’s why equality shouldn’t be about acceptance by your standards, but acceptance of the other person being able to express themselves freely and honestly.

The thought of that might be tough for some, but if you accept that fundamentally people are good – and they are – then all it will do is inject more good into our World, and we could all do with a bit of that.

Big thanks to Nika and Maya for helping me see this more clearly, though judging by this photo of Otis at his multi-cultural, hippy-led, pre-school [and I mean that in the best way], it seems he knew this before his old man.