My 15 Minutes Lasted 3 Weeks

Loyal readers will recall that a few weeks ago, this blog got a huge spike in traffic. It happened inadvertently when I posted a photograph of a certain famous professional golfer whose intitials are T.W. and who shares a first name with a large member of the cat family with orange and black stripes that lives in Asia. I don’t want to mention his name again, because I don’t want another undeserved spike – I’d prefer to know how many people are coming here for the content. Anyway, the ride is over:

I was surprised at the suddeness of the decline, but then I realized what had happened – on Monday the 28th, about half-way through the day, I posted that day’s blog entry. That post pushed the last article I had written about the aforementioned athlete off my front page. The next time Google crawled me, I was back to the insignifigant piece of Web flotsam I was before. So I only got about 50% of my peak numbers on Monday, then back to pre-fame traffic yesterday and so far today.


Don’t Learn to Appreciate Wine

Over at the Freakonomics blog last week, there was a post about how detailed study (involving over 5,000 people) has revealed that only wine experts can tell cheap wines from expensive ones. For the rest of us, it is often the inexpensive wine that is preferred in blind taste tests.

They conclude in the original post that the best strategy for long-term happiness and wealth is to remain ignorant of whatever subtle cues sommeliers detect when they sample the vino. That way, you will enjoy your wine more and pay less. I can verify that this is true – my wife’s favourite wine (PKNT Sauvignon Blanc – annoying website here) is far from the most expensive at the liquor store; but she didn’t know that when she learned that she liked it.

Unfortunately, it’s also scientifically proven that you enjoy the same wine more when you’re told that it is more expensive (whether it really is or not). The conscious awareness of how something is priced actually alters how our neurons fire and how we subsequently perceive the quality of the quaff. So buying expensive wine makes it taste better to you, even if you’re not one of the experts who can really tell the difference.

And it doesn’t have to be price that subconsciously alters our perception of a product. Remember the Pepsi challenge? In incognito samplings, Pepsi was the overwhelming favourite, much to the chagrin of die-hard Coke fans who themselves often chose Pepsi blind. Yet that statistical evidence didn’t sway the Coke fans – they made up conspiracy theories to explain the result and continued in blissful ignorance.

Philosophical question: would it be unethical to serve cheap wine at expensive prices? There is proof that it would cause customers to enjoy the product more than if it were priced “fairly.” So you’re benefiting them while lining your own pockets. Of course, you would have to be honest about the brand and vintage of wine you’re serving. But really, how many people know that $120 is far too much to pay for Wolf Blass Premium Selection Shiraz in a restaurant, but about right for Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Shiraz? And wouldn’t they enjoy either equally once they’d shelled out that coin? As the Coffee Talk yenta says, “Discuss.”

Posted in Bar Management. Tags: . 4 Comments »

Firestorm of Controversy Ignited!

Well, that might be a little hyperbolic, but minor debate has erupted between the proprietor of the Keurig coffee machine refill vendor and me. Igor Del Norte (AKA CoffeePHD) left a long comment on the post where I described his very Webby marketing technique. His method is to search the blogosphere for mentions of Keurig, then leave comments on those posts promoting his free giveaway contest. I critiqued his execution, basically saying that he could use a proofreader and a more “normal” way to enter the contest.

His response is to acknowledge the need for better English, but defend his contest entry methodology. Here (opens in new window) is the page that his original promotional message points to where there are many exhortations to enter the contest, including a big “CLICK HERE.” So far, so good. But when you click on any of those very clear instructions, you go to this page, where there is a total lack of direction on how to enter until more than half way down the page, WAY below the fold (i.e. you have to scroll to see it). And even then, here is what it says:

How you can win:

Very Simple. One entry per person. Any comment or mini-review is acceptable, i.e: “I would love to try it, especially for free”, “Don’t know if I like it or not”, “My favorite K-Cup” and etc.

Seems a little cryptic, eh? It turns out, if you scroll even further down, there is an area to leave comments, à la typical blog post pages. OK, now I’ve figured it out, but I presume most people would not be so tenacious.

To answer your question, Igor, here’s how the process could be simplified. Right at the top of the page that you link to from the comment you leave on people’s blog, have a box labeled, “Please enter your email address to be included in the K-Cup giveaway contest,” and a button beside it that says, “Enter Contest”. Here is a screenshot I grabbed of a typical contest entry form:

If, for some reason, you absolutely want/need to continue the blog commenting entry system, at least put clear instructions right at the top of that page. Remember, people are used to entering online contests using interfaces like the one shown above. Asking them to use some totally foreign method requires clear, prominent and repeated instruction. But I would advise that you use a more familiar process and eliminate the need to teach people your method.

Walk This Way

Google has a cool new feature in beta – walking directions. To access them, go to Google maps and enter your starting and destination addresses just like normal. When the resulting directions are displayed, they will be for motor vehicle travel, but just beside the “By Car” indicator, there will be a link to get “Walking” directions.

This will be very useful for cities with many one-way streets. A trip by car may entail a much farther distance to travel, if you have to loop around the block, which a walker can avoid. Also, cars cannot take advantage of footpaths and pedestrian-only urban areas like parks or closed-off streets.

Take my example on the left, although this has its faults as we’ll see. I asked Google how to get from my house (A) to the Moncton Coliseum (B). The first result shows me the quickest way to drive there, which is out of my neighbourhood and onto the divided highway Wheeler Boulevard, then north one exit and you’re there.

When I click Walking, though, I get the second map. Google knows that I can’t walk on the divided highway, so it sends me on the surface roads to the west. So the pedestrian route is actually longer than the driving one, which is why this is a bad example. Over at the Google Maps blog, they have a much better one, using downtown Seattle.

The other reason this is a bad example is that even the omniscient Google doesn’t know about the footpaths through the forest that surrounds our subdivision to the west, north and east (see satellite image below). The shortest way for me in reality is up the long, straight park road just to the right of the “A”, then when it turns sharply right, to follow the path (not shown here) up to Pacific Avenue.

So it’s nice that, for the time being anyway, I still know something that Google doesn’t.

Bar Bells

Most drinking establishments of the style that I prefer have a bell mounted on the wall behind the bar. When I was bartending in Montréal, ringing the bell was the signal that you were buying the house a round, or that a customer had made that offer. (In a multiple bar complex like Cheers or Woody’s, it would just apply to those seated at that one bar.)

I was having dinner at Rosy Tomorrows in Danbury CT on Monday with a friend and colleague of mine who used to own a pub. I spotted the bell over Rosy’s bar and asked my friend if he used to have one behind his bar. He said yes, and that the reason it was rung at his establishment was to celebrate a big tip. After a while it became apparent that a large gratuity was the trigger event for the bell to be rung at Rosy’s as well.

I’m fully behind this latter practice. You are fragrantly thanking the generous patron, and encouraging similar behaviour in others.

By the way, when I went looking for an image of a bell for this post, I found this one at an online bar supplies vendor in the UK. They call it a “Last Orders Brass Bell,” so there is apparently at least one other use for them in bars, too.

I’m Not Sure How I Feel About This

Last week, I wrote about Tim Hortons coffee, and my opinion that better java can be had from a certain brand of single-cup brewing machine.  Today, I found a comment attached to that post.  To save you the clickage, here is a screenshot of the missive:

I should explain that K-Cups are the single-serving coffee packs that are put into the brewing machine to make a cup of coffee.  They cost about 75 cents each.

This is pretty smart marketing, and pretty dumb, too.  What has obviously happened here is that the company that the “Weekly K-Cups Giveaways” link sends us to (AROMACUP) has someone (or some automated process) combing the Web looking for the word “Keurig.”  Whenever they find it, they take the opportunity to plug their little K-Cup supply company.  The hook is a good one, too – register for a chance to win free K-Cups.  Then they’ll have your email address and possibly your leave to send relevant marketing material that you will welcome.  It’s a classic permission marketing opt-in.  So kudoes to them for that.

HOWEVER, I have a couple of problems with this particular execution.  Number one, and I’ve ranted about this before:  could you take the time to do a frickin’ grammar check?!?!  Presumably, there is some person sitting in Belarus scouring the internet and posting these comments, so I understand if they’re not fluent English-speakers.  (For that matter, neither are the folks who do their Web content – even though the company is ostensibly based in New Mexico, the English on the site is awful.  Perhaps the fact that the company founder is named “Igor Dernov” gives a hint.)  But the comment text that is presumably being cut-and-pasted on blogs all over the Web could at least be proofed by an anglophone.

Secondly, when you click on the link, it’s difficult to figure out how to enter the contest.  Could be a language issue, as mentioned above, but I think it’s shadier than that.  It turns out that you are supposed to leave a comment in their blog.  Weird, and somehow a little creepy.  My sense of admiration for a supplier that is actively seeking out perfectly targeted potential customers (like me), turns to contempt and distrust when I go to their site.  So the concept is great, but the implementation is lacking.

It will be interesting to see if this  post (which again contains the word “Keurig”) attracts another comment from Coffee PHD

I’ll Be Back on July 23…

I am travelling to meetings in NY next Monday and Tuesday, so I don’t know when or if I’ll have the quiet, contemplative time (usually during evening perambulations) to come up with blog topics, or the 15 minutes (usually at lunch time) to type them in.

In honour of the Big Apple, here’s a joke (and after the punchline, click the link and press the red button immediately!):

A newfie works hard his whole life with one dream in mind: to visit New York City some day.  One spring, he finally has enough money saved up, so he hops in his pickup and drives onto the ferry.  A couple of days later, he arrives in Manhattan.  He gazes around in awe and wonder, totally satisfied that it’s everything he dreamt it would be.  After a few hours, it’s getting to be evening, and the newf realizes he’s hungry.  He figures he might as well do dinner properly so he drives to the Tavern on the Green in Central Park.  As he enters the front door, the maître d’ stops him and says, “Pardonnez moi, monsieur, but a necktie is required to dine at Le Taverne.  We do not like zee riff-raff who would come in and cause zee problemes.”

No worries, says the newfie, and heads back out to his truck.  Unfortunately, he cannot find a regular tie, but he does come across some jumper cables in the back.  So he loops them around his collar, fashions a decent windsor knot, tucks the clamps inside his jacket, and walks back up to the front entrance.

He says to the maître d’, “How’s dis, buddy?”

The maître d’ cocks his head to the side, and looks the newf up and down for a few seconds and says, “Yes, I suppose you may come in…   but don’t go starting anything!”


I Don’t Get It

For our 16th wedding anniversary last week, Cindy got me a Keurig coffee maker.  I first cottoned on to these devices when we got them at my last job, 3 or 4 years ago.  They work kind of like espresso machines, forcing boiling water through ground coffee to make one cup at a time.  They make GREAT coffee.  Yet every day at that aforementioned workplace, the majority of employees showed up every morning clutching Tim Hortons cups.

My former colleagues were willing to: get up earlier, sit in line at a drive-through, and pay money for coffee in a cardboard receptacle; even though they could get much better coffee, in their own mug, down the hall from their desk, for free.  What gives?

The rumour is that Tim Hortons puts nicotine in their coffee and that people get addicted.  That’s silly, of course, but Tim’s has done something similar and almost as insidious: they’ve used good marketing to tell a story that resonates with a lot of people.  Having a Tim Hortons coffee makes people feel something that drinking better and cheaper coffee wouldn’t.  It’s not the same story as people who drink Starbucks or Sanka drift towards.  And it’s not a story that I personally get, but it sure seems to work.

The Slippery Slope of Language Decay

This rant over at pretty much echoes my own feelings on the subject of people who are 2 lzy 4 vwls.  I understand that when texting on a smartphone, eliminating letters is expedient, but that doesn’t excuse what to me looks like sloppy and juvenile written communication in other media.

But wait – I just used an abbreviation myself: “doesn’t.”  Under my uptight old school rules, why is this allowed and not, “u r 2 kewl”?  This is a question I am struggling with.

There are many ways that the “Queen’s English” is being butchered every day.  Let’s consider them in increasing levels of brutality.  The most gentle form of pressure is the Americanization of the language.  Here in Canada, we have an especial issue with this, because we are not as strict as Britain, but pride ourselves on not completely selling out to the USA.  So Canadians are allowed to use a z instead of an s in Americanize, but we’re supposed to pronounce that letter zed instead of zee.  And we’re supposed to write cheque instead of check and draught instead of draft and pronounce the military rank below captain leff-tenant.

But the trouble is, we are widely divergent on how closely we observe those rules.  My daughter is being taught in grade 2 to spell colour  without the u and say x-y-ZED.  So I am tempted to say, “Hey – languages evolve.  Loosen up a bit.  What’s so important about that missing U?”

The next form of decay is where “lazy” spellings of words – that even Americans would acknowledge as being incorrect – become acceptable.  Examples of this are lite and tonite.  They’re in many dictionaries now.  That doesn’t seem to hurt anyone, why should I let it bother me?

Worse than lazy spellings becoming words, sometimes outright errors get beatified.  One of my favourite spelling errors that will doubtless make it onto dictionaries soon is “bonify.”  I’ve seen it in ads a couple of times.  It means “verify” or “make good”, and its etymology is the mispronunciation of bona fide (fee-day) as fied, leading to the belief that it’s all one word, “bonified,” which is logically the past tense of bonify!  So, what’s wrong with that?  As long as everyone knows what it means, who cares where it came from?

Of course, we also have acronyms that become words, but this is nothing new: scuba, OK, and fubar paved the way decades ago for LOL, OMG and WTF.  So how can I have a problem with that?

Then there’s the deliberate invention of new words, or the deliberate misspelling of existing ones, often to confuse parents and other people in authority. “Pwn” and “hakorz” are examples of this, as is much of leetspeak.  This is (arguably) pretty cool, and (arguably) enriching the language rather than damaging it, so where’s my beef?

Which brings us to texting shorthand, which I opened with.  It further destroys words that are likely not real words and not spelled correctly and already Americanized to start with.  And it really bugs me.  But why does it bug me, when I extended the welcoming hand of tolerance and love to all those other “evolutionary” steps?  The answer is, I don’t know.  I have to chalk it up to being a crotchety old k00+.

You Talkin’ to Me?

My wife and I were out for a drink a while back, and we went to one of the most poular bars in Moncton: St James’ Gate.  It’s a great little spot.  In fact, it’s a lot like I’d like my someday bar to be.

One thing we noticed, though, was that the two bartenders had no interaction with the people sitting and standing at the bar.  Granted, it was a busy night, but I can have a conversation and pour a drink at the same time.  Why were these two not doing so?

I think part of the job description of a bartender is to be interesting and engaging.  It’s certainly true in Montréal, where bartenders sometimes rise to the level of celebrities, with their own fan-club of clientele that will follow them to whatever bar they choose to work in.

Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t think hospitality workers in general  should have sparkling wit and personality.  In fact, in most cases, I prefer my server to be almost non-existent (except when I want/need them, of course – that’s what makes the good ones good).  I don’t like the, “Hi, my name’s Brandi (with an “i”), and I’ll be your server tonight!” from a table-waiter.  But if I choose to sit at the bar, I’m doing so because it has something the table doesn’t – a built-in person to talk to.