Saturday, October 31, 2015

Advantages of the dive bar

My hotel in Los Angeles had a small dive bar in the back. I love small dive bars, so this was a nice treat for me. Business hotels where conferences are held always have bars that are way too geared towards executives on expense accounts and are sterile facsimiles of a good “joint” (see About Last Night for the true meaning of a “joint”).

Just one example. The bar was small so it had a limited selection of beer and wine. But the bartender was an expert on equivalencies. For example, I ordered an Angel City IPA, but they didn’t have it. But he knew that the Lagunitas IPA was closer than the Stone IPA in taste so he recommended that one. He did the same with my friend’s wine order.

This demonstrates all three levels of customer service empathy.
·         He showed cognitive empathy in his understanding of what attributes of a beer are important to a customer when recommending an alternative.
·         He showed affective empathy in his understanding that this would be important enough to customers to warrant investment of his time to keep up on beer and wine that his bar doesn’t serve.
·         He showed sympathetic empathy in his clear demonstration that this wasn’t a bid to get a good tip; he really cared.

This Week in EID - Episode 78

As you probably have noticed, we focused EID this week on the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference. The Proceedings are not up yet, but I will make sure to link to the specific papers when I can.

Monday and Tuesday’s posts came out before the conference started, so those posts are pre-con. Monday was about getting the most value from a conference. The source article was not from an HFES member, but I tried to focus the EID piece on the HFES meeting specifically. If anyone read it just before going to the conference, hopefully it was helpful.

Tuesday’s article was about game training and decision making bias. I was supposed to give a workshop on gamification at the conference on Monday, so the post was supposed to be on that. But my surgery got in the way. I think this was a good replacement for EID.

Wednesday covered the Tuesday conference keynote address by John Nance. He is a world renown speaker and showed why at the conference. He had lots of good anecdotes and videos to share. If you are interested in health care, safety, reliability and agile organizations, or aerospace, he is a good source.

Thursday covered the User Experience Day keynote address by Chris Pacione from LUMA Institute. His keynote was on design thinking. But rather than give the usual lecture, he broke everyone into teams and had us doing a problem framing exercise on the walls. We decided to ask forgiveness from the hotel afterwards rather than permission before because they have a rule against taping things to the walls. We used poster-sized post-it notes, so there was no damage or marks on the walls. No harm no foul, right?

Next week will feature some of the specific sessions at the conference. The award winning papers, the design prizes, the on-site competitions, and the other notable topics.  I look forward to writing them, so I hope you are looking forward to reading them.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Curious Business Strategy

As part of the User Experience Day conference that I have organized for the past four years at the HFES Conference, I get bids from bars and pubs for a happy hour. We generally ask them for space for 100-150 people, one drink ticket per person, and enough appetizers to keep us going for 2 hours or so. The quotes run $7-$10,000 usually.

These are places in a major city downtown so we don’t expect them to be cheap. It always seemed a bit much to me, but our meeting planners always tell me that this is about right for what we are asking for.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a sponsor this year, so we canceled the happy hour. But of course, we can’t end a long day of design thinking and hackathons without some fun. So at 5:30pm we went to a nearby bar figuring we would play it by ear.

I think we had about 75 people. Not as many as usual, but I guess some people only come when the food is free (which it was this year too, but we didn't tell them in advance). The total bill came out to be $400 for the food and another $400 for the drinks. With tax and tip we ended up just over $1,000 (currently sitting on my credit card – ouch). 

How can it possibly be $1,000 for 75 people and $8,000 for 150 people? I checked the bids to find out. The formal bids add a fee for assigning us our own server.  They add a fee for blocking off a set area of the bar just for us. They double the price of drinks because they don’t give us the happy hour prices and add an extra rip for some reason I can’t fathom. Same thing with the appetizers – no happy hour prices and a surcharge. Then there is a catering fee. I think there was even a larger tax for some reason.

This year, we still took over our own area of the bar because at 5:30 on a Wednesday night it wasn’t that crowded. We still got our own server because we were the only people there to serve. The food tasted just as good at happy hour prices. The drinks too.  The bar made a ton more money than they would have without us.

So here are two questions. First, have we been suckers for the past four years? The meeting planners told us the quotes were normal so that would mean hundreds of groups are suckers every day.

Second, is it ethical to show up to a bar unannounced with 75 people? I could tell that our server was irritated at first, until she realized how much money she was going to make. We were really nice about it. And I will give them a nice review on Yelp and Trip Advisor too. We are taking a risk that the bar won’t be so empty, but that is on us, not on them.