Sign of good things to come..
About a month ago, I visited the much touted Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport for the first time. The airy, vaulted space is the nicest of Heathrow’s offerings, but that isn’t really a recommendation – Terminals 1-4 set the bar pretty low as these things go. But I did have an opportunity to eat at celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey’s “Plane Food
Let me put it this way, the experience was so good, I just might start flying British Airways again. For those of you who have seen my service-design presentation, you’ll know that this is high praise indeed.
An airport restaurant by design
The first thing you notice is the friendly, attentive staff. There are a lot of them in crisp black uniforms. These are not kids who took a low-paying job that bores them to tears; the “Plane Food” crew is professional, polite, and efficient. And they actually know something about food.
Next, there’s the menu. Real food at affordable prices. And a full bar.
The table is set with good china, decent glasses, and steel cutlery (in a security approved design).
And finally, there’s the layout. For once, a designer has understood that people in airports drag around rolling luggage. Plane Food features ample space between the tables so you can concentrate on your meal and not on keeping your bags from being kicked.
The entry leads visitors away from the hustle of the terminal and into a more relaxing environment.
Great food, superb service
My entire extended family was on its way to Miami from Copenhagen. While the women opted for noodles at Wagamama, my son-in-law, Lars, and I were curious to see what Gordon Ramsey had to offer. After all, most of the world has seen the foul-mouthed chef on one of his various culinary reality shows. Well, Chef Ramsey clearly knows how to create a successful restaurant – even in an airport terminal.
The menu was large and varied – something for every taste, yet wonderfully uncomplicated. Lars (who happens to be a professional chef) opted for pasta, I had a mushroom and truffle risotto. Both dishes were exquisite; the pasta homemade and perfectly al dente; the risotto velvety and with real truffles, not just a few drops of oil.
And our servers were as good as any I’ve met at other restaurants.
The picnic box
For those of us who loathe airline food, Gordon Ramsey has reinvented the picnic lunch. For GBP 11.95, you get a full three-course cold meal in a nifty insulated canvas lunchbox. Just to put this into perspective, Scandinavian Airlines charges just about the same for a tired old cheese sandwich and a canned Bloody Mary on board their flights.
The picnic menu offers a choice of four starters, four main courses, and four desserts. There are options for both vegetarians and meat-eaters (strict vegans are advised to stick to Wagamama).
When returning to Denmark a week later, the entire family bought picnics to take home. Here's mine:
Tiger prawn salad with watercress and soy sesame dressing
Cumbrian honey-roast and parma ham with slow roast vine tomatoes
Chocolate and pecan brownie with crème Chantilly
The picnic box contains everything you need for a great meal, from sauces to cutlery.
UX and the British Airways business plan
FatDUX Creative Director Søren Muus and I are off to the IA Summit conference in Phoenix, AZ in a few weeks time. We actually booked on British Airways just so we could visit Plane Food. Hmm…maybe Gordon Ramsey should take over beleaguered BA CEO Willie Walsh’s job for a while. Who knows what might happen?
Full menus, prices, cocktail lists, and more photos can be found at Plane Food's website
They have a saying in Texas, “Don’t pee on my boots and tell me it’s raining.” But that’s how a lot of service offerings appear these days.
Several years ago, I took this picture at the Portland, Oregon Hilton:
Hmm. If they were really interested in my convenience they wouldn’t have removed half of the ice machines. Long ago, I came to the realization that anytime someone told me something was “for my convenience” it probably wouldn’t be.
In December, my family and I went to brunch at the Rusty Pelican restaurant on Key Biscayne. Because the parking lot is too small, the restaurant only provides valet parking during peak periods. There is no second option.
We arrived at the restaurant on time, early in fact. But it took another 15 minutes to creep to the entrance and actually get rid of the car. Inside, the hostess curtly informed us that even though we were late for our reservation, she’d “try and squeeze us in.” An inauspicious start to a lovely meal.
Sir Colin Marshall (now Lord Marshall), then CEO of British Airways (later Chairman), once told me that keeping airline customers happy means a lot more than giving them free food and drinks; if the front-line personnel screws up, the overall impression will remain bad despite your best on-board efforts.
Happily, the Rusty Pelican has a GREAT brunch. So everything was fine…or was it?
Here’s the line of people waiting to pick up cars after their meal:
Is this good customer service? A 15-minute wait to drop off the car? 30 minutes to get it back again? Hey, don’t pee on my boots…
I always thought valet parking came under the heading of a “luxury service” – after all, I’m expected to be grateful and tip these car jockeys. But is it really a service? No, it’s an unsolved problem hiding behind a misleading label.
Websites pull the same stunt. Check out the so-called welcome screen at Wine.com:
Unless you type in the abbreviation for a U.S. state, they won’t let you in. Try FL for Florida – the site with further insist on your zip code. Quite apart from the questionable legality of requesting personal information before it is actually needed to complete a transaction, Wine.com excuses this bizarre on-line experience with the following:
“Because wine availability and pricing may vary from state to state due to the way interstate commerce laws influence our buying patterns, Wine.com created this layover welcome screen to prevent confusion.”
“Welcome screen?” Hey folks, you stopped me at the door before I even had a chance to see what your site was about. No welcome in sight.
And on a SAS flight last week from Frankfurt to Copenhagen, there was no more food for those of us sitting in Economy Crap. Although the in-flight menu said we could buy a sandwich, the stewardess explained that the sandwiches taste so good that they often sell out on the first leg of the flight.
Let me see if I’ve understood this: because the food is good, there isn’t enough of it? Are people booking flights on SAS just to sample the cuisine? Or is SAS simply incapable of anticipating the needs of a plane full of hungry passengers on a noontime flight?
OK. This is slightly unfair. The stewardess was actually very nice and would have really liked to help if she could. But it didn’t stop my tummy from growling at 35,000 feet.
The SAS story is vaguely related to an interesting phenomenon known as being TOO helpful. Computer applications are prone to this: “Do you REALLY want to close this window?” The infamous “Clippy” from early Windows products was a prime example of this. And we’ve all fought with the irritating desktop cleanup service in XP:
BTW, if you want to get rid of this, follow the following path:
Control panel > Display options > Desktop > Customize desktop > General
Now unclick the Desktop Cleanup box. Simple, huh? (It took me almost a year to figure this one out).
In a world where products are becoming more and more alike, service is often the only differentiating factor. So don’t let someone con you into thinking that you are receiving good service when the opposite is actually the case – well-intentioned or not. If we don’t demand better service, we will never receive it.
Don’t pee on my boots…