The dark art of Menu Engineering

Time was when you walked into a restaurant, browsed the menu, chose something you fancied and ordered it. Oh for the pleasures of those innocent times! In those halcyon days, every item on the menu was presented equally and fairly. Called by its name, possibly with a short description and barely an adjective in sight. Inexpensive food was cheapish and expensive ingredients meant higher prices. Simple.

How times have changed. Dark forces have been at work in MenuLand, people with ulterior motives have been fiddling with the rules. Their influence can be hard to spot and they are not always in the best interests of the consumer. Today, when you walk into a restaurant or fast-food outlet your innocent decision is being guided by a veritable phalanx of experts and their merchandising techniques. All dishes are equal but some are more equal than others. They are determined to guide your choice.

But why would anyone want to manipulate your decision-making at the point of purchase? Well, there are three simple reasons; firstly to draw your attention to one of the best things on our menu – “we really want you to enjoy it”. Secondly, and a tad less altruistic, this dish is easy to make, it won’t mess up our kitchen and we’re likely to be able to serve it to you in good time. Lastly, and this is where the dark forces are really at work, this dish gives us the greatest profit – so we want to sell loads of it. So much so that we will give it every possible assistance to keep it flying out of the kitchen.

Set out below is our radical exposé of the art of Menu Engineering. Consider it as a public information bulletin, not a call to arms suggesting that there are some clever tricks you might like to try at home. God forbid!

In truth scientific investigation has revealed that customers are stressed when making a menu choice, trying to look confident and worldly. In this time of stress they may be genuinely grateful for a spot of advice. In the absence of a friendly waiter to ask “what would you recommend?” (remember that his or her answer is likely to be a lie – it’s probably past its best in the kitchen) the customer will be grateful for a menu, or a ‘Table Talker’ which gives them a clue – nudges them in the right direction.

This is Menu Engineering.

To keep things simple let’s focus on ten things that will really help your customers to make the best decision:

No.1 The Signature Item

It’s so good we’ve put our name on it. One of the oldest tricks in the marketing manual, up there with ‘New and Improved’.

See how the Rainforest Café, jungle themed restaurant for tourists and young people, promote their Signature Items with an icon in the Food Guide and major highlighting on the menu itself. Easy – “I’ll have one of those”. Not bad with the Signature Rainforest Classic Burger kicking in at £16.75.

No.2 ‘The Table Talker’

Not sure what wine to choose? Let this little piece of standing-up cardboard give you a clue. And no, it will not be the cheapest wine on the list. Also used to pre-sell the pudding menu to you throughout the meal, making it less likely you’ll just ask for coffee. Illustrated here.

‘Table Talker’ from YO! Sushi

Note the use of the red stars and the ‘Go on, spoil yourself box’

On-Counter ‘Table Talker’ at Vapiano (a very big international chain)

Guess which one we want you to buy

No.3 The old ‘stick it in a highlighted box’ trick

This is exactly what it says. There will be a plain list of perfectly pleasant dishes and then, right in the middle, in a box or surrounded in flashing lights, is the dish we would really like you to buy today. That’s all there is to it.

Menu from the venerable Soho institution Quo Vadis

No.4 Choice – what choice?

Historically a long menu suggested knowledge of the subject: a degree of specialism. Actually it’s just a source of stress for the customer. Increasingly menus are getting shorter and shorter. Just a lobster and a burger for example.

Take this popular casual dining brand, Itsu, currently marching across the country. See if you can count how many items you can choose from.

McDonald’s and others have been doing this for years but this seems more elegant, less manipulative – these are all the dishes you need to enjoy our delicious health-giving cuisine.

Overhead menu from cult fast food eatery Leon

No.5 The rise and the rise of The Food Snap

No we’re not talking about the fad of taking photos of your food and posting it on the web. Or even the excellent website which celebrates photos of people taking photos of their food. Yes indeed. This is the trend towards presenting photos of food to save us from having to read at all. Especially where guests are in a hurry or from overseas. Remember we last saw this at Disneyland in Paris.

This trend is really growing right now – and in the most respectable establishments. Consider placing a photo of a Signature item next to a written description of other menu items. Slam dunk!

How simple can we make it for you?

Use of photos in Planet Hollywood's uninteresting menu

No.6 The power of the adjective

I think I might know what I want to eat. I just need to validate my decision. Just like a Tripadvisor review but you get to write this one yourself. The magical collection of delicious words painting a picture of, possibly, the most delicious dish you will ever taste. More adjectives are better. Fewer adjectives leave more to guesswork. And guessing means stress. You get it.

No.7 Beyond the Meal Deal – as easy as 1, 2, 3

Time was when The Meal Deal was the smartest kid on the block. Not any more. Now its all about making it ‘easy peasy’. As easy as 1, 2, 3. All you need to do is: do this, then that, and top it off with this and you’ll go home happy. Assume your customers are ready to be led or, possibly, not as bright as you thought.

Funny that - the Chicken Butterfly is reassuringly the most expensive item on the menu

Menu from YO! Sushi

No.8 Page placement

Another subject of much research. Which position on the page gets the most attention? In a supermarket we know exactly how the customer’s eyes move across a shelf and products are placed (they even pay to be placed) in the right ‘hot spot’. The same can be said with menu layout.

Take this opening page from Planet Hollywood. Guess which starter they would most like to share with you? Yes of course – the £19 sharing platter.

The top is good, the centre is better, right is better than left. It’s all about geometry. Try the placement of the sparkling wine on the Nandos Menu. Inspired! Glass of bubbly anyone?

Menu from Nandos

No.9 Decoy or anti-merchandising

In the same way that restaurants can promote preferred items they can also discriminate against others. These are the so-called “decoy items”. They make the menu look comprehensive, they might even be priced too high but their real purpose is to guide your choice to those alpha type signature items. Clever.

No.10 Putting all your tanks on the lawn

Better than relying on the menu to do all of the sales work for you, how about lining up all of your merchandising hardware. There are five you can assemble for a full on assault.

- Promote preferred items in pop-ups on your website

- Use promotional graphics and posters to shamelessly plug your latest menu creation

- Flaunt it in your menu using any of the tricks outlined above

- Shout it out on the table with a ‘Table Talker’

- And finally, encourage (even incentivise) your staff to encourage guests at the point of purchase.

Your customers will be happy for your help and your kitchen will be happy doing fewer things better.

Et voilà!

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‘On Tour’ goes to Kensington Palace

It’s time for the final blog of 2013!

This time, ‘On Tour’ has been exploring the recently refurbished Kensington Palace to see what Historic Royal Palaces have to offer the world of British Racing.

Situated in the resplendent Kensington Gardens at the western end of Hyde Park, Kensington Palace is well-known for having been the London home of Queen Victoria, Princess Diana and currently, housing the Young Royals – ‘Wills’, Kate and Baby George. The Palace, having undergone a two-year, £12 million refurbishment, re-opened in March 2012. The refurbishment sought to shake up the public’s preconceptions of what a visit to a royal palace might be like – involving both a physical and cultural transformation. The result is an intriguing and unexpected guest experience with plenty to learn from.

The famous 'Diana' gates at Kensington Palace


A key aspect of the refurbishment was the opening up of the Palace to the rest of the park. There are no barriers or signs signalling the end of Kensington Gardens and the beginning of Kensington Palace. Approach to the entrance is via level access only. Aggressive ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs are long gone and one can easily imagine spending a summer afternoon picnicking on the lawns – something Kensington Palace actively encourages.


A resplendent Queen Victoria welcomes visitors

The Palace's gardens merge with the park beyond


The same welcoming ethos has been applied to the entrance to the Palace itself. Visitors can use the shop, café and toilets without having to purchase a ticket. The intention being, that once inside the building, visitors will be tempted to explore further.

Tickets are purchased from inside the ‘White Court’ a room that, pre-refurbishment, was a damp and useless external courtyard. Now – with its elegantly dressed and well-staffed ticket desk, the ‘White Court’ sets the tone, or the throne, for the theatrical spin Kensington Palace gives its guest experience.


Ticket purchasing in the White Court

John Simpson was the architect behind the refurbishment


So what does it cost? The price of a visit to Kensington Palace is £16.50 for an adult, £13.75 for a concession and free for children under the age of 16.


Pricey, but like racing, the kids go free

Guide books for the young as well as the old


Retail and the food and drink offer
The Palace’s retail offer is divided in two. One section, entitled the ‘Family Shop’, contains merchandise that is primarily geared towards children. Yet the concept of a shop for families and only families is prescriptive and potentially off-putting to customers who may not classify themselves as part of a ‘family’.

The 'Family Shop'

Adding a bit of Disney magic

The Prince George collection. Spot the first of many books on his illustrious life

Attractive product merchandising...

...although lacking point of sale material to drive home the purchase

Things are more grown-up in the second shop adjoining the café. Royal Family memorabilia as well as themed sections, such as the Victoria and Albert display, dominate the product offer here. A curiously-placed display cabinet separates the café from this section of the shop and contains a selection of premium jewellery that seems at odds with the setting.

Themed displays

Royal china for sale

Browse the selection of premium jewellery whilst munching on a sandwich

A bargain at £450 reduced from £600!


Nevertheless, the atmosphere is bright and inviting, fixtures are well-organised and excellently presented.

The proximity of the retail offer to the café is designed to encourage impulse purchases in both directions.

In terms of the café menu, the team appear to have done their research with a selection of produce that holds its own against the plethora of Prets and Eats the modern consumer is all too familiar with.


The obligatory muffins (£2.95) brownies (£2.85) and flapjacks (£2.65) with attractive merchandising...

Sandwiches, fruit and salads - prices range from £2.95 to £5.95


There appear to be some functionality issues with paying and queuing, especially on busy days, which will be addressed in the near future.

Nonetheless, the café’s atmosphere matches that of the shop, bright, clean and welcoming. Nice touches like free bottled tap water and a selection of condiments show the team at Kensington Palace are committed to being a generous host to their visitors.


Complimentary water and condiments


Story telling
At the heart of the Kensington Palace experience is a commitment to bringing history to life through great storytelling. The curatorial team have devised four such great stories: Victoria Revealed, Modern Royals, Fashion Rules and William and Mary. For each story, there is a corresponding route around the palace.

Former entrance to the Palace, the Vestibule provides the meeting point for all four stories


Blink and you will miss the four ribbons or routes painted on the walls of the entrance hall that thread their way around the Palace. But if you do manage to spot them, they make for an original and aesthetically pleasing way to direct visitors.

The beginning of the ribbons - beautiful yet difficult to spot

Once one has embarked on a chosen route, the way in which the history is presented stands in stark contrast to your typical stately home experience! Non-existent graphic panels, projections on staircases and walls, playful theatrical installations (interpreted and implemented by theatre company Cony) as well as a conscious decision to rely on the staff or ‘explainers’ in each room rather than an audio guide to get the brunt of the history across make for a decidedly different approach.

It also means that questions from overseas guests may go unanswered – unlike with the now ubiquitous Acoustiguide which speaks to you in your own language. The Kensington Palace team believe that electronic guides create a ‘distance’ between the story and the visitor. Hence the brave decision to revert to the well trained (mostly English speaking) ‘explainers’.
The result has been what some would describe as a ‘Marmite’ reaction to the Palace – you either love it or hate it.

‘On Tour’ can empathize with both viewpoints. The exhibitions are certainly beautiful and feel refreshingly vibrant, yet on busy days, one can imagine ambling through the routes without really getting to grips with the depth of history Kensington Palace has to offer. For some audiences this is likely to prove frustrating.


Theatrical displays interpret history on the William and Mary route

Complimentary reading material - English language only


One of the 'explainers' on hand to elaborate on the displays. Note the birds flying across the ceiling

Another beautiful display


Wall projections add energy to the routes

Extracts from Victoria's letters and diaries allow her to tell her own story. Note the writing on the wall


The magnificent King's Rooms

Extracts from Victoria diaries stitched into the carpet

The most successful route is perhaps the most recent one, Fashion Rules. This features an exhibition of dresses of HRM The Queen, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. Here the team at Kensington Palace have resolved the three issues they struggle with in the other routes; information, orientation and lighting. This seems to be achieved by conforming to a more traditional exhibition format with the inclusion of information panels on the walls.


Information panels

HRM Queen Elizabeth's dresses



Informative AND pleasing to the eye


Even so, Fashion Rules does maintain some of the typical quirky features you find throughout the Palace including wall projections.


Charming wall projections


A very entertaining and well-executed iPad feature allows you to colour in your own dresses and post them on to the Palace Tumblr account. A delightful way to end the route.

Design your own dress and share it with your friends through Tumblr


5 star service
As mentioned earlier, the refurbishment not only saw a transformation of the physical look of the Palace but also involved cultural change in the organisation, namely the implementation of a ‘5 star service’ philosophy.

To achieve this change, staff were organised into three teams and attended relevant training workshops to unpack what it means to deliver ‘5 star service’. They also visited other London attractions, such as the London Zoo, and reported back on their findings to their colleagues. Job titles changed to better describe the roles, for example, staff on the ticket desk became ‘Welcome Hosts’ and managers became ‘Experience Managers’. Other changes included elegant Jaeger-designed uniforms and a fancy new mess room.

Jaeger designed uniforms


The overall result is a team who appear motivated and proud to work at Kensington Palace.


All in all Kensington Palace is an excellent example of a visitor attraction that dares to challenge the status quo.

The refurbishment sought to change what a visit to a Royal Palace meant to the consumer and it has certainly confronted those expectations head on. The implementation of the 5 star service philosophy appears to have made a genuine difference to the guest experience with confident, animated staff on hand every step of the way. Likewise, the Palace’s attempt to bring history to life adds a vibrancy lacking in many historical homes throughout the country.

For those racecourses out there with a story to tell, the Palace provides an excellent example of history and heritage being told in a new way, less dependent on static graphic panels, opting instead to thread their history through the fabric of the building, product lines and staff service culture.

So will Kensington Palace succeed as the trailblazer, the renegade Palace, leading the way for all others to follow? Only time will tell.

Our special thanks to Natasha Woollard, Head of Kensington Palace and Kew Palace, for taking the time to guide the ‘On Tour’ team through the Kensington Palace story.

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‘On Tour’ discovers the future of Customer Service

It’s that blog time again!

This month we are taking you on a guided tour of the changing world of Customer Service. Central to the role of the RCA’s On Tour blog is its ability to show you worlds beyond the confines of racing. With that in mind we have carried out some research to understand how changing consumer expectations and emerging technologies are changing the shape of customer service. And it’s good news. There are some staggering developments in the world of customer service, in shopping centres, sports venues, online and elsewhere. For those of you with smaller businesses there are a few suggestions just for you towards the end of the blog.

The challenging thing as always for British Racing is the expectations these innovations build in the minds of your customers. Type your registration number into the key pad at a Westfield Shopping Centre and a little map comes up telling you how to find your car; which they may well have washed for you. No more traipsing around a cold, damp multi-storey trying to find your car. And at Heathrow the car park barriers open as you approach them on exit because the number plate recognition system knows you’ve paid your bill. Nice.

How many of you have run your finger across your laptop or Blackberry screen expecting it to be touch sensitive? Or stood in front of a hotel or office door expecting it to slide open automatically. The point being that once we get used to these innovations we begin to expect them everywhere. Worse still, we get grumpy when they are not delivered. After all we were perfectly happy opening doors before someone discovered we needed help opening them. Or even the car boot. Why on earth do we need an automatic boot opener? What will they think of next? Self-flushing loos? Ah yes – we already have those.

So what of the future of customer service?
Service is delivered in two ways, by a person or by a piece of equipment; software, an application, an automatic phone answering service or a self-opening door (or a soft-closing kitchen cupboard door). The reason the pace of change in customer service is accelerating is the increasing affordability of ’smart’ electronic service systems and the growing interplay between the human and ‘smart’ technology. Where once most people in Customer Service were engaged in the endless repetition of mundane tasks, now these ‘smart’ systems are taking their place answering simple questions without rerouting you to a call centre in Hyderabad. This in turn frees up staff members to provide quality answers to their customers. Occasionally saying ‘yes, that will be no problem. I’ll call you back in thirty minutes. Consider it done’. It’s music to my ears.

Two recent examples; firstly in the traditionally ghastly world of utilities. An overpaid, not overdue, bill with a utility led to a call to the utility in question. I’m sure you know how we brace ourselves for these conversations – expecting to blow a fuse. Perhaps that’s just me, but in this instance a well-trained member of staff came on the phone. He said he could fix the problem – now – and fixed it in less than one minute. So shocked I popped the incident on Twitter. And they tweeted me back thanking me for thanking them. Lovely. A utility company for Heaven’s sake! And last year the quality of customer service at The Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore was so incredibly clever, so overwhelmingly good that I felt the need to tweet that as well. In turn they too tweeted their appreciation of the praise and invited us to cocktails that evening in one of their bars. Everybody wins as it becomes a virtuous circle of self-congratulation.

So what is causing this revolution in service delivery?
Firstly the increased acceptance of self-service as a substitute for speaking to a staff member. Not only are we becoming conditioned to accept electronic or self-service solutions, evidence suggests that customers increasingly prefer self-service to assisted service – because they find it more reliable – or less annoying. It is now possible to programme a simple interface to deliver more consistent service standards than we can expect from a human being, especially if they are temporary staff. The real upside is that this frees up your staff to give better personal service to those who really need it.

The creeping acceptance of self-service

Secondly the role of the Smart Phone combined with their ability to carry ‘Smart’ money (that’s cashless to you and me) and for landlords to know where you are in their venue with the help of GPRS and RFID devices. The result of these innovations is that the landlord or host (that’s you) can now send targeted offers to the customer, in the right place, at the right time of day. No more blanket promotions assuming that all customers are the same and want the same things. We don’t. It’s surprising how welcome these offers become when the system can tailor the brands and promotions to suit the way we actually live our lives. Scarily accurately indeed. All those algorithms buzzing away. The trick is to make the customer feel like they are in charge. For example Neiman Marcus, the US department store, has introduced an app which regular customers can ‘shake to awake’ when they enter the store if they are happy to be greeted by name or have staff knowing their preferences, or even dress size for trying clothes on. This self-activated approach has proved a great success. Offers are targeted at the customer as they move through the store, the computer ‘remembering’ the brands you like, which colours and size you prefer. In this environment offers and upgrades become timely, bespoke and relevant.

Neiman Marcus 'shake to awake' customer service app

Elsewhere railway termini, such as New York’s Grand Central and Tokyo’s Shibuya have introduced apps with real-time information regarding train and bus times. And if your train is delayed – well here is something for you to do – and an offer to sweeten the pill.

John Lewis state that a customer who shops with them both online and in-store is worth 400% more than one who shops only in-store or only online. All the evidence suggests that tomorrow’s customer wants, and expects, to be able to switch from online to real service wherever and whenever they like – even at leisure and sport destinations such as football grounds and racecourses. Imagine all those sports fans consulting the statistics, tweeting and sharing their insights with their online community, and with other fans in the ground, whilst the match or race is actually underway. It is not a fantasy – it is what an increasing number of customers will come along expecting to experience. In this bright new world the inability to pick up free Wi-Fi will be anathema. This has to be fixed – it cannot be avoided. Real Madrid’s investment to become Europe’s first smart stadium, in collaboration with Cisco, is one such example.

Customers who have shopped with you online have already shared personal details with you. Other new shopping centre apps, such as Westfield’s, invite you to indicate which brands you like and don’t like the first time you open the app. This form of mutual information sharing gives the retailer the opportunity to send targeted offers to you, mindful of weather conditions, the mood of the day (a significant winning horse) or aware of overcrowding at certain serveries.

Westfield's app combines GPRS with personal choices to tailor its offers to you

The most important message in all of this progress and innovation is that good service is becoming the norm. Poor service, or poorly trained staff will no longer be tolerated. Poor service can expect to be broadcast on social media and Trip Advisor. The horror stories of recent years, the Owners & Trainers bar with no ice and no lemon. Not acceptable. The Premier bar which runs out of beer after two hours. Never again. Poor quality over-priced food. Absolutely not. Discourteous staff at the entrance gate and web sites that are a nuisance and time consuming to use – you’re fired! It is time we upped our game.

That’s enough of the soap box. To really scare people we have included a selection of service innovations which give a clue to the changing face of service delivery in the wider world.

New technology delivers good service
In this first collection of images we explore the delivery of enhanced service through the application of new technology:

New York Grand Central app

This little marvel links together real-time train information with information and offers from Grand Central Station’s sixty shops and 35 restaurants.

Contactless card payment...

...or in this case, smartphone payment

The Oyster Card comes of age. Pay for everything with contactless payment – linked of course to a loyalty scheme.

Posh vending, from cupcakes... baguettes

Why queue up when a new generation of vending machines can dispense everything from chilled drinks to gifts and even fresh vegetables.

Valet parking at Heathrow Airport

Heathrow’s summer advertising is dominated by the offer of a free ‘Airporter’ to carry your bags for you.

Changi’s Social Tree

Changi’s Social Tree

Sharing tips and experiences on this wonderful ‘Social Tree’ at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

No she's not real - she's a projection

Electronic staff members at Luton Airport and elsewhere are now directing customers and answering simple questions.

The Rockefeller Center app

Plan your itinerary before you go, and then have offers sent to you as you move through the development, using location sensitive technology.

Amazon Lockers

A new reason to visit the shopping mall

Fed up with losing your online purchases in that fateful ‘final mile’? Now you can pick up your orders from an Amazon locker at a shopping centre, train station or petrol station near your home.

OTG iPad deployment

Bringing timely offers right to you, at the gate

7000 free access iPads at three airports offering full web access plus online shopping at airport shops and even food ordering ‘at gate’.

The role of human intervention and creativity
In this second section we explore how human innovation and creativity combine to deliver an improved guest experience:

The Silence Room, Selfridges

Feeling a little over excited? A little shopped out? Then visit the Silence Room at Selfridge. This oasis of calm is exactly what it says – right in the middle of the store.

At seat ordering at Basketball venues

Major US sporting venues are investing heavily in Wi-Fi technology. One of the many benefits is the ability to order drinks and food for delivery to your seat. No more queuing up at the bar for twenty minutes and missing the race.

Concierge Desk – Westfield London

Concierge Desk – Westfield London

A privately run Concierge Service at Westfield London provides a wide range of services from Accompanied Shopping, gift wrapping, left luggage storage and personal valet service.

Laura Ashley Baby Change

Poor toilets will become a thing of the past – as will shabby baby change areas. In this centre the baby change has been furnished and sponsored by Laura Ashley.

So what does all of this tell us? Firstly that new technology, not call centres, are changing the face of customer service. Secondly with online service delivery often better than that delivered in store many customers are migrating willingly to an automated interface. Thirdly that head in the sand avoidance of Wi-Fi and 4G technology can only end in disaster. And lastly that the next generation of consumers will no longer be surprised to be served well – they will expect it and will be very vocal, and very public in their criticism, when they are not.

So what can you do if you are a small or independent racecourse? The technology will become cheaper and more widespread in the next two or three years. Already a number of smaller racecourses are welcoming self-printed tickets. But the real opportunity for smaller businesses lies in their ability to communicate with character. The tightly knit team who work together regularly are the perfect group to train in the art of adding warmth and personality to the customer touch-point. A smile, a greeting, a familiar face, an ‘I’ll show you how to find that’, all make the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary experience. My money’s on the smaller racecourses delivering this in the short term. Technology will be right behind them.

Are you ready for the revolution?

Glad to be of service…

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‘On Tour’ goes to Disneyland

The On Tour team have been on another tough assignment. As if The London 2012 Olympics, a trip to the Far East and a day at Lord’s were not enough we decided it was time for the team to go to Disneyland. So one afternoon last autumn, our 1913 Bradshaw’s in hand, we mounted the Eurostar and headed, with a carriage full of overexcited children, to Paris.

It’s a big place Disneyland, comprising two theme parks, Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios. These two parks are both entered via a shopping and eating street, Disney Village, designed by Frank Gehry (he of Guggenheim Bilbao fame).


Welcome to Disney Village


A host of fun and destination eateries keeping the spend on site

Café Mickey for premium bites


The iconic Planet Hollywood

And the live dinner show at Buffalo Bill's


Coming fresh from London 2012’s magical summer expectations were high. Team Disney put this show on every day of the year, for twenty years now; so it better be good. Would the promise of Disney legendary service hold true?

Arrival at Disneyland is an exciting affair. The architecture around the entrance is perfect, dreamlike Theme Park Fantasy architecture. It’s a whole genre by itself and Disney do it better than anybody else. Much copied never beaten. Compare these images with the efforts of Merlin at Chessington and Alton Towers. There is simply no comparison.


No one does fantasy architecture like Disney

Main entrance and the Disneyland Hotel


And let’s not forget the wonderful landscaping. Lovely.

High quality landscaping inside and outside the park

Fantasy topiary elephants

Promotion of a one year pass before ticket purchase


Ticketing should be a dream with ticketing booths as far as the eye could see. What could go wrong? But it was not a dream at all. Twenty-five minutes in the queue. And it was only ten in the morning. Grumpy customers all round – the magic fading fast. Shame. The reality of labour costs stalk us all.

So what does a trip to Disneyland Paris actually cost? There are many deals to be found online, the best ones are easier to access using the French website.

Purchasing tickets upon arrival will cost £53 per adult and £48 per child for one day visiting one park. To visit both parks in one day, it will cost £63 per adult and £56 per child.


Magic fading fast in long, slow queues

Ticket pricing display over queues - helping decision making

Serried ranks of ticket booths

Promotion of the one year pass at the till point


Tickets finally bought, everyone smiling, we drifted into Main Street. After Sleeping Beauty’s Castle this is the most iconic piece of Disney architecture. A theme park architecture which captures the quintessential ideal of Hometown America.


Main Street. Identical the world over


Here performance and spectacle mix with happy customers. Cinderella pops up for a chat with her adoring fans. It’s hard not to love this version of ‘The Magic’. The parade runs down Main Street at regular times and is an early clue that Disneyland is making greater use of live performance as a tool to refresh the guest experience. Millions of dollars cheaper and faster to change than a ride and with the ability to connect emotionally with customers.

A dream come true

Your chance to meet your childhood favourites

The legendary Sleeping Beauty Castle


The Rides
For those of you who haven’t been to Disneyland in Paris, or elsewhere, there is much debate about which is the best ride. And I can tell you the answer. Without a doubt it has to be ‘It’s a small world’. Simply heaven. Fifty years old and as fresh as the day it was imagineered.

The simplest and the best.

It's a small world...

Find the music on Youtube and sing along badly!


Of course there are many great rides and attractions, from Thunder Mountain to The Pirates of the Caribbean but these are not really going to help revolutionise the guest experience at your destinations. So we will pass quickly over them – and the fact that I came as close to death in the Tower of Terror as I dare to get without calling an ambulance. OMGGM!

Superb runaway train excitement

Under no circumstances try the Tower of Terror

How the empire was built...

Instead the On Tour team were looking for Disney’s initiatives to drive up spend through catering and retailing. What might we find there that others could learn from?

Time for some chow…
It’s a captive audience who will be here for the whole day, possibly two. So how does Disney keep them smiling whilst encouraging maximum spend?

There are a vast range of eateries to choose from. Inside the park they are all owned and operated by Disney. In the park choices tend to be less sophisticated (‘we don’t want to waste ride time’) but out in Disney Village the choices range from full-service family eateries, such as Planet Hollywood and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show right through to Starbucks and McDonald’s. And before you start crowing let’s remember who Disney’s audience are; most are families with kids for whom the whole experience is a form of suspended reality. Fun, volume and convenience are the name of the game. Hence the role played by ‘all the usual suspects’.



50s American Diner, Annette's - complete with dancing waitresses


Inside the Park
Once inside the park eateries tend to take on the character of the ‘world’ they are in, and the brands disappear. Although the food is less themed than the environment. But the overall rule is MEAL DEALS. In every shape and size. Easier for the customer, easier for mum and dad, and easier to manufacture in large numbers. Doing fewer things better is a route we strongly endorse.

Three themed worlds

Three different approaches

to the Meal Deal


With its international audience Disney use photographs of food in their menus. We saw this employed extensively in the Far East and predict it will grow in acceptance in an increasingly diverse UK. At least we all know what we are going to get to eat – and serve.

Extensive use of photography in all kinds of menu

Tex Mex Meal Deal


Beyond the theming the restaurant interiors are simple with plenty of seating to rest weary feet. Signage over servery counters is old-style and a generation behind the newest high street outlets; so fewer opportunities to change the menu by time of day. Programmable TV Monitors are the way to achieve this.

Simple over counter menu display

Plenty of seats to rest ride-weary feet

Menu graphics are always on theme

But seldom inspiring


The menus are showing signs of increasing diversity, with themed flavours and some cook to order items. Curiously fajitas were assembled at a separate servery meaning two queues to wait in. Not ideal but the food was tasty and the pre-packaged salsa surprisingly tasty. Certainly a step up from the ubiquitous burger or pork bun.

Certainly fast food

but surprisingly tasty


More themes, more flavours. At each stop the food is reassuringly predictable with little pretence at being homemade. But tasty and appealing all the same.

A small number of outlets offer live music together with premium priced platters. The highest price level inside Disneyland is a pre-booked ‘meet the characters’ lunch show. For these lucky customers the fun is guaranteed to go on right through lunch…

Themed cowboy venue with an opportunity to 'meet the characters'

Still a Meal Deal in this premium outlet

The Lucky Nugget

Meal deal and live music heaven


En-route between ‘worlds’ many opportunities exist for impulse purchases, with soft drinks, water, popcorn, fresh fruit and other snack choices on the hoof. Racing can learn a lot from this style of impulse retailing.

Fresh fruit for Jungle Book friends

Fresh popcorn to fill that gap between snacks


Shopping. Want to take home a bit of ‘The Magic?
The best thing about buying souvenirs at Disneyland is that everyone expects to. The association is so strong it becomes a planned part of the day. Beyond that, Disney are masters of retail presentation. Not in an unusual way but in a way that reassures and supports full pricing. Product ranges are wide and each ride has its own range. Age segmentation is well catered for and you cannot leave a ride without a major shopping opportunity. And you can have it delivered to your hotel.


Typical themed merchandise store - this one is down Main Street


All in all Disney delivers exactly what it promises and ‘The Magic’ is in evidence all over. Disney has spent decades finessing its product and service style. Service in Paris is not as friendly as in Florida or Los Angeles but it has come a long way since opening twenty years ago.

Food and retail presentation are not radical but they are reassuring and there’s no discount pricing. But for Disney’s customers, of all ages, the real magic lies in the rides, the place, the shows and, of course, the characters who make Disneyland a truly memorable experience. The food is there to sustain, it is fuel, but fun fuel all the same.

Thank you for being our guest


As a post script, we wanted to share with you our favourite piece of signage from Disney. We would rather it worked the other way round. But hey ho. And off we go…


Don't dance...Sit down!


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‘On Tour’ gives you Seven Steps to Independent Coffee Shop Heaven

The increasing appeal of the independent coffee shop in today’s food and beverage market has not escaped the notice of the world of racing. How could it when the Independent Coffee shop is, it seems, everywhere, occupying both street corners and consumer’s hearts. In fact the consumer’s hankering for the charms of an independent is so strong that Starbucks have even set up three new shops in Seattle taking on the look and feel of an independent. Not without controversy we might add. Many racecourse teams have expressed a desire to ‘step away’ from the coffee shop chains and create their own unique independent coffee shops.

The On Tour team has been on hand to help the process along. Having surveyed the London café scene, we’ve found the secret (or rather seven secrets) to its success and have provided the racing world with a succinct step-by-step recipe to the creation of its own quirky Independent Coffee Shop Heaven!

Coffee Shop Heaven

1. Beans Glorious Beans
The first step to creating Independent Coffee Shop Heaven is a good quality, exotically/ethically sourced, preferably locally roasted coffee bean. Sheets of paper placed carefully on counter tops and tables articulating the impressive qualities of said bean will add to your Independent Coffee Shop’s street cred and assure customers that their money has been well spent – regardless of the price. A good quality coffee bean necessitates a menu complete with the latest in coffee-based drinks including current favourites the Long Black (Americano) and the Flat White (double-shot Latte). A machine dispensing electronic cappuccinos and lattes simply will not do!

Bags of coffee for sale

Good bean selection

2. Industrial Chic
Now that you’ve got your coffee beans all sourced and nicely presented (we suggest rustic brown paper bags for packaging) it’s time to consider what you want the shop to look like. For interior design, think ‘abandoned Victorian textile factory’, all exposed brick, white tiles, dark wood and the odd black, metal railing or hook dangling from the ceiling. But don’t forget to balance this industrial, urban aesthetic with copious amounts of throw cushions and other such soft furnishings. These soft furnishings should provide what might seem like an otherwise monochrome design with its colour accents and so feel free to go as bright and clashing as possible. In terms of lighting it should only ever be soft, hanging, shade-less bulbs work well, as do strings of fairy lights and/or pendant enamel shades. If it looks unplanned and eclectic then you’re on the right track.

Pendant lights and soft furnishings

Exposed brick, light bulbs and black slate


Fairy lights and colour accents

3. The Winning Menu
After making sure you’ve created the right look-and-feel for your shop it is time to consider the other vital element to any independent café and that is the menu. Customers will expect an array of artisan baked goods (try to achieve a 3-2-1 ratio of muffins, brownies and cupcakes). ‘Classics done well’ is the thing to bear in mind when it comes to sweet treats. A homemade Victoria Sponge and some rather robust, fruity flapjacks are always appreciated. To demonstrate your shop’s home-made credentials you may want to write up some recipes for your delicious baked goods on chalkboards displayed artfully on the walls or place a stack of take-home recipe cards on the service counter. As far as lunch is concerned, doorstep sandwiches are a safe bet but try to avoid processed fillers à la tuna sweet-corn. Traditional combinations such as ham and cheese are fine but make sure that if you’re going down the ‘ham and cheese’ route it’s cheddar from the local organic dairy and honey roasted ham hock. Note that when it comes to sandwiches the bread is critical. If you go too artisan then it lacks appeal to the masses but anything approaching a soft white will leave customers wondering why they didn’t make a packed-lunch that morning. Other interesting lunch items include soups in the winter, salads in the summer and savoury tarts

Homemade baked goods

Unusual flavour combinations


Beautifully presented sweet treats

Help yourself!

4. The Ultimate Barista
Next it is time to think about who you want in charge of cutting those espresso shots and steaming that milk to perfection. This is an extremely important step, as coffee connoisseurs will pay close attention to your barista looking for signs of craftsmanship and skill. Training is therefore absolutely crucial to the shop’s success. For guidance on this, bear in mind that an independent’s barista must be the antithesis of a Starbucks assembly line. As for the rest of the staff, they should be well-mannered individuals with equal parts style and wit, displaying both excellent customer service skills and conversational abilities that stretch beyond the usual ‘Hello what can I get you?’ formula. The independent coffee shop derives its personality from its staff and so it is vital that they are allowed to be themselves. When it comes to uniform, at most we’re talking a logo-ed (preferably black) apron.

Service with a smile

5. Merchandising: Get Creative
Now it is time for merchandising, this is the realm where the Independents can show off. Whether you choose to go for the eclectic ‘none-of-our-cutlery-matches-and-oh-gosh-neither-do-our-plates’ look or a uniform kit of black slates for displaying food, white American diner-esque cups for coffee and Duralex glasses for juices, the important thing is merchandising allows you to express your creative sensibilities.

Bright colours

Food displayed at eye-level


Mismatched cutlery and crockery

Interesting furniture

6. What’s in a name?
When the time comes to name the shop don’t be daunted. There are certain formulas that work well and are relatively easy to come up with. The one we’d recommend is the ‘name & name’ formula whereby you take two words or last names and join them together with ‘and’. Here are some examples: Foxcroft & Ginger (a popular and trendy London Independent) Harris + Hoole (chain of ‘independent’ coffee shops backed by Tesco) and Melrose & Morgan (another London favourite). If those don’t take your fancy then why not come up with a coffee-related pun for example, Daily Grind, Brewed Awakenings and our personal favourite, Palpitations? The humorous names work particularly well because they allow the personality of the shop to shine through.

The Breakfast Club




Monmouth Coffee Company

Joe & the Juice

Foxcroft & Ginger

7. Independent Touches
Finally it is time to add on those finishing touches that will make visiting your independent coffee shop so much more rewarding than a trip to Costa or Café Nero. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Slices of lemon and mint in your jugs of free tap water on the tables
  • A sound-track of soothing, alternative music (jazz works well as does indie-folk).
    Why not get some records and a vinyl player? A sure-fire way to quadruple your street cred.
  • At least one long communal table to achieve that unique community atmosphere that is key to a great independent coffee shop
  • To really boost your foodie credentials, why not have a selection of organic, locally sourced produce for sale?
  • Appropriate and interesting complimentary reading material

Labeled jam jars

Reading material


Produce for sale

Jugs of tap water flavoured with lemon and mint


It’s a stimulating place out there so keep up where you can.

Thank you.

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‘On Tour’ at Lord’s

This month ‘On Tour’ is at Lord’s, The Home of Cricket, for the England vs. South Africa test match. At £90 a ticket it is not a cheap day, but you do get a full day of activity. Those looking to save some money can try their luck on the day as unclaimed seats are sold off at discounted prices.

Pre arrival
Tickets arrive in a smart wallet along with a guide for the day. The wallet contains plenty of useful information including travel advice, tours and restaurants at Lord’s.

The contents of the Lord’s wallet

‘On Tour’ arrived by public transport. The bus stop was helpfully entitled ‘Lord’s Cricket Ground’, and a steady stream of people led the way despite any sign of directions. Although it was not required, a map could be found within The Guide for Ticket Holders in the ticket pack.

There is no sense of occasion at the entrance. The ‘East Gate’ sign was less noticeable than the adjacent street sign, and ticket collection points were inconspicuous.

Collect your tickets from the hole in the wall

Pass through this understated entrance and the place feels more alive. After a cheerful bag check and full body pat down, you are handed maps of the grounds and guides to cricket fielding positions. At ease, and with plenty of time before the game begins, it’s time to explore.

You are here
Once inside, Lord’s does a good job at keeping you orientated. The main footpath is a ring around the stands, so it’s tricky to get lost and regular signage totems with ‘You are here’ markers keep you informed. Staffed booths are located at each gate for information.

No chance of getting lost here

Gift shop
The first place you will come to is the Lord’s Shop – easy to spot with its smart monochrome photography that cover its external walls; a modern feel with an historical touch. These positive graphics continue throughout the stadium. Inside you can pick up your Lord’s branded radios for the match commentary. Sun hats, knitted jumpers and raincoats provide clothing for all weather, while branded teddy bears, mugs and ‘I love cricket’ baby clothes provide souvenirs for the trip home.

A tasteful touch of red

Something for the parcel shelf

Added extras
The gift shop is not your only chance to take home something memorable from the day. If the pre-made bats in the shop do not strike you as unique enough, then why not watch the Gray-Nicolls bat-making display before purchasing your custom made bat.

Freshly carved just for you

The Lord’s shop runs book signings on its terrace. Meanwhile, younger members of the audience can be found hanging around the Media Centre trying to catch their favourite player for an autograph.

Ladies with tablet computers can be seen strolling the grounds, enticing innocent fans to become a part of the Wiggle Wicket – a digital video campaign of cricketers dancing, run by Twelfth Man, the Official Fan Community of England Cricket.


Would you like to dance?

Miniature bats for sale - perfect for an autograph

Let the game begin
Resisting the urge to dance digitally with the England team, we are off to watch the game. As with the rest of the navigation, finding your way to your seat is simple. Entrances are ordered alphabetically around the stadium, and at each entrance staff are on hand to direct you to your seat.

A consistent staff presence

There is little sense of excitement. The big screens flit between adverts for Insurance and the Lord’s Twitter hashtag. ( This integration of social media vanishes once the game begins and the scoreboards overtake the screens.

Tweet if you love lords

Unlike a game of Twenty20, there are no cheerleaders or mascots. Even when the tannoy system announced the arrival of Jamaican Olympic Athlete, Yohan Blake – here to ring the starter bell – we saw nothing. No showmanship, no live video, not even a photo of the Gold medal winner. Just the sound of the bell that could have been rung by anyone. (Although a nearby stranger did announce “that was a good solid ring” so he must have done something right.)

Many seats are without rain cover. This is not a problem for a sport that is known for its policy of ‘rain stops play’. Spectators leap out of their seats when the first drops hit the ground and head for cover outside the stands, and toward the bars. The padded seats were comfortable, but the width of the seat left you a little too close for comfort if your neighbour was a portly English gentleman.

The crowds take shelter from the rain

Food, drink and other services
Good food and drink is central to any day at the cricket, and Lord’s provides plenty of opportunity for this. You are never more than a few metres away from a vendor. The bars serve beer, wine, Pimms, teas and coffees as well pies and sandwiches, at not-unreasonable London prices: £4.50 for a pint, £5.50 for a glass of wine, and £3.50 for a sandwich.

Collect your drinks for the game

The glasses are plastic and the carrying trays made from cardboard – no sense of luxury here then. But it does allow you to take your drinks in to the stadium to enjoy during the match. The bars are also one of the few places under cover within Lord’s, making them the perfect place to escape in bad weather.

The food and drink at Lord’s is not just restricted to a beer and a baguette. A food village hosts a range of finer fast food dining experiences, from Mediterranean-inspired food at Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts, to premium champagne served at the Veuve Clicquot Bar. As expected, this was very busy during lunch, even as the rain poured down.

Before the lunchtime rush

The Veuve Clicquot Bar

For a slower dining experience, guests can book a table in the Harris Garden Seafood Restaurant and Champagne Bar for some alfresco dining. The presence of large screens lets you keep an eye on the game while you eat. Or, if TV viewing feels inadequate, then perhaps a seat in the Sir Pelham Warner Restaurant is called for. Located on the Mezzanine level of the Warner stand, it offers a three-course lunch with views over the playing area for £40.

When the sun puts his hat on (and it would certainly have to be a straw hat at Lord’s) the Coronation Gardens provided a pleasant setting for a picnic providing both lawn space and plenty of benches.

An ideal spot for a sunny afternoon

Nearby a sense of occasion was created by the presence of a lively four-piece brass band.

The WC’s were clean. One facility provided Molton Brown soap dispensers, but this turned out to be an exception. The rest aimed for a more utilitarian design.

A piece of history
The breaks between each session of play also provide time to take a trip to the museum. Historical ties, blazers, balls, trophies and art filled the cabinets. A touchscreen offered an interactive historical experience, but this felt older than many of the other exhibits. Hidden away under the stairs, its latest entry dated 2004.

Pieces from the past

The most visually exciting tale of Lord’s history was not told within these dark rooms, but through the stadium itself. Each structural support for the stands was encased in a banner portraying both a historical match statistic and a life-sized photograph of a player. A historical trail followed by everybody as they move around throughout the day.

Brush up on your cricketing facts while you walk round.

An end not to remember
There were many memorable moments to Lord’s, from its live music and graphics, to its friendly staff. Unfortunately the departure had none of this. No sense of farewell, no ‘see you next time’. You are out of the gate and gone.

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‘On Tour’ at the Olympics

Welcome back to On Tour and to our Special ‘Souvenir Olympic Edition’.

Our unusually blessed team of On Tour researchers have been under cover at London 2012 witnessing three events in three different venues. Given the extraordinary amount of coverage received by the Olympics we have decided to focus our London 2012 Souvenir Edition on the guest experience.

Before we start let’s put this endeavour into context. London 2012 is a one off. There has been no real dress rehearsal. Everyone and everything is new, the team, the place, the venues, the loos – the lot. Compare this with other venues and attractions who put on a show every day, or perhaps fifteen times a year as in many racecourses. I believe that this context makes what was achieved at London 2012, across a variety of venues, in a hundred different languages, so remarkable.

Under starters’ orders…

Today we will be looking predominantly at the Olympic Park and at ExCel, in London’s Royal Docks – a venue which housed more Olympic activities than any other. From the moment of arrival the greeting from staff was beyond what was expected. Welcome teams set the tone, at the railway stations, handing out maps at airports and at the Eurostar terminal, always smiling – always willing to help.

Arriving at the venue volunteers with giant hands joked with visitors

Remarkably security screening over eight million people in seventeen days worked impeccably with the same cheerful demeanour. ‘Good morning and welcome to ExCel and London 2012′ said the young lady at the X-ray machine. And the soldiers – very reassuring indeed thank you. Fast, friendly and efficient – eat your heart out BAA! And you can’t say you haven’t had the practice.

A cheery reception at security

Once inside more greeters, taking our photographs

Guiding us from umpire’s chairs with megaphones

And the large crowds of first time visitors moving quietly and smoothly through a large and complex venue.

The signage.. so thorough – so well thought through. From the welcome signs…

In case you didn't know where you were

Abundant and well designed Olympic branding in every conceivable location

…to the directories, with their clusters of helpers just checking everything is as you would like it.

More than the signs are the men and women helping to answer your questions

What of those essential first impressions? At ExCel a whole corner of historic docklands appears to have been regenerated.

Think you know London's Docklands? Think again

Whilst at the Olympic Park traditional formal planting gave way to meadows of wild flowers, all in flower, telling a story about the regeneration of this once highly toxic and polluted land. Lovely.

Inspired choice of English meadow and wild flowers

A small lesson on those big screens. In their own version of Henman Hill and Murray’s Mound (new name please umpire) a viewing park was installed with the screen and stage located on an island and with the screen facing two ways – double the audience.

Double-sided video wall with viewing both sides of the lake

And now for the greatest misconception of the whole affair – that McDonald’s was the only place to buy food at the Olympic Park. Utter nonsense. Yes they did build the largest McDonald’s in the world, entirely out of re-useable kit. It is fully recyclable and yes this did, by all accounts, prove a rather irresistible draw at 5am for the young athletes living in the Olympic Village, but this was not the only choice.

The world's largest McDonald's

Whilst other brands were precluded by exclusive naming rights deals, a comprehensive set of generic kiosks were created and repeated throughout the Olympic Park and at ExCel. Refreshingly relieved of their branding these kiosks appeared to do a great job serving a lot of people with relatively simple menus. Yes the queues were long at 6pm – but then the crowd could be 150,000 people. Some ingredients ran out – but compared to their more experienced competition their performance wasn’t bad at all. From our travels we could certainly name a few top flight sports and entertainment venues who don’t deliver so well.

Unbranded food court with all the usual menu options

And in case you want to whoop it up…

Champagne and Seafood Brasserie – I bet you weren’t expecting that.

'Would you like a glass of Fruit Cup, Sir?'

The image above remains one of our favourites in the brand-free Olympic world. £10 for a large cup of Fruit Cup. What on earth could that be? How much less beguiling these brands become when stripped of their frippery.

How do these prices compare with your bars?

Prices as you will see are firm but not excessive – compared to many racecourses and other venues – but you could hear the murmured complaints if you listened in.

For those with a sweet tooth, treat kiosks were bought to you by an unnamed confectionery brand dressed in purple.

Treat kiosks..

..guess which brand

Elsewhere on the Olympic Park the major sponsors have their Brand Pavilions. These corporate temples go to great lengths to align themselves with the social and environmental ethos of the games and with the performance and elan of the sportsmen and women. Budgets are large. Very large and, sadly, capacities are limited, so if you got in to one of these pavilions you were lucky. The two examples shown here are Coca Cola’s Beat Box and BP’s beautiful mirrored – ‘it’s all about you’ – pavilion.

Coca Cola’s Beat Box

BP’s ‘it’s all about you'

So, did we manage to watch any of the sports? Did we see history being made? Well no. We went on the only occasion when the Team UK (it is time to correct that geographical misnomer) did not win Gold – but that doesn’t dilute the awesome (yes we really mean that) effectiveness of the presentation. There was something beyond military in the precision with which the officials, stewards and humble equipment putter-outers moved around the venue. New referees in Judo entered like synchronised swimmers. Hurdles were put out and removed in a sequence that could pass muster as a ballet. If God is in the details then God was in the Olympic venues and working for the IOC. Spectacular. Try a little of this at home with synchronised treading-in, stewards moving in sequence, all designed to make the ordinary appear extraordinary. This is how it is done Channel 4.

A synchronised team of 25 put out the hurdles

Big screens at high level ensure a good view for all

Big screens covering every line of sight. High and low. All paid for by the sponsors.

The press in uniform. Imagine..

And finally, the medal ceremony. How can we make more of the ceremony at the end of a big race. Silks as flags?

Usain Bolt picks up his Gold. 80,000 people are upstanding. He is the little one in the middle. It is a big stadium.

Judo memorabilia

Even memorabilia celebrating past heroes in particular events.

But we’re not here to talk about sport.

At the end of the day London 2012 came to life thanks to the achievements of small number of extraordinary women and men – and a large number of very ordinary, highly motivated and well trained volunteers. Together with our armed forces, charming and evidently enjoying themselves, London 2012 achieved a festival atmosphere few could have anticipated. Phrases like ‘like no other’ and ‘the greatest party on earth’ for once moved from cliché to proud reality.

The reassuring presence of our Armed Forces

How very British. A bulletin board with a smile

In all, this was an extraordinary achievement for a team of people who had never worked together before. A feat of training and conditioning many sports and entertainment venues would do well to take a harder look at. There are important lessons to learn here and we are grateful for the superlative nature of the London’s Olympics for showing us how it should be done.

For our next visit we are off to Disneyland. Oh yeh!

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‘On Tour’ eats out on Britain’s High Streets

One of the most exciting patterns to emerge from the 2011 Showcase Awards was a flurry of stylish food and drink outlets at racecourses. From Goodwood to Musselburgh a whole array of outlets have opened which raise the bar for the food and drink experience. These new outlets may be the tip of the iceberg but those racecourses who have experimented with characterful design and branding appear to be yielding extraordinary results in terms of performance. Further back in late 2010 Newbury published figures suggesting that sales at their Laurent Perrier Owners and Trainers bar had more than doubled previous sales figures. This should not be a surprise. Is this because the old outlets simply did not inspire their customers to spend – or because the new outlets so delight their customers that they feel compelled to spend? The answer, of course, is a combination of the two, but I still dream of a day at the races where the simple quality of the food and drink so inspires the customer that they simply cannot resist settling in for an excellent lunch. It has always been our view that customers are ALWAYS shopping. The only reason they don’t buy is because we simply fail to offer them something they want. This is important on the high street, but more so at the racecourse where, for many, the overriding mood is one of camaraderie and anticipation. Given the captive nature of some of our customers our failure to encourage them to spend on anything more than a pie or a pasty is a travesty. Made all the more so when we compare the eating and drinking establishments found on the high street with those at the ‘typical’ racecourse.

Eating and drinking everywhere... London's Spitalfields Market

‘Not the High Street again’ you cry. It is true that it’s simply not ‘fair’ to compare a racecourse with a shopping centre or a High Street. They don’t run to the same financial model, or operate for the same number of days. But they are highly competitive – and one of the most encouraging signs emerging from the so called ‘Death of the High Street’ is a massive switch towards innovation and ‘independence’ even amongst the chains. Ironically it is the lack of investment and creativity on most high streets that has led to their current malaise. But here’s the rub, and the main point of this blog. Food and drink outlets in the High Street and Shopping Centres have had no choice but to improve. Evolve or die. You may not fancy a trip to Westfield in East London – but you should go. And a few of your colleagues have taken the time and the trouble. I recommend it. The quality of the food and drink outlets in this centre is remarkable. As a consequence the high street and shopping centres are once again pulling ahead of their sporting competition. This presents us with a challenge. Our customers are the same customers as those on the High Street. Only our customers have also paid good money to come in, may have travelled further and may be here for a celebration, an anniversary. It is up to us to fulfil not frustrate this goodwill.

Restaurant in the first shopping centre made out of shipping containers...

... at Boxpark in London's Shoreditch

I would like to arrive at a point in time where the racecourses are seen as the great innovators in eating and drinking. Places of fun and discovery: of performance. Of regional excellence and delicious aromas. But before this can happen we need to find a way to beat the chain operators and shopping centre owners at their own game. And as everyone knows – the best way to beat your enemy is to know them better.

So, in search of our prey we have ventured to two of the largest shopping centres in the land, Bluewater in Kent and the new Westfield in Stratford (that’s East London not on the Avon) to see how they are luring their customers to spend, spend, spend. You may find the following images surprising – we take the view that commercial catering in Britain has never been so good, so diverse and above all, so beautifully delivered.

But that’s enough from us. Let’s let the pictures tell their own story.

Let’s start at Bluewater in Kent, with its 31 million visitors each year…

Jamie Oliver’s Midas touch goes from strength to strength...

...with two chains now rolling out across the country

Nando’s, Portuguese chicken emporium has had a makeover and offers tasty spiced chicken in a formula that has become the ‘assisted self-service’ format of choice to the younger audience

A personal favourite bringing authentic Mexican Steet food to our happy shoppers is Wahaca

Worth a trip all by itself. Just get a look at that interior

Whilst Krispy Creme’s promise of indulgent deliciousness is appearing in more and more centres, airports and railway stations

The Power of the Brand!

And Cadbury, having finally got the hang of cafés...

...are reaching out their cakes and chocolatey fingers to a centre near you...

Meanwhile, over at Westfield Stratford, the Food Court truly comes of age.
With its speciality foods Great Eastern Market:

From Lebanese, to Moroccan, through Italy to India. Authentic food from authentic operators

To its main ‘casual food’ court on the upper level with over thirty food outlets offering every conceivable variety, nationality and price level

From Pho...

...a fast growing independent Vietnamese chain

And the Lebanon... Jamaica

To the burgers...

...and fish and chips of East London

Pausing for Ice Cream, in the middle of the mall... this newly invented ‘retro’ brand

And if you thought it was safe to go into a department store for a reassuringly disappointing tea and cake experience...

...then let’s pop into M&S for a taste of their new Tasting Café

Enough, enough. You must be full by now.

Our travels have taken us to places where low expectations were confounded. Where first class presentation is the norm – not the exception. Where sharing platters and fresh herbs are everyday and where customers will happily pay more for quality. But perhaps the most exciting, and challenging part of this trend is that the greatest level of innovation is happening at the mass end of the market. The humble burger reinvented at Byron, the sausage rediscovered, and the snack meal transformed from stomach lining (five pints approaching) to a genuine contributor to the enjoyment of the day.

To conclude we are certain that there are many examples of excellent food and drink provision at the racecourses which we have yet to experience. Please take the time to send in your photographs, menus and any other great ideas which you are planning to introduce at your racecourse.

Thank you

Next edition – staying with our focus on food and beverage we have been out to explore the future of coffee shop. And what a stimulating place it is.

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2011 Showcase Awards – Winning Submissions

In 2011 the second Showcase and Awards gave the opportunity to racecoures to share and celebrate their initiatives and innovations in improving the raceday experience of their customers.

Over 80 submissions were received and this booklet provides details of the winning submissions from each of the six award categories, as well as the Best New Initiative, selected by the Judges along with two Judges’ Awards.

For further information on any of the initiatives, please contact the relevant racecourse.

Please click on the link above to view the booklet.

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‘On Tour’ in Tokyo

From Chatsworth to Tokyo. A world or a Universe apart. This month ‘On Tour’ has travelled to the other side of the world – to the Orient – to see how technology is changing the relationship consumers have with brands and retailers. Whilst the direct lessons from Tokyo today to Britain’s racecourses might seem hard to connect – the reality is that developments in Tokyo, the arrival of 4G phones and the maturing of social media are clues to trends that are already emerging in Europe and the United States. Add to this that Tokyo and the Japanese economy have been in recession for ten years now. The result is a greater focus on retaining existing customers, building customer loyalty and delivering exceptional service.

In this blog we will lead you through an unfamiliar world, but a world (earthquakes apart) which has a great deal to teach Europeans.

The places we visit and the subjects we will explore are many and varied – and we don’t have the space to explore many in detail – so we hope you enjoy the ride.

Next generation smartphones.
To begin, let’s talk about smartphones. These next generation 4G phones are up to 500 times more powerful than today’s 3G dinosaurs. As a consequence everybody appears to be on their smartphone every minute of the day. Remember that 37% of smartphone users take their phones to bed with them. These users are always online and never alone.

Everybody, everywhere...

...constantly on the phone

One benefit of this connectivity is that customers are now looking for peer reviews (that’s the endorsement of their peers) of products in store. One example is this cosmetics store where customers scan the products QR code (that’s that funny looking square bar code) on their phone or on an in-store scanner and it offers up other customer’s reviews of the product.

Ask your friends to comment on your purchase

Other customers' reviews on screen

What did they say about this?

Follow the link to this product on YouTube

These same customers are also reviewing the product in-store and buying it more cheaply online. In a later edition we will show you customers doing their grocery shopping on their smartphones. Who needs shops anymore?

The death of money.
Both smartphones and smartcards are quietly doing away with the need for dirty old unhygienic money. Interestingly the banks have been outsmarted by the infrastructure companies , predominantly the rail and bus companies, producing travel cards (like our Oyster card) which can be used for basic transactions anywhere from the metro station to the department store, even vending machines.

Beyond money. The truly smart card

At the kiosk

At the vending machine

Intelligent vending.
Speaking of vending machines, how about a machine which scans your face (identifying age, height, colour and skin condition) before recommending the most suitable drink for the customer. I can’t imagine why it suggested I needed water.

You look like you need some water

Now that’s good service. And there are many more examples of service initiatives which link smartphone technology with old time service, such as this directory at the entrance to a shopping centre that responds to your mobile phone by changing the information and promotions offers to suit the individual. From mass market to a market of one.

Signage that changes according to your online profile

A culture of service.
So let’s talk about service. In a country where good service is taken for granted the battle is on to deliver the details that really make a difference. Like the pots of mineral water in the coffee shop to cleanse your palette and improve the flavour of your coffee. Yes indeed.

Fresh water to cleanse your palate

Or the machine which wraps your damp umbrella when you walk into a shop (it rains as much in Tokyo as it does in Britain). And the branded carrier bag dispenser at Isetan so you can put your lesser branded merchandise into a better class of carrier.

Umbrella wrap, Sir?

A better class of carrier bag, Madam?

To buggy and elderly persons shopping baskets/trolleys for rental – all in Isetan, one of Tokyo’s top department stores.

Younger and older persons strollers to hire

To perhaps my favourite, the staff of the leading department stores who ritually bow to their arriving guests as the store opens every morning at 10.00am. Wouldn’t that be nice at the races.

Welcome to our store

Glad to be of service

And of course the essential customer information desk staffed with highly trained, beautifully turned-out and invariably charming (always female) staff.

It is our genuine pleasure... serve you

And I nearly forgot. How about the cosmetics department of a new store on Ginza (Tokyo’s Bond Street) which scans your face and then electronically simulates the application of a particular product, rouge, lipstick, mascara onto the face of the wearer. Awesome! Just scan the product in front of the screen.

Virtual make-up display

We didn’t look so good on it. So we’ve saved you from a photo of the Englishman abroad.

One could write a whole chapter on the loos. Like this WC whose lid lifts automatically on entering the chamber. Or this genuinely brilliant innovation, of a safe baby seat in the WC cubicle for use when you need a sit down.

Somewhere safe for baby in the WC

Self-lifting WC seat

Or those with jet washes, hairdryer, vibrating seat pads..too much information.
And a whole bunch of innovations designed to prevent you from ever having to touch the lavatory.

The role of signage.
Not exciting but important, like most US Shopping Centres, signage at the entry to commercial centres is exceptional. Well placed, attractively designed, increasingly interactive and thoroughly useful. A few samples below:

At Tokyo’s Midtown Galleria

At the fabulous mixed-use development Roppongi Hills

And at the Shin-Marunouchi building

Note in two examples below how photography is used to communicate the product on offer. Whilst the British consumer has been persuaded that food photography is down-market – perhaps it is time to think again. Especially for your novice customers and on busy festival days.

A world of eating choices

Changing plasma screen signage

Whilst we don’t recommend copying the traditional Japanese visual menus with every product in even the most ordinary cafés displaying markets of their food in the windows. Reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Two Bad Mice.

Plastic food on display in the most humble eatery

So good you could eat it.
Which leads us on to the wonderful subject of FOOD; and its presentation. In a country where the art of gift giving has been developed to its ultimate conclusion the presentation of food, in shops and restaurants is a constant delight. From the humble in-store café at Muji (the non-brand store) with its generous displays, free drinking water as standard and choices of seating for eating individually or collectively this is just the bottom of the pile.

Welcome to Meal Muji

Freshly cooked to order and in show-kitchen

Bread with your meal?

Thank you too

Through to the in-store café in almost every retail outlet, in this case Comme de Garcon.

In store café... Comme de Garcon

Comme de Garcon - Ginza

To the beautiful delicatessen, bakeries and Western style cafés like Echiré, a French export, and Patisserie Artisanale, a celebration of all things dairy.

A celebration of dairy... Echiré

To the exquisite displays in department stores and smaller outlets across the city. Poor presentation here is simply not an option. It just doesn’t happen.

Exquisite patisserie...

...with café to match

Dean & Deluca...

...with a world of treats

To the most delicious treats:

Irresistible sweet treats for those ladies who lunch

To the tea shop where the very art of tea is brought to life, half gallery, half emporium, and half tea shop for ladies who tea (yes, I know that’s three halves).

Tea emporium in the shopping centre

Gallery, or shop?

Beautiful display - personal service

The theatre of shopping

And to conclude this flying visit to the Orient. A small collection of the things that made us smile.
Hand decorated melons and £120 bunches of grapes in the fruit gifting shop – the perfect gift for your boss.

Fruit gifting

What wrapping would you like with your melon?

Priceless fruit gifts

Thornton's eat your heart out

Outdoor locker rooms. Now there’s a simple idea

Starbucks tills showing time-of-day promotions

Animated till TVs...

...changing through the day

And a doggy beautician with sunglasses, clothing ranges for the smaller dog, a photographic studio and, of course, doggy nappies for the unfortunate pooch who can’t be let out for a run around the racecourse at lunchtime.

Doggy Halloween heaven

For the petite pooch

Doggy nappies

Canine photo gallery

For our next instalment. Over the China Sea to Shanghai for a true taste of the future.

The ‘On Tour’ blog is written on behalf of the RCA by David Fraser of Harrison: Fraser.

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