RCA ‘On Tour’, a smorgasbord of innovation…

Study trips searching for innovation and cutting edge technology used to focus on retailers and the brands who brought glamour to our High Streets. But as we all know retail is under pressure and the macro trend which seems to be replacing it is growth in the casual dining sector.

Eating and drinking in shopping centres used to take up 10% of the floor space and customers could expect the usual suspect brands; KFC, Subway, McDonalds and friends. In this world our customers expected little and got what they expected.

How the tables have turned. The shopping destinations of the future have between up to 50% of their floor space given over to eating and drinking. The consequence is amazing levels of competition and innovation. On the High Street where I live five major retail and fashion brands have closed in the last year only to be replaced by the new generation of casual dining brands: Itsu, Leon, Gail’s Bakery and others.

The result for our consumers is simple: quality and choice. It is into this world that our customers go every day of the year. They are expecting and being given fresher, tastier, more unusual choices, with excellent, fast and motivated service. This is the new normal.

With this in mind a hard core of Raceday Experience Group trusties ventured out into the chill December air to find out what’s new on the High Street and in the wondrous array of emergent food and drink venues that service it. This is what we found:

Apple has started to take itself rather seriously. It has moved from creating funky retail spaces to crafting civic places, a forum in ancient Greek or Roman speak, a place for people to meet, to interact and to learn. The consequence is a store which focuses more on its architectural setting than on any innovation to deliver the product in an unusual and creative way. This truly is gentrification. The next step of course, is ruin!

Consequently we have a theatre space for lectures

We have trees, for strolling amongst

And we have dozens of Santa’s little helpers, all helpfully colour-coded in festive red

In search of something new we trotted along to John Lewis on Oxford Street. 2016 was the year that VR came of age and many brands are now introducing VR as a tool to help guests experience their products. At John Lewis the highly popular Christmas advertisement is brought to life as guests romp in the garden with Buster the dog and his friends. A smart application of technology, narrowing the divide between the broadcast, online and the real instore experience.

A few familiar faces getting ready to don their VR head gear

A moment for dressing up…

Amy from York playing with Buster on the trampoline

After a hard afternoon spent bouncing on the trampoline our intrepid explorers climbed to the roof of John Lewis and into the wonderful highland forest of Mac & Wild.

With wonderful props, real trees and a lively sense of humour this pop-up forest, bar and restaurant was a true delight.

The Hunting Lodges (dressed up garden sheds) can be rented privately, are impeccably decorated, with a bluetooth enabled sound system, Hot Toddy bell and wonderful service. What more could we ask for. In truth it was a bit of a challenge getting the team to move on. Bravo!

Romantic love seat in the forest on the roof of John Lewis

A typical ‘hunting lodge’ bookable for private dining

Reluctant to move on from this rooftop idyll

Inspired – the Hot Toddy bell

Nicely warmed we ventured off in search of new delights. Let’s chomp through a selection:

To Pix Pintxos, part of a chain but you would never know it. Impeccably presented and authentic tapas, or pintxos (little skewers) in a snug little bar with the cleverest seating for couples. Sunday brunch of £35 for unlimited Cava and tapas sounds wonderful – especially given the quality of the food and service.

Presentation as good as the best in Barcelona

Delicious, fresh and spicy self-service delight

Such refreshing presentation – born for sharing

Everything goes Gourmet. And so we fall upon Snowflake, a wondrous emporium of ice cream delights. All made on the premises, beautifully presented and utterly delicious. In a world where we are trying to get a grip on excessive drinking isn’t ice cream one of our easiest allies?

The gourmet trend has also filtered through to Starbucks. After trialling their Starbucks Reserve concept in Seattle, the home of coffee, it has arrived in London and is a true game changer. Not only beautiful to look at but also a true coffee afficionados heaven. How would you like your coffee made? Perhaps you would like to drip it yourself. This one really sends a wake-up call to those of you who are still serving coffee in stainless steel flasks- it simply will not do!

What about those places that only do one thing – and do it well. This trend shows no sign of abating as we strut into our next venue Absurd Bird. The most finger lickin’ menu with delights ranging from Dirty Buns to Fried Chicken through Buttermilk Wings and Jalapeno Mac & Cheese.

Yum yum.

No new opening is to be taken seriously without its own Speakeasy

Kitchen open to view and bursting with energy

Next stop the familiar delights of Poppies Fish & Chips. Perhaps more beautiful than any true 1950’s fish and chip shop this chain is spawning new sites across London, the latest washing up in Soho. If it’s nostalgia you are looking for feast your eyes… Perfect. Can you smell the chips?

Our penultimate stop is to one of London’s most recent openings. Brand new in December 2016 is Temper from cult chef Neil Rankin of Low and Slow fame. This subterranean meat fest is a temple to the art of slow cooking and by golly was it good. Smacked Cucumber (try working that out), MSG Ketchup and slow cooked 65 day old beef are a taste of the delicacies on offer. Impeccably trained and knowledgeable staff, stylish interior and fair prices ensure this one will run and run.

Note the fire pit in the centre of the restaurant

A menu of fresh and exciting delights

To round off our tour we stop in at legendary coffee emporia Soho Grind. Gritty no nonsense interior, cool neon and a basement with a sneaky speakeasy (see the picture below). This one really is an institution and shows how far we have to go in our quest to bring an authentic product to our deserving guests.

French lessons given downstairs! Coffee shop by day, Speakeasy by night

A sneaky look through the moving screen into the servery of the Speakeasy

Alex from Goodwood looking sheepish in a basement in Soho

So the challenge to our readers is to acknowledge that as the retail world sags under the strain of the internet the next generation of innovators are turning their heads to food and drink. Authenticity and provenance are their watchwords. Less choice, better cooked their standard. Well trained and knowledgeable staff are becoming the norm, not the exception. And the expectations of our customers will continue to rise as the High Street rediscovers the value of casual eating and drinking. A challenge indeed for all of us – but what an opportunity.

Welcome to a delicious 2017.

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RCA ‘On Tour’ blog

Changing consumer. Changing expectations
This latest blog explores changing consumer needs and expectations resulting from major demographic shifts in our society. The blog is being presented in two parts, the first dealing with the demographic changes themselves and the technologies which are emerging to cater for these customers.

The second blog takes a closer look at how these trends are driving innovation in the retail, food and drink sectors.

Let’s meet our new consumers
It will come as no surprise that the pace of innovation in the shopping and leisure spheres has not abated. If anything, it is accelerating. Once emergent technologies are moving into the mainstream. We all now know about algorithms and are beginning to see how they to control the world we live in. An ad pops up. It’s for something you had been thinking about, it’s not chance – its’ just a smart, connected world that ensures that every message hits its target.

If this is the world our customers live in, what can we learn from it to improve the experience for our customers? And more importantly who are our customers of tomorrow. Let’s see what we can find out about them. To begin we must accept that the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and Generation X (born 1965 – 1980) who have dominated the world for so long are losing their grip – in more ways than one.

The new emphasis is upon The Millennials (born 1980 – 1995) and their younger brothers and sisters Generation Z (born 1995 – 2012). Taking the Millennials first, why are these young people so important? Firstly, because by 2017 Millennials will have more buying power than any other generation. Secondly because by 2025 they will represent 75% of the workforce. These young people, currently aged between 21 and 36, are changing from those who are starting out to the ones who call the shots. And as many of you will know their behaviour and values are very different to previous generations.

So, what do we know about Millennials?
- Many rent their homes or live with their parents.
- They are used to sharing and, for them, ownership is an increasingly outmoded concept
- Community is important
- Ethics influence 70% of their decisions
- They are true digital natives
- And importantly for our community they will choose an experience over ownership of something in 78% of instances.

Generation Z, the younger ones, have a 4 second attention span.
- 60% of them want to change the world
- Their parents tend to think of them as ‘ultra-worthy’
- They expect instant gratification
- They are looking for real people and real messages in advertising

So if these are our customers – where do they spend their ethic-hunting, world-improving, experience-hungry free time?

Next generation destinations
The High Street and shopping centres of old are unlikely to be their chosen stomping ground. That’s where older people, and M&S, hang out. Eating out is huge for these young people, often because they don’t have their own nest to build in. A whole new generation of destinations is emerging to cater for them, eating, chatting, meeting up with live music, exhibitions, workshops, you name it.

Time Out Market, Lisbon

Still mostly confined to the larger cites these developments are starting to appear across Europe: in London, Berlin, Milan, Exeter, Cardiff and elsewhere.

Mercato Metropolinato, London

Dinerama, London

Dinerama some of us visited last year as part of one of our ‘On Tour’ safaris.

Expect to see many more of these in the coming months – hip, ethical, fast to build and easy to finance. This is all part of the maturing face of street food.

Technology changes everything
What else defines the strange and unfamiliar world these young people will live in. Forget talk of bricks, clicks, multi-channel, omni-channel. We’re past all of that. We find the object we want, in the colour we love, with details that nobody else has, and we’ll pit the high street against the web in our search for the best deal. Brand loyalty is a rare commodity – unless you truly add value.

Whilst shopping has become something many of us now mostly do from home, in bed even, the store owners are introducing swathes of smart technology to help drive footfall back into their shops. Let’s take a look at some of these increasingly common technologies:

Firstly there’s The Internet of Things. This is the technology which means that everything speaks to everything. Your fridge knows when it’s out of milk and orders it for you.

It‘s why M&S have introduced an e-boutique in Amsterdam which will model you, digitally, on-screen in the clothes you have hung on its virtual rail.

M&S e-boutique, Amsterdam

And Barney’s new store in New York sends promotions to you directly in store via i-beacons using your smartphone – based upon the objects you have been viewing at home – online.

Barney’s, New York

It’s also why Singapore is the first city in the world to run a fleet of driverless taxi.

Driverless taxi, Singapore

Artificial Intelligence is also coming out of the shadows. Uniqlo in Australia has introduced a bespoke t-shirt making service which uses behavioural tracking and observation to design a shirt for you that matches your mood – right now.

Uniqlo, Sydney

Google is developing an app which photographs your food, identifies the ingredients and portion size and comes up with the calorie count.

Prototype 2 app from Google

Augmented reality is also moving into the mainstream. Some of you may recall earlier smart mirrors which could tell you if ‘your bum looks big in this’. This has now moved to new levels with Neiman Marcus introducing the Memory Mirror that recognises the customer, what they were trying on last time, makes suggestions for new outfits and can show it on you in different colours.

Neiman Marcus smart mirror

Smart payments are becoming the industry standard with contactless cards, Apple Pay and others. This is a technology that we are adopting with enormous enthusiasm and to the expense of those, like Sainsbury’s, who missed the boat. Amazingly, from the first of January, every taxi in London will be required to provide cashless payment.

Waitrose cashless store, West London

I was struck during the RCA’s excellent visit to Twickenham Stadium earlier this year of the benefits to both customer and operator of contactless payment. In short, the average chip and pin payment takes 20 seconds, cash 15 seconds and contactless 5 seconds. We all win.

Mobile merchandise sales, RFU Twickenham

Drones flying all around us. Once the stuff of Science fiction – now moving from military to mainstream we are promised drone deliveries arriving in 2017. But how will they deliver to flats?

Domino’s Pizza, New Zealand

Robots, also the stuff of Science Fiction, are now helping with enquiries at airports, railways stations and hotels. To help with our resistance to speaking to robots (which clearly makes us look completely mad) many of them are being dressed up in unusual costumes – like this dinosaur running reception in this hotel in Tokyo.

Virtual Reality is appearing in shops and shopping centres all over the world. This now mature and reliable technology is helping to sell everything from holidays to football boots as the VR content brings a more wonderful world to life in the comfort of our local mall or living room.

Mercedes Benz Virtual Showroom, Tokyo

3D Printing has also come of age, you can have bespoke spectacles and sunglasses printed to fit your head, or ear phones to match your unique and delicate ear. 3d Printing has also moved into high end cuisine where the art of the object is becoming as critical as the flavour.

3d Printing Cocktail Bar

Don’t get left behind
We need to realise how quickly these technologies are migrating from the surreal to the everyday. The concept of a driverless car was until recently considered dangerous and certainly foolish. But for the new customers who are the focus of this blog the idea of car ownership is becoming more surreal than that of a driverless car or a minicab ordered on their smartphone, and shared along the way to save a few pounds. Very soon it is we who will appear out of date.

Part 2 of this blog follows shortly.

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RCA On Tour Bars:Live

The world of bars and drinking venues is in a constant state of flux. But with nearly 60 racecourses and heaven knows how many bars amongst us we felt it was time for the RCA On Tour team to knuckle down and go on a bar crawl.

A gallant group of researchers from racecourses including York, Goodwood, Ascot and others set off, suitably after the yard arm, to work through an itinerary covering everything from the branded group to the most bleeding-edge independent.

Round 1. The Folly, from Drake & Morgan

Drake & Morgan really are the masterclass in the large format combined eating and drinking venues which have popped up, masquerading as independents, across London. Set over two floors in the City of London The Folly seats 300 in an environment which suggest that drinking without eating is ‘so very last year’.

A high percentage of the customers are women, with an interior carefully crafted and dressed to encourage relaxed conversation over a ‘cheeky glass of Prosecco’.

We may be indooors but ‘would you like a snuggle blanket – or perhaps a hot water bottle’?

Fresh mint on the bar.

It’s clear that the stylists have been busy in here and they know who they want to talk to.

For group bookings only sharing platters, pre-booked, are available, together with pre-bought wine and prosecco.

Check out the delightful ‘reserved’ glasses display and giant ice bucket. Shame it’s only 12.30.

Only let down by the bland, cheap tasting sharing platters which, all agreed, didn’t cut the mustard. Perhaps the bankers don’t care.

Another round?

From the big chain to the biggest street food cluster you may have ever seen. To edgy Shoreditch and to the most fun we’ve had in street food and cocktails for years.

Seemingly haphazzard but doubtless carefully curated, this two story street food fantasy is clipped together from scaffolding poles and neon. But the overall effect is brilliant.

Dedicated chefs delivering the latest food crazes in the simplest of serveries, menus with only one or two items – ‘You must try our legendary…’

With steel drums for tables, AstroTurf for grass and with totally ‘a la mode’ giant sharing tables this is truly a hard place to draw yourself away from.

Onward and upwards..

Pizza Round?

Just across the way from Dinerama is The Tea Building, a Shoreditch behemoth, housing the achingly fashionable Pizza East. It may be only a pizza joint but when it’s next door to ultra-hip Shoreditch House hotel we know to expect more.

Being a group we were ushered into ‘The Pantry’ a space like a kitchen discovered in some rambling French château.

With bottles and aged zinc beer taps set into the communal table, there’s no bar of course, and with baskets of fruit and cheese you virtually help yourself to drinks and snacks.

Deliciously named cocktails

Select hams, what’s not to love?

Resisting the temptation, yet again, to settle in we moved on. Up the Bethnal Green Road to a ‘rediscovered’ traditional London pub.

Round 4.

The old ‘Well & Bucket’ is a traditional Truman’s pub, just down the road from the famed Truman Brewery on Brick Lane.

All the elements of the old London pub and Oyster House appear to be intact. But on closer examination you find that this pub reflects the largest social change recorded in London in the last 80 years. Gone are the Pearly Kings and Queens, gone the rhyming slang. In its place we have the Hoxton Hipsters with the trimmed beards and a flat white in hand.

No longer operated by Truman’s this sheeshy independent delivers only craft beers and rare-breed gins to a more prosperous audience accompanied by a reassuringly expensive menu including oysters and lobster and salads of kale and walnut. Yes indeed!

Mines a Fin de Claire..

Sliders are still in fashion, now enhanced with delicious and unusual ingredients accompanied by that timeless classic Heinz Tomato Ketchup.

It’s around this time that we lost some of our team

Round and round…

Perhaps the coolest, and most popular places in London just now are the ones you can’t get into. These are the new generation Speakeasies of which The Mayor of Scaredycat Town (yes that’s a real name) is one of the best. On the ground floor these innocuous eateries hide a dark secret. For each has a large fridge, and through the fridge (yes you walk in through it) is a private passage to a basement speakeasy. Of course we no longer have prohibition – now we just have marketing and social media. It’s just as effective.

Strangely only two of our group, both younger and more female than the others, managed to make their way in, using the secret password. Yes it’s a secret and we’re not telling.

Round about 6

Strolling on we arrive at Mission, one of East London’s most celebrated new world wine bars.

Well this may be famous but it really didn’t do it for me. Obsequious staff, one ‘that’ll be cool Guys’ too many for me and an interior which I cannot remember. Most memorable of all was being offered a chilled bottle of orange wine, perhaps it was getting late. Duly tried and rejected by our discerning team we drank up (waste not want not!) and shuffled along.

Rounding off

That Paul Swain, who is from Hull and knows his pies, is a bit of a fan of our last haunt, Hawksmoor. This highly regarded temple to beef is known for its excellent and full priced steak. What fewer people seem to know is that they also run a mean cocktail bar in Spitalfields.

Members of the team drinking responsibly

Off we go downstairs and are ushered into a deep booth seating ten. It’s been a long day but the team push on. All I have to say about this last venue is pure quality. Excellent at-table service, beautiful cocktails, well chilled beers, thrice fried chips in Lime Pickle Mayo, try that one at home, and the very best XO Chicken Wings.

Round and round

After 8 hours of eating and drinking the grown ups in the group crawled off, team Goodwood were off to a party and the younger members went in search of another speakeasy. For those of you who couldn’t make it we’ll try and update this next year – so get your drinking boots on and we’ll see you there.

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Qatar Goodwood Festival

Welcome back to the RCA’s very own On Tour blog.

Having spent the last few blogs touring the best of our competitors in the sports and leisure sector we thought it was time to bring the focus back to some of the best of our racecourses. It’s easy to overlook the work being done to improve the guest experience within racing, but it is certainly not underestimated judging by the quality of the Showcase Awards entries and the new ideas roundtable discussions at each Raceday Experience Group meeting.

So we’ve cooked up our new ‘Picto-blog’. Heavy on the pictures, light on copy. A quick wiz through the delights of Glorious Goodwood as seen on a wonderful July afternoon on the Sussex Downs.

Arriving at Goodwood to the sight of these giant silken banners, blending both Goodwood and Qatari colours and branding.

And if you are lucky enough to be an owner at Goodwood, your car parking pass is emblazoned with your own silks. Perfect.

Teams of greeters both inside and outside the main entrances set the tone for an altogether elevated day out at the races.

Once inside the young ladies in Qatari national dress welcome guests to the Qatar Goodwood Festival. With fresh carnations offered as buttonholes.

Adjacent to the entry is this sculptural carnation-encrusted Qatari pavilion. Bold, stylish, fragrant and of interest to many – a fascinating confluence of cultures.

The flag theme continues – the flamboyance setting the tone for a day above the norm.

Meeters and greeters are out in force answering questions and guiding lost souls.



To the parade ring – resplendent in the summer sun. Take a closer look to see how subtle the Qatari Goodwood Festival branding is in these iconic areas.

Moving trackside the spectacle goes on – mixing old and new. From brass band…

…to free WiFi which actually works – almost.

And one of the prettiest Winning Posts in the country. Confident and stylish.

Moving on to lunch, and the secret garden. This superb singing group were one of many lifting the mood.



Whilst the attention to detail in the theming was on point in the secret garden both inside and outside.



Whilst further afield the everchanging Tanqueray / Gordons / now Nyetimber Bar has had its third makeover in three years. Celebrating this ‘Best of British’ young brand alongside those more established French Champagne houses.



And making sure no one is left behind, superb traditional music in the Far End Bar in the Lennox Enclosure.



And in the newly fashionable world of gin and mixologists, this new entry from Hendricks.

Timely perhaps but is this really the most opportune tribute to the great man – O’Sullevan’s. Was he indeed partial to a spot of sausage roll?



And lastly, following the emerging trend showing how racing’s more prosperous customers are lapping up better quality food and drink when they are offered it – the biggest queue of the day was at Prime Steak and Chicken with its handheld steak and chips at £13.50 and fried baby calamari (yes the ones with the little legs) leaving Goodwood’s own very creditable burger stall longing for custom at £6.80 for a 6 oz burger made with local meat…



And to top it all off that great Goodwood icon, strawberries and cream, which just gets higher and higher…

So there we are. There were no big showstoppers at this year’s festival, more an abundance of simple ideas executed beautifully. Despite the naysayers the Qatari involvement was delivered in ‘the best possible taste’. Customers were clearly having a wonderful time and many had dressed to the nines. The result of all of this attention to detail is an atmosphere which can truly be described as Glorious.

Congratulations to all concerned on a truly wonderful afternoon.

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Food:Live – RCA On Tour Casual Dining Trends

Another trip and another hard day for the On Tour team. This time the crew were on board for Food:Live, a one day culinary ‘exploratorium’ of London’s latest food and drink offerings.

A study tour takes serious planning. An extensive list of possibilities was edited with some difficult days of testing and selection. Our team would be snaking their way from the BHA offices on High Holborn through tourist-friendly Covent Garden and into vibrant Soho.

The day was designed to focus on three trends: smaller plates, simpler menus and beautiful presentation. These are the themes today’s that both restaurants and customers love. The results, as seen in the busy places visited, speak for themselves.

The Hoxton, Holborn

Our day started at the achingly cool hotel, The Hoxton, Holborn, where three of our first stops were located. The Holborn Grind, a bare-walled all-day/late-night espresso and cocktail bar sneakily attached to the hotel.

Bare walls à la Brooklyn

Perhaps too much coffee?

Then Hubbard & Bell, the hotel’s restaurant and a cool place to hangout, whether you’re a guest or not.

Hubbard & Bell - cool and refreshing

The third stop was Chicken Shop, closed, but it didn’t matter; all we needed to see was the menu on the window. Chicken: whole, half or quarter. The Soho House Group is on to a winner with what is essentially posh Nando’s.

Whole, half or quarter?

Take-out: These wholly ‘owned’ sub-brands are all positioned as independents. The days of the ‘Hotel Restaurant’ are long gone.

To Covent Garden

A short walk to Covent Garden for our next two targets, Kastner & Ovens behind The Royal Opera House and Peyton and Byrne, from Oliver Peyton. It’s presentation, presentation, presentation! These little shops are a masterclass in how to sell a quick lunch. Sandwiches, salads and cakes that go by the maxim ‘when they’re gone, they’re gone’ and trust us they do go. Both shops, especially Kastner & Ovens, have an almost cult-like status with those of us who often eat ‘al-desko’.


Everything fresh, home-made and selling out daily

Pile it high, fresh, colourful with simple handwritten signage


You'll find all sorts in Peyton and Byrne

Big bowls to fill big and expensive lunch boxes

Take-out: Think big bowls, wooden spoons, pile it high and sell it not so cheap! Everything fresh, homemade and selling out daily.

New entry: Shake Shack

Over to Covent Garden Market to that most American of American imports, Shake Shack. These guys do shakes, burgers and hotdogs, and considering they are on probably the busiest site in terms of customer footfall, they do it well. Herding you through a strangely efficient queueing system and out with your food (or bleeper) in next to no time.

Simple menu, simple product - a huge hit

Which week will you be coming back for your shake fix?

Brilliant and consistent signage inside and out

Take-out: Queues annoy people, manage a crowd well to keep them coming back.

Battersea Pie Station

Shake Shack’s simple menu and great location are eclipsed, in our eyes, by a hidden gem nestled downstairs on the lower ground floor. Battersea Pie Station was a runaway success for the On Tour team; with honest, simple pies served with mash and gravy. Easy as pie – easily adoptable raceday fayre. With a simple menu and clever presentation in little brown boxes, Battersea Pie Station is definitely worth a detour.


Tasty, simple, honest presentation...

...and good to eat too


How simple can it get?


The kale has made it to the Covent Garden basement...

Everything any punter needs to mop up an afternoon of indulgence


The pie takes centre stage and so it should

Take-out: Simple menus, honest pricing and efficient ordering keep customers happy.

Timberyard and The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Off for a quick caffeine fix at two of London’s coolest coffee shops. The coffee-shop-come-workspace that is Timberyard might just be a little bit too cool for its own good. The brilliant idea of bookable workspaces and meeting tables is spoiled by the slow service – cronuts (donut meets croissant), however, remedied any frustration. For presentation, The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is the real showstopper. Sandwiches wrapped in brown paper, cakes and treats piled high on the open counter look fantastic. The ‘curated’ coffee selection is impressive and reassuringly stylish.


Sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper blankets, piled high, sold not so cheap

One of the meeting rooms - Timberyards USP, not a PC in sight


Stylish presentation at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs


Handwritten point of sale, in eye-line

Pile 'em high, sell 'em fast


Take-out: For a concept to work it has to work well all the time. Long queues bring this otherwise brilliant concept down. Even small mistakes are unforgivable.

Ape & Bird

On to Polpo’s (founders of Spuntino, Polpo and Polpetto) latest incarnation, gastropub Ape & Bird, for our first, soft, drink of the day. Russell Norman has succeeded again with impeccable small plates of cichèti and a refreshing Cynar Spritz. Remember: these small plates are easy to produce, reassuringly expensive and easily make an otherwise dull plate look elegant.


The easily reproduced ’Cicheti’

Potato and parmesan crocchette


£ signs on your menu are so last year

Easy to eat, easy on the eye


Free drinking water is now de rigueur

Take-out: The Polpo formula in all of its incarnations never fails.

Burger & Lobster

Lunch was at the temple of the small menu, Burger & Lobster. They don’t actually have a menu just a friendly waiter who announces your options – Burger or Lobster (whole-grilled or in a roll). Big items, small menu, friendly staff, fast service, fair pricing. The formula is a smash and has, for good reason, been reproduced successfully across the board, think Chicken Shop, Duck & Waffle and Tramshed.

£20 lobster. £20 burger. And that's it!


Unpretentious packaging and less washing-up

Keep it real folks


Note the popularity of the short menu with overseas visitors. Burger & Lobster is a favourite with London’s Chinese tourists

Take-out: Too much choice is often a bad thing.

Muriel’s Kitchen

On to Muriel’s Kitchen, with its country chic interior. Good coffee, good food, pretty interiors, a formula that can be easily repeated at venues across the land. Big menu, big portions and all the favourites, Muriel’s doesn’t try too hard, delivers on its promises – and look at that carrot cake (£5 a slice).


A massive slice and two forks for a massive £5!

Clubroom meets country retreat


Little treats

Are you getting hungry yet?

Take-out: You don’t have to try too hard to fulfil the most basic of cravings.

Bunny Chow

On to Bunny Chow, a truly one-trick pony but a clever trick nonetheless. Take a loaf of bread, hollow out the middle and fill with anything from a Full English to a spicy vegetarian curry. Like a lot of London’s recent restaurant openings, they began life as street food vendors and have only slightly elaborated on their single choice offering. People love this because they can talk about it, in the same way they can talk about wood fired pizza from the back of a van (Pizza Pilgrims) and Taiwanese pork buns (Bao).

One trick pony!

Hand drawn menus on brown paper


Good to know!

Our sentiment exactly when we first walked through the door


Take-out: Simple, fun, tasty, handheld and a talking point.

Death by chocolate: SAID Dal 1923

Next stop, SAID Dal 1923 and Pure. SAID Dal 1923 is a Rome-based chocolatier which specialises in ‘blow your socks off’ presentation; with chocolate bars, chocolate cake, liquid chocolate and hot chocolate on a big antique wooden counter all there for you to salivate over.


The ubiquitous glass jar school of presentation

SAID Dal 1923: Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate


London’s new opening is only SAID Dal’s second store, after 92 years


Feast the eyes, feed the words, smell the taste...

Three tiers of those beautiful macarons


Take-out: There are a hundred different ways to make an otherwise run of the mill product stand out.

Pure, Made For You

On to Pure at the other end of the spectrum, no chocolate and more leaves than a rabbit could eat but boy they are fast. A fast food style counter with a healthy twist. These guys get you in and out fast and I mean McDonald’s fast.

Like McDonald’s but healthy

Take-out: There is no harm in using a proven method on a new concept.

Señor Ceviche

Our penultimate stop was Señor Ceviche in the beautiful Kingly Court; tucked away behind Carnaby Street. Kingly Court is a food destination in itself but Señor Ceviche is the up and coming star of the show. Mixing Peruvian style barbecue and ceviche and some seriously impressive Pisco Sours, this colourful establishment ticks all of the boxes – presents itself well, has a simple menu and serves small sharing plates. Even through the Pisco-haze there was a lot to learn.

Kingly Court - the resting place of some of London's coolest bars and eateries


Totally over the top...

...5 alarm interior with show kitchen


The On Tour team working hard with some some Peruvian cocktails

Big and bold, a theme repeated throughout this brilliant concept

Take-out: If you are going to go international, embrace it completely.

Morada, a feast for the eyes

Last stop was Morada, Brindisa Asador. This new Asador (bbq restaurant) from tapas kings, Brindisa, was the most elegant stop on the tour. Simple and delicious tapas and grilled meats served by knowledgable staff surrounding a fantastic open kitchen. Presentation at its best, a simple menu of small delicious plates, there was no better way to finish off the day. The Spanish have always been the experts on casual dining – tapas, enough said.

The Spanish do it best

Champagne anyone? The art of suggestion is alive and well

Take-out: Tapas are the original small plate wonder. How can you adapt and adopt this to your venues?

With 17 venues visited, the day was long but enjoyable and the conversation expansive. There were some great learning points to be taken back to racecourses, either as reassurance of what we’re doing right or as inspiration for new offerings.

Our most important thing to take-out, however, is the reminder to keep a constant eye out for what’s going on because as we have said before – if you aren’t looking you can’t be learning.

Next, the On Tour Team do London’s best bars…

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On Tour London Safari

Once again the ‘On Tour’ team have been out to exploring the innovations some of you are too busy to see for yourselves. Late summer saw a special ‘On Tour Safari’ to London’s West End with representatives of the RCA and Ascot Racecourse in tow to explore all that’s new in the world of shopping, entertainment and eating.

These tours are the result of many hours of research and planning. London is, after all, a very big city and our criteria are to identify those innovations which point the way for the macro consumer trends of the future. In other words if it’s happening here now – it will become mainstream within the next two or three years.
So let’s begin.

First off the team descended on that mothership of retail showmanship – Selfridges. This is the department store with a permanent Creative Director on the team – putting on a show should be part of their DNA.


First stop Pimp My Magnum, or correctly known as the Make My Magnum concept store. Located in that temple of bling, The Wonder Room (watches and jewellery with truly wondrous prices) on Selfridges ground floor, this hugely popular pop-up celebrates twenty-five years of the Magnum Ice Cream. For only £4 you get to join the queue and have your dream Magnum personalised in your own mix of chocolate, sequins and treats of every kind.

Just £4 to create your personalised Magnum.

A wondrous selection of coatings and accessories.

And in case anybody asks there is no truth in the rumour that Caroline Davies thought this was going to be a Champagne Bar.
Selfridges is, of course, much more than a one trick wonder. Moving through the food hall we discover a breathtaking display of craft-made and beautiful delicacies. From BOBO Macarons personalised macaroons to the ultimate edible gift with your own Instagram photos printed on Boomf marshmallows…

BOBO printed macaroons. The delights of edible ink.

Boomf marshmallows, printed on the spot with your own Instagram pictures.

Also a “Build your own Ice cream Sundae Bar” and Food Village where the guest brands take a back seat by switching off their brand colours to keep the look together.

Look at the lovely display of edible treats to bring your sundae to life.

Of course the real money is in clothing and branded merchandise. The idea is that a fun food and drink stop will help you to get over the guilt of the last hour’s spending and set you up for another one or two. Welcome then to the Denim Studio. This epicentre of all things denim has at its heart, in addition to the Denim Tailor, personal consultations and the largest range of denim products in London, an interactive table (you can also see one of these in Newmarket’s Frankel Lounge) allowing customers to explore their denim preferences on screen before going to fight it out in the dressing room.

Giant touchscreen allows you to explore your preferred look, to suit your body shape.

If you like that look, you'll like these jeans...

Ok that’s enough praise for Selfridges. Let’s take a stroll across Oxford Street toward Marble Arch Urban Outfitters, the most sophisticated of all the street-cool brands.

Urban Outfitters

Now Urban Outfitters isn’t new, I first visited one in Santa Monica Boulevard nearly twenty years ago (it was certainly cool then) but it has built-up its reputation as a style centre and London’s Oxford Street store does not disappoint. First of all because they build all of the display fittings in a carpentry shop on site. In full view of the customers. Very sustainable.

In-store carpentry shop at Urban Outfitters.

Secondly because they have chosen to use up valuable floor space to make room for a pop-up independent coffee shop and record store (yes that’s vinyl). Vinyl & Beans serves über-cool Black Sheep Coffee, under the tagline ‘leave the herd behind’ in its pop-up garden shed conversion. Nice.

Vinyl & Beans independent coffee shop in Urban Outfitters.

Now onto brand temple central, Regent Street and into the all new Levi’s Tailor Shop.

Levi’s Tailor Shop

When personalisation goes mass market.

One of only five such stores in the world Levi’s Tailor shops are home to Levi’s team of Levi’s makers who will repair or customise your new or used Levi’s product in store.

Mass individualisation has arrived.

The in-store tailor at Levi's on Regent Street.

Rapha Cycle Club London

The hunt for the ‘coolest’ store in town is an elusive one and this tour wasn’t venturing far East (that’s Hoxton to you and me) so we headed down towards Soho to the iconic Rapha Cycle Club.
This ultra-cool British cycling brand has built a global cult following positioning itself as the ultimate provider of cycle equipment – better read it in their own words…
‘A passion for road racing means Rapha is more than just a product company. It is an online emporium of performance roadwear, accessories, publications and events, all celebrating the glory and suffering of road riding.’
In Soho Rapha have opened more of a community, a club, than a store. With merchandise, a café, consultation and the ability to meet and hang out with other people who share Rapha’s call to action: ‘Kings of Pain’.
The brand temple word here is a good fit – because if you are not, fit that is, then this place will make you feel like an outsider. A wonderful blurring of the lines between product display, brand experience, storytelling, meeting place and café. A true sense of the thrill of road racing.

In-house café at Rapha Cycle Club, Soho.

Multimedia screens tell the back story to the merchandise.

And what Rapha and the next store both illustrate is that the divide between shopping and eating or drinking is becoming an irrelevance. Customers are choosing the brands they want to spend their time with. Either shopping, hanging out with friends or alone with their ubiquitous iPad.
The next example, Jigsaw’s new Duke Street Emporium, is just such a place.

Duke Street Emporium

Here Jigsaw’s usual good taste reaches a new level. In addition it is the coolest of coffee outlets, this time courtesy of Fernandez & Wells, whose use of English in their website is to die for.
Just take a look at the product display, the reassuring Boho Chic and the omnipresent jugs of water and Duralex glasses. Tasty too.

Fernandez & Wells at Jigsaw's Duke Street Emporium.

Personalise your music choice to suit your mood.

All that food chat has given me an appetite.

Spuntino & Barrafina

So let’s get over to Soho and to one of our perennial favourites – Spuntino. Love child of the highly regarded Polpo group. With seating for 20, the shortest menu, free popcorn when you sit down and the best sliders in London (those mini bite size burgers). Of course this is not a restaurant review – although I would welcome the opportunity, but it’s the authenticity of the thing that seals it. Simple food, served with style, authentic service and no service charge.

Spuntino, the birthplace of the stripped back look and the re-birth of mac 'n' cheese.

A sharing platter of sliders, delicious.

Every item of the place settings is chosen with the utmost care.

Getting a taste for our food now we speed off to Barrafina. One of Soho’s less well-kept secrets – a counter service tapas bar with no reservations. Arriving in good time, and after the shortest of queues, we are offered seats for one of the fastest served and best tapas experiences of my life. Validation of Barrafina’s extraordinary quality was achieved only last month when it was awarded a Michelin Star, the first time this has been given to a walk-up eatery. Richly deserved – but also a clear indication of the changing tastes of the capital’s diners. Also of note is the removal of Michelin stars from some of London’s most established, some would say stuffy, some would say overpriced eateries, including Nobu. Be careful racing – this trend is coming your way too!

Michelin-starred tapas at Barrafina.


Before we finish let’s take a few minutes to burn off those calories with a quick visit to Nike Lab over in Shoreditch. I told you we couldn’t end it without a trip out East. This intriguing brand land is located down an industrial street in East London and is one residue of London 2012’s community sports initiatives. More sports Exploratorium than retail outlet this unique environment presents events, a meeting place for athletes and tests pioneering products amongst aficionados before being launched to a wider mass market. Look out for the indoor and outdoor ‘bleacher seating’ style seminar spaces, the authentic materials and the fittings made from über-sustainable cardboard.

Communal bleacher seating at Shoreditch's Nike Lab.

Lecture theatre, gym or shop?

Recyclable cardboard product display.

By way of conclusion – study trip days may look like a jolly jape but the reality is that for those of you in the food service, entertainment and retail businesses (when you are not busy running a racecourse) the discipline of continuously looking outside your sector for inspiration is both good business and great fun. It is a brilliant way to keep your team excited, to keep the creative juices going and to create opportunities to surprise and delight your customers. And if you and your team have time for a day out in London we’d be delighted to suggest an itinerary for the most informative team building study trip you can imagine.

And remember, the only thing in life that is certain – is change!

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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 http://pohtpof.tumblr.com/ 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...

...to 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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