Monday, 21 February 2011

Eating out in Dubai: Is the attitude worth it?

Anyone who's been in Dubai for a number of years has seen it.  The number of places to eat out has mushroomed (no pun intended).  There is more choice.  There are more cuisines.  There are more locations.  They've generally all become a lot more expensive.  There is a lot more attitude.

The last point is one that always rattles me up the most.  I don't mind paying more if I get my money's worth but don't charge a premium and make it seem like you're doing me a favour.  A lot of the "hot" spots to eat in Dubai (again, no pun intended), really end either giving you close to no service or make you feel unwelcome, that you have to think why do you spend this money on them?

More and more, I've found myself going back to the older, trusted establishments in Dubai.  They still know you.  They've in many cases maintained the quality of their offering.  They're more expensive than they once were but you know what you can expect in terms of food, ambience and service.  They're more flexible to listen to you.  They make you feel welcome.  They will be in business years after those restaurants with attitude shut down.

One recent example was at Vintage in Wafi City.  Like most of the restaurants in the Wafi Pyramids, Vintage has been around for a while and even though it's not the busiest place in town, they've managed to maintain their quality and their professionalism.  On a recent visit there, my wife and I had ordered a fondue which took its own sweet time to make its way to our table.  When we did get it, I dug in straight away, however, my wife felt it didn't taste the same.  A few minutes later, the manager came over, asked us how things were and then apologized immediately.  I wasn't at first sure what he was apologizing for but he said he'd been told by our server that our fondue had taken a lot longer to be delivered to us than it usually does and the reason was the the chef didn't have right ingredients that day.  He had compromised and made sure he got us a fondue but wasn't fully satisfied with it (though I had no complaints with it).  As a result, our fondue was on the house.

While the taste may not have been the same, the fact is, I still found it pretty good and enjoyed it nonetheless.  We made sure there wasn't a trace of it left (despite the fact that she found it tasted different), but it just goes to show, that despite the fact that we wouldn't have complained and were overall satisfied with our experience at Vintage, the restaurant wasn't and didn't felt it was right to charge us for something they didn't think was right.

It's not often you see this or hear of this.  Where will you find your experiences normally at their best is still in the same tried and tested establishments.

I do hope certain over-priced Asian-food restaurants in fancy surroundings in a local financial centre understand this as do the many new restaurants that have opened and still feel they're doing me a favour by feeding me.  I do have a choice and I can choose to eat elsewhere.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Would Egypt's People Power Revolution have succeed in the Bush Era?

I don't often get political in public but with the events of the last week in Egypt, most of the world was probably stunned to see how people power caused a revolution in Egypt.  While the actions of the protestors were largely peaceful and restrained (considering how it could've escalated and become much more gruesome), it left me wondering, at another time, with another leader in command of the United States, would things have been different?

I don't know if the reason we didn't see a reaction from Barack Obama was because he was indecisive or whether he really wanted people power to sort itself out, but with his predecesor, George W. Bush, things may have taken a very different turn.

  • Would Bush have sent in the troops?  
  • Would he be talking of "liberating" the Egyptian people?  
  • Would he have gone to war against 80 million people?  
  • Would he cause more ripples in the Arab world than there already is?  
  • Would he have used it as an excuse to go after Libya, Syria, Sudan, Yemen or Iran?

The honest answer is I don't know.

The only thing I do know though is that I'm more comfortable in knowing he wasn't in The White House when these events unfolded because it's too scary to think what if...

Pictures courtesy

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Has Quora lost it's stickiness factor?

January 2011.

It was the start of a new year and in a way I was glad December 2010 was over, not because of anything else but the fact that for the entire month of December, everywhere you turned, you kept hearing about "The Best of 2010" or "It happened in 2010."

For those with short attention spans, reminding them what happened in 2010 may be important but I just somehow saw a little too much of it this year so when 2011 rolled around, I was eager to see what the year will bring.

One of the first things everyone on the social media networks was talking about in the first week of January was Quora.  Quora for those who aren't aware of what it is, is basically a question and answer site but what made it even more intriguing was the fact that you could join Quora by "invitation only."  (Click here to learn more about Quora).

Before you knew it, in the first two weeks of January, everyone was talking about Quora.  I was reading people's questions and answers on Quora, but alas, I couldn't join Quora because I wasn't "invited."  Even my friend David George-Cosh from The National, started using answers from Quora in his stories.

I felt like I was standing outside a popular nightclub in Dubai without any wasta or connections.  You wait behind the velvet rope while the bouncer tells you the club is full and a minute later, you see him lift that same velvet rope and in goes someone who's obviously got enough influence to get his way in.  All of a sudden, Quora was the place to be and if you weren't on Quora, you weren't "in."

Not knowing what to do and too embarassed to admit I hadn't been invited by anyone, I turned to a fellow social networker and sent her a DM (Direct Message) on Twitter to see if she could invite me.  It was just my luck, that even with her brilliant connections, she wasn't on Quora yet.  However, being as resourceful as she was, she shamelessly asked on Twitter for someone to invite her, bagged an invite for herself and then went on to invite me.

Finally I was on Quora!

Initially I loved Quora.  It seemed to be full of intellectuals and I was reading up on many great questions, answering questions and in all honestly seeing this as the way forward in educating myself.  I would logon to Quora without fail a few times a day and struggled to keep up with all the topics on Quora as I kept realizing there was no end to what you could learn or contribute on Quora.

Then I started to see the pool dry up.  The same questions appeared, some of the intellect seemed to disappear and as I started going days without finding a decent question to answer, I found myself answering questions that were honestly downright silly.

Then it dawned me earlier this week when I saw a question on Quora that asked "Are you using Quora as much as you did in January 2011?"  I looked at it and reflected, before answering.  Was the honeymoon with Quora over?  Was this the nightclub that suddenly lost its charm?  Had the in-crowd moved somewhere else?  Despite the appearance of a chunky bouncer with a velvet rope, was this the nightclub that people went to in the hopes of transacting business (like many of Dubai's shadier establishments)?

I still make it to a point to log onto Quora.  I may not have the sense of excitement on there, I've probably lowered my expecations but I do hope it bounces back.  In a world where social media and networks dominate the way we interact with each other, Quora has been a breath of fresh air.  You may hesitate answering random questions on Twitter or Facebook from people you don't know, but somehow on Quora, it seemed a lot more natural.  To see your questions voted up or acknowledged by absolute strangers does give you a sense of satisfaction in knowing you've shared your knowledge and it's been appreciated.

As much as I love the 140 character format of Twitter, the widespread appeal within Facebook or the random thoughts I put more extensively onto the blogs that I manage, Quora is special because it allows you talk about things you wouldn't talk about normally or read about things you wouldn't think of reading.  I know friends or colleagues of mine, who have directly or indirectly benefitted from Quora because I've shared some knowledge I gained on there with them.

As much as the month of February has been a challenge for Quora, I hope it finds it legs and continues to bring us much more in 2011.  

Saturday, 5 February 2011

On come the training wheels

After starting my blog a little over two months ago, I've gone past the stage where I was wondered if I was indeed committed to blogging (My first post was called Yikes! I'm trying to Blog...).  

I can see this blog developing and with so many supportive comments received along the way, it's something I will pursue in the longer term.  Having said that, it is still in its infancy and I'm still learning the ropes hence you'll find a whole host of funny colour combinations and layouts till date.  I can't promise this won't stop, hence I decided to rename the blog "Blogging with Training Wheels" as this is actually how it feels right now.

To those who've given me some constructive feedback over the period, thanks for that.  For those who found the previous colour schemes unreadable, I hope this is better.  For those who don't understand why I blog, please stop reading it, no one's forcing you (sorry to be blunt).  To anyone aspiring to start a blog, go for it!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Qatar - please learn from your mistakes

I was rather amused to see this story on ArabianBusiness today about fans not being able to attend the finals of the Asian Cup football because of a security detail that took place on the day of the final.

Apart from the fact that Qatar is now trying to compensate those locked out of the final by offering them a refund, what really amused me was the fact that this isn't the first time this has happened in Qatar.

In 2006, when Qatar was hosting the Asian Games, I was there and was to attend the final of the ladies tennis event, the football final and the closing ceremony.  All three were at different venues and I was to attend this over a period of two days, with the football and closing ceremony being on the second day.

On the day of the football final, the authorities in Qatar decided to switch venues to a stadium closer to where the closing ceremony would take place because Qatar had qualified for the final of the football (against Iraq) and certain dignitaries wanted to attend both events.

Anyone who's involved even the smallest event knows that you can't change venues at the last minute like this as events like this are planned months, if not years in advance.  In any case, Qatar did what Qatar wants and moved the final to a stadium that had a smaller capacity than the one where the final was to be held.

I was at the Asian Games with a platinum sponsor of the event and they had VIP tickets for the final.  However, much to their embarrassment, we were made to stand outside the stadium for nearly 40 mins until we got in as they didn't know where to seat us or where seats were still available.  It really made you wonder how things could be planned like this for a major event like the Asian Games.

At the very least, I thought this would've been a learning experience for Qatar but five years later, you still see the same issue arise.  There is no way you can end up enjoying a final of a tournament if you've missed a good portion of it or not seen it at all.  A refund may help pocket but it still leaves a very bitter taste in your mouth.

Qatar - please learn from your mistakes as the world will be watching you in 2022 and I don't think they'll be quite as accommodating that time around.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Hints, Tips, Reviews - How will Benihana keep track of them?

With so much being said of the Benihana fiasco in Kuwait this week, one more thought that came to mind yesterday was how do businesses like Benihana start to keep track of what people are writing about them?

In the days of traditional print media, you knew typically which newspapers or magazines had restaurant reviews and you could scan them each day to see what was being said about you (or your competitors!).  As blog sites started appearing, it started becoming a bit more challenging but still to some degree could be managed if you set up Google Alerts to track what was being said on the Web.

Today though, things have moved on.  Some of the most effective referrals or recommendations people rely on are peer-to-peer reviews.  While blogs may have been where we saw peer-to-peer reviews initially pop-up, they've started coming on social networking sites like Facebook in the form of status updates or on Twitter.  More recently location-based Apps like Foursquare, Facebook Places and even our region's own me360 came on the scene where people start leaving tips, tricks, reviews and hints about places visited or frequented.  The idea is that you're more likely to rely on advice given from someone you know than a reviewer who works for a magazine or newspaper (who you've never met and may have their own sets of biases).

Word of mouth has always been effective and now we're spreading this virally through social media networks or location-based Apps.  We've already seen peer-to-peer journalism in action where even big networks like CNN have embraced it with their iReport segments.

In this case then, how do businesses like Benihana start keeping track of what is being said?  I'm sure this is the million-dollar (or KD) question for team at Benihana Kuwait is waiting to answer as they start sniffing out where they can launch their next lawsuit.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Remember your fundamentals & media training skills: The Benihana Debacle

With everything that's gone on with Benihana in Kuwait for the last few days, it brings to light the fact that such situations could be avoided if more executives in this region had some sort of media training or didn't lost sight of some basic business fundamentals in customer care.

While I have no way of knowing the background or experience that the team at Benihana has had, I do know for a fact that many senior executives who are responsible for talking to the press or media in this region have never had any media training.

The lack of any media training means that many companies and their executives are left totally exposed when faced with a crisis.  As we've seen in the last couple of years when the region has been through more downs than ups and the solution most companies resort to at a time of crisis is to stay silent.  While silence is said to be golden, not saying anything during a crisis only makes the situation worse.

What more companies need to realize is that thoughts, emotions and opinions can't be censored or ignored. We need to listen, we need to acknowledge them and we need to discuss.

While I've admittedly not had any formal media training, I've probably over the period learned a lot through experience whether it be dealing with print media, radio, TV and social media.  If given the chance to undergo formal media training, I would do it immediately.  As a person who is responsible to speak to the press, it is vital that you take upon yourself the responsibility of being able to manage your company's image in the press.

The fact that Benihana let their lawyer's speak first only highlights this because once you involve your lawyer, then everything has to be funneled through them.  Lawyers by nature will always be very safe and conservative in terms of what they'll let you do or say (which is what they're paid to do), but lawyers should be brought in if there is no other way to move forward.

While a lot of what is happening in the Benihana case is billed as a social media or blogger community versus big business, it's also about basic fundamentals in customer service, which have not changed in decades.  Social media or blogging is a means of communication but the fact is the fundamentals we work by don't change.  If the same comments were written on the back of a comments card in the restaurant, it would've been read and possibly, Mark, the blogger, would've been contacted or the Chef would've received some stick for under-cooking the chicken in his meal.

The bottomline is, we need to see more executives media trained in this region if we want to see more companies respond proactively and we also need to understand how to adapt social media policies into the fundamentals that a company operates on.  When this starts to happen, I'm pretty sure we'll start to see an improvement of how crisis situations like this are handled.