Category Archives: Travel

Published – My Day With Lanai Golf

I got the ultimate opportunity to golf the Challenge at Manale Bay on Lanai, Hawaii. I’ve also been asked to report my experience for a great travel magazine. My guest post is over at Sharing Travel Experiences — Click to read my amazing amateur golf experience report. Also, here are some great photos from the course.

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Guest Post: Service Standards – An Owner’s Perspective

–Schnik’s Note– I have the pleasure of knowing this business owner and I consider them great friends. Gaining the perspective on Customer Service from the owner’s point of view is something I’ve considered doing but needed the right storyteller. Here’s their story. If you’re ever in Camas, Washington, and soon to be Vancouver, Washington – Check out Twilight Pizza, they really do make you feel at home. (I suggest the T-Rex Pizza!) All added photos and emphasis are mine.

What do we sell at a restaurant? Food is the obvious answer, although I really believe that what we sell is temporary relief from the stresses of reality. In some ways, a restaurant is much like a movie. The goal of a movie is to offer temporary escape from reality. If the movie fails to suspend our disbelief, breaks the veil of unreality, well, then, hopefully that was the intent. But if that wasn’t the intent, and the movie fails to fully envelop us in its world, well, then, the movie’s probably a failure. Or, as my business/life partner husband says, “It’s probably an Adam Sandler movie.” (Forgive me, Adam, I liked most of your earlier work.) But I digress….

If, when you visit our restaurant, we fail to allow you to escape the stresses of life, if we can’t sweep you off of your feet and create a place where you are the center of our universe, if for but a small moment in time, then I feel we have failed in our goal.

We have tried to create this comfortable escape for you in a million tiny ways that, if we’ve done our jobs, you don’t know why you love it here so much or why you feel so comfortable—but you just DO.

Black and White Table Settings

It’s because we chose our chairs carefully so that they’d be comfortable for you, and not the ticking (forgive my phrasing) ass-time-bomb that so many restaurants use, as if they’re trying to make you uncomfortable after 20-30 minutes so that you’ll leave and they can turn the table again. Or maybe the owner(s) didn’t try out the chairs before they purchased them. We DID try out chairs—many, many different chairs before selecting ours. Our chair seats are wide, the backs supportive, and they even have little divots carved for your bum cheeks. Yes, bum divots. (It makes a difference.)

It’s because we researched colors, because we wanted the atmosphere to be warm and inviting so that you felt immediately at home. I’ve never been fond of the IKEA school of restaurant design. If I feel like I’m in a Mike Myer’s Dieter skit on SNL when I walk into a restaurant, that doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy—and I doubt it makes you feel that way, either. Blue is a bad interior color for restaurants, or really anywhere that you want to feel warm. Yellows can be harsh and overbearing, but if used sparingly and in the right spots, can add warmth. Why do I know this? Because if we wanted our customers to feel warm and at home, we had to learn about color.

It’s because of the hundreds of observations we intentionally made going out to other restaurants, noting the things we liked and didn’t like, the things that made us feel welcome and the things that didn’t, the food that turned us on and the foods that didn’t, and the interactions with restaurant personnel that were great, and the ones that weren’t so great.

I suppose that’s why restaurant ownership is the perfect place for me. I’ve always been a little on the short attention span side, and in owning a restaurant, one must wear many different hats and learn many different things. That suits me.

Glass of water, black and white

I’m not fond of the phrase “customer service.” Only because it has become a trite phrase used to death, but ringing hollow in so many places. It may also be because I think of our “customers” as “guests,” as if they were guests in our home, and I like to think that we make people feel that way as well. But we sometimes fail. Everyone fails from time to time. I have to tell you, though; I truly, genuinely HATE it when we do fail. And I’m not telling you this to gain any sympathy or acknowledgement. I’m telling you this because I sometimes think that people do not understand how truly personal a small business is to the people who own and run it. It is very, very personal.

We picked our staff, not necessarily because they had a great deal of experience in the restaurant industry, but because they were genuine during the interviews, personable, likeable, and showed a keen interest in making others happy. I can train someone to serve a plate of food. I cannot train them to have a sincere like of people or to want to please them and make them happy. That is an innate trait that cannot be trained into someone. This quality, to me, is far more important than a long and impressive resume of previous experience. I believe this assumption has played out in truth in our restaurant. (Although I am thrilled and proud that many of our servers do have a long and impressive resume of work experience in this industry and that they choose to work for us.)

I will admit that our training program is less than formal. It may even border on chaotic and “throw them into the fire” at times, depending on staffing needs. I will cop to this being one of our many shortcomings. We’re a small operation, and as such, long periods of training simply aren’t in the budget. We are working on implementing a more formal, written training program, and I hope that this will lessen our falling short in this area.

However, in our particular field, nothing substitutes for being in the trenches. I’ve learned so very much in our first five years of business that I cannot even believe that we were so naïve as to think we could make it in this industry. We’ve made mistakes. Our employees have made mistakes. And when we’ve recognized our mistakes, we’ve tried to make amends for them. Sometimes we’ve succeeded immensely and have gained a lifelong customer because we went the extra mile to make it right. We give all of our staff the authority to make things right for guests. They don’t have to come and explain the what’s and why’s of a situation. We trust them to know when we owe someone a mea culpa. If we don’t trust someone to know when that call needs to be made, they don’t work for us for very long. And “knowing when” is sometimes a function of being able to read people, to know to ask if they didn’t like their appetizer because they didn’t eat much of it. (And then to have the follow through to take it off of their bill.) To know that if you overhear that someone has had a miserable day that bringing them a dessert on the house could turn their day around. To know that smiling at a child playing sweetly with their mother and getting a big old smile back can also make your day in return.

The bottom line—you MUST like people and want to make them happy to be good at and to give honest customer service.

Lucky Piece Rose, International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon.

But don’t misunderstand me that I expect my staff to like everyone that walks through the door—they don’t. That’s not because they don’t try, believe me. They truly WANT to like everyone who walks through the door. But some people really do make that very difficult.

There’s the guy who wanted to leave his kids with us to eat while he went to the bar down the street to drink. Yes, really.

There’s the couple who have made waiting on them so very painful that when they come in, experienced servers will try to pawn them off on the new guy/gal, which will be a lesson in customer service for that new employee.

There are those people who threaten you with their never coming back because you are not giving them their way, when their way will be unfair or unpleasant to the other guests around them.

I’ll reiterate that it is our job to protect your ability (and our ability) to maintain that oasis free from the stresses that exist in your life outside of this little space that we have spent so much time, research, blood, sweat, and tears (literally) to make it as amazing for you as we possibly can. Sometimes that means pleasing some and angering others. We do our best to please everyone, so long as what they are demanding is reasonable, doable, and we are able to execute it without imposing difficulties upon other guests.

Misbehaving isn’t tolerated well. Remember, you are in “my house” so to speak and I wouldn’t let little Billy trample over my rosebushes at home and I won’t let him trample on other guests’ comfort here. I don’t feel that this is unreasonable, and frankly, neither should you. If you do, you are probably not going to want to be my guest. But if you understand that little Billy’s mom and dad are responsible for his behavior and I ask that he not run in the aisle while 550-degree disks of melted cheese are being shuffled to tables, well, then, you are probably going to like it here. It’s my job, and my staff’s job, to make sure that our guests understand imposing their will on you is not within the spectrum of their authority. You are paying the same money, too, and you deserve a good experience, too…right? Right.

So my staff and I have your back and we’ll continue to try to do right by you each and every day. We’re going to blow it sometimes and I hope you’ll give us a heads up and say, “Yeah…not so great this time.” And we’ll make up for it and do better next time, learning something valuable from you in the process that will allow us to raise our game. And to keep the veil of suspension of the realities of everyday life at bay for an hour or more, so we can make your day better for a just a little while. That’s all. We’re not curing cancer here… we’re slinging a few pies to please our guests. We are more than that, of course. And if we’ve done our job right, we’ve impacted your life in a positive way. And that’s the goal. Every day, every plate.

Moving Poor Customer Service… Out

I recently had an experience that left me so perplexed that I still have no idea how this happens to people or how it isn’t more widely reported…

I helped a friend move from Seattle to Portland. Seems like it should be easy, right? Order one of the many truck services, pick it up in Seattle, pack up the boxes and furniture, and deliver it to Portland, Oregon. Totally Simple, except when it isn’t. About two weeks before the big move, we searched the internet for the various moving truck companies, and hit all the big names of course.

First up… Budget truck rentals – http://www.budgettruck.com/Default.aspx
Since they were one of the lower cost rentals, we decided to check them out, we selected our participating dealer, clicked through the reservation process which was mostly harmless, then hit “Submit Reservation.”

Except, when it isn’t. 5 days before we were to pick up the truck, I get a phone call, “Hello this is we don’t have a truck for you, in fact, we’re overbooked by nearly 15 rentals. You can try to come get a truck but I cannot promise that we’ll have anything on site for you.” (See Above) I asked, “Wait, I have a reservation. I can give you the confirmation number.” — “I know, the system will confirm the reservation, but the local truck store doesn’t have to give you a truck. And we won’t have any…” and went on and on but did not provide any other options, checking with another retailer, nothing. Just – So sorry chuck!

Then I saw this on the reservation confirmation email: (Underlined Emphasis Mine)

Terms and Conditions

A reservation is not a contract. Reservation only guarantees the rate quoted and shows a customer’s preferences for a pickup location, drop-off location, time of rental, date of rental and equipment type.

The pickup location, drop-off location, time of rental and date of rental selected in a reservation is a preference only and if a preference selected is not available, Budget reserves the right to offer a customer alternatives.

All equipment selected in a reservation is subject to availability at time of pickup. If the equipment requested is not available, Budget reserves the right to substitute equipment at no additional charge to the customer.

Sadly, not only did they lose the opportunity to help out a customer, they’ve lost out on any future business. (I’ve moved five times in the last five years. To say that I’m not a frequent customer, would be inaccurate.)

Then, we went with the “old tried and trusted” rental company. U-haul – http://www.uhaul.com/ – not the cheapest, but they’re a national moving company, you see their trucks everywhere, always on the freeway going from here and there, it’s what they do, right? Wrong. They confirmed our reservation, provided a confirmation number and sent the email below:

Note: “Guaranteed Reservation,” it says. *phew* That’s a relief, except when it isn’t. The day of my move – a day before my friend’s move – he gets an email, “We are unable to secure a truck for you at the time you selected. Your only option is to pick up a larger truck” not in Seattle, where we asked, but in Renton, Washington – which is only a mere 16 miles, or at .89 cents per mile: An extra $28.48 tacked onto our rental. Also, since we ALL know how Seattle traffic can be/is, that would have taken another hour or more to travel – oh, by the way: “You cannot pick up the truck until 5 p.m.”

Seriously – Are you kidding me? No “sorry for the inconvenience.” No “we’re really full at the end of the month.” Nothing. Just – Here’s your option, take it or leave it. – Well, needless to say, after exploring our options, we left it.

And by exploring our options, I mean: We looked high and low, everywhere. From Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz… Everywhere. And then we found it. In Portland.

Ryder Truck Rentals – 310 N. Columbia Blvd – Portland, Oregonhttp://reservations.ryder.com/reservation/reservation.aspx – We called and were directed to the local affiliate – I’m really sad I didn’t get her name, she deserves some serious kudos and a wholehearted thank you. She truly was a life saver – who said we could rent the truck, all things included – mileage round-trip, too – for less than the U-Haul would have been. Sold!

How refreshing, she reserved our truck, confirmed our reservation, and when we got there the next morning, had the truck ready for us. This the service we were looking for, nothing special when it comes to expectations from a moving truck company. Just make a promise to your customer and deliver on that promise, and this Ryder truck company did.

Update: I forgot this wonderful tidbit. While the other two truck rental companies required a credit card for their supposed “guarantee,” Ryder just told us to come on down, there would definitely be a truck waiting for us. No worries – and there weren’t. I’m incredibly pleased with their service. A cool thing we noticed on the office wall: “In and Out in twenty minutes or you get a discount.” Quality Customer Service, Great Value, Exceed Expectations. – That’s all we ever ask for from service companies, right?

Now, I know where I will be renting my moving trucks from, they weren’t my first choice, but they will be my forever choice and I hope all my friends give Ryder a call, I know I won’t go to the other places ever again.

11 Favorite Photos of ’11

I try to take pictures of things that are memorable, as you’re aware. But, I’m also a little retentive on how I organize them, too. In my files, I order them by year and by month. So I decided to go back and see what I thought some of my top photos were; either because they were interesting to me or they had special memories. Here they are:

I moved into a new place this year – I really enjoyed the view from the deck.
The sun for the trees with clouds

A cool panoramic view of the Southeast side of Portland, Oregon on a sunny(!!) day. Mount Hood is in the distance.
Portland Oregon Sunshine Mt Hood Marquam Bridge

My friend Cheryl put together a great conference that I was a volunteer at, she was being interviewed by a local news station and I happened to spot this view, through the lens.
Through the Lens

On a recent trip to the beach, my friend and I spotted this abandoned, decrepit boat in a river valley.
Abandoned Boat

I was fortunate to go to a Seattle Mariners game in Safeco Field, the view from my awesome seats really let me catch all the action.
Seattle Mariners Safeco Field

A pretty cool moment to catch. Fourth of July is always fun. Especially when you go to Washington to watch REAL fireworks.
Firework Flame

A group of my friends (The Ruby Council) and I went to Darcelle’s and Co. downtown, Portland. We got a photo with the Grand Dame herself.
Ruby Council and Darcelle

A great photo from another trip to Seattle, as you’ll note, the sun does shine in Seattle. A great view of their skyline.
Seattle Washington Skyline

A trip to Seattle that changed the course of my 2011 for the better. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this captured moment for a couple of reasons. A pretty cool photo, too.
Sunstreaked Pair

I caught this photo on Veteran’s Day. I thought it was incredibly poignant and it was pretty, too.
Solo Flag

Of course, I wasn’t going to end the recap of my year without a Christmas Photo, since I was posting this on Christmas Day.
Christmas Reflection

I’ve been so fortunate this year. I’ve experienced some great moments and some not-so-great moments. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

200 Blog Posts and 13.1 Miles Later

You’re all still with me. Really? I had this idea as I noted that I was getting close to a 200th blog post. Only two or so years into my little home on the web, I realize that I’ve found what I love about doing this; they’re my thoughts, stories, and life, unfiltered. Pen to paper so to speak, and you follow along. Whether it’s out of obligation or because you really enjoy what I have to say, you’re still here. I’m humbled by that. So, thank you and thank you again. Now onto #200!

“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, Not because they never found it, But because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.” William Feather

I have so much to be thankful for this year. Sure, I’ve had my share of setbacks, but I think they’re common in the regular ebb and flow of life.

Exactly one year ago, I was feeling miserable. A year ago, I looked like this:

Muppet Me

I’ve written about this before, my six-day stint in the hospital wasn’t really a pleasant one, it reminded me that maybe I am not as invincible as I thought. Shortly thereafter, I made a promise to myself: A half marathon by year’s end.

So today – as this post hits the ether – I embark on that goal. Today I will be running the “Holiday Half Marathon,” 13.1 miles. Some may think I’m crazy to do so, I was one of them.

Then I started running. My first run, the “Race for the Roses” 5k (3.1 miles,) was the longest run I had done out on the road when I started. It wasn’t too bad, but I wasn’t hooked. I was still somewhat lost. I hadn’t really understood the best way to train.

Then, in August, I really got serious about running. I started to run outside, since it was nice. I started planning routes around my home, enjoying the run. There are hills and I’m crazy, so I recorded video:

And then I noticed that I could run and I was consistent. But I needed goals, so I signed up for the Oktoberfest 10k Road Race (6.2mi):

And then the “Run Like Hell 10k (6.2 Mi)”

And the “Hot Buttered Run 12k (7.5mi)”

Since July 1st, I have run 158.6 miles. With my longest run to date being 11.2(ish) miles. That’s a lot of miles on these tires. And yes, I can’t wait to run some more.

I certainly have not done this alone. I really have to thank a couple of people who have encouraged me (Tim,) answered my questions (Cory and Clark,) and kicked my butt from time to time, when I needed it, of course (Mark.)

Mark & Tim, thanks for joining me on this and many other running adventures. Cory, thanks for “running me in,” as they say.

If you’d like to see my evolution as a runner as I’ve blogged it, check out my previous posts on the topic

So today: December 11th, 8 AM – I embark on completing my goal.

To finish a half marathon.

I have a goal in mind that I would love to complete. We’ll see if I can do it.

If you would like to watch me run it, and see my progress, you may catch a “glympse” here. Or, I may actually be live tweeting how much it sucks. Either way, I’ll cross the finish line, even if I’m crawling.

See you all on the other side.

Alcatraz Views?

I normally don’t sell things. But, I do like to help out a friend from time to time. My friend Aaron Hockley, Skilled photographer and all-around smart guy, has really given me a lot of advice on photography and camera equipment from time to time, and has published his first collection, an Alcatraz Book.

Alcatraz book

Alcatraz Views Cover

Being a fan of things that are weird, unique and historical, perhaps even a nerd of such articles, I’m excited to help him promote his book of photos, aptly titled, Alcatraz Views.

Give it a looksee, buy a couple copies for your friends and family, they make GREAT stocking stuffers!

Viva Las Vegas! My Vacation – In Pictures

As you saw from yesterday’s post, The Fountains of Bellagio, I was recently in Las Vegas for vacation. I love Vegas, but it can be a little overstimulating. So much to see and do.

There are some really cool things if you open your eyes and take a quick look around. I wanted to share some of the sights with you. The rest you can see on my flickr page.

A view of the horizon from the Horizon plane!
2011-12-04_13-07-20_52

Amazingly enough, even in December, Las Vegas has blue skies!
2011-12-04_16-11-34_262

The food in Vegas is amazing. This little delight came from the Flamingo Garden Buffet.
Fruit Tart

Something about this picture, at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, reminds me of an 80’s Bangles song.
Blue Water venetian hotel las vegas

At the Venetian Hotel’s Christmas in Venice scene, they had a Christmas Tree that easily could have doubled for a Lady Gaga outfit.
venetian hotel las vegas Christmas Tree

I came across this fountain, it’s glimmering water and various coinage called to me.
Fountains of change venetian hotel las vegas

And sometimes, you can even find a serpent in the water.
Bellagio Fountain