Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Heads up, Freo cafes: Poor customer service isn't cool

I've spent the last couple of days enjoying my birthday festival. It basically involves celebrating the two days either side of my actual birthday in an attempt to be excused from doing household chores (except cooking, for reasons of self-preservation).

On Sunday my wife's family made the trip down to Freo so that we could catch up over breakfast and celebrate the last day of my birthday festival. We left our apartment building and headed to Market Street discussing our many breakfast options. The only prerequisite was that ice cream be on the menu (Byron's input), and a faint but forlorn hope that we might find somewhere with air conditioning.

Option 1: Simple Nosh (on Norfolk Street, near Luna Cinemas)

Simple Nosh's smoothies had come highly recommended by a good friend so we headed off to Norfolk Street to try them out. Upon arrival we trudged around looking for seating for six, but despite plenty of floor space all the tables were set up in configurations of four and two.

We approached a member of staff about the possibility of having two tables pushed together. After vague assent, she promptly disappeared and wasn't seen again. 

After quieting a rapidly overheating nephew by plugging his mouth with a lollipop, we asked a second waitress if we could combine a table with the one we were sitting at. She responded by telling us with a marked lack of enthusiasm that no, that wasn't possible as there were no tables free - apparently the effort of turning her head 180 degrees to an empty table two metres away was too much on a hot Sunday morning.

With my wife showing signs of being on the verge of grasping the waitress firmly by an earlobe and marching her to the empty table for a lesson in furniture identification, the rest of the family wisely decided that if Simple Nosh simply did not want our money, we'd better just leave them to it. 

Option 2: X-Wray Cafe (near Luna Cinemas)
Due to its proximity to Simple Nosh, X-Wray presented as the next logical option for our group. It's been my experience that the food can be hit and miss (I gave up ordering eggs benedict because the hollandaise sauce was always curdled) but I've always enjoyed a friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic service at this cafe.

We sauntered into X-Wray and, after assessing the relative temperatures inside and out, grabbed one of the booths. It was still hot, but not quite as hot as the tables outside. Unfortunately for X-Wray the concrete laneway it sits next to acts as a bit of a heatrap. No sooner had I sat down than I was sweating profusely, and Byron was doing his best impersonation of a five year old in the last stages of heat exhaustion. 

The fan above our booth wasn't switched on, so we asked if it could be turned on, only to be told it wasn't working. My father-in-law then spotted an air conditioning unit near our booth. So, to the sound of weak laments from Byron pleading for a life saving ice cream, he went down to the counter to ask if it could be switched on.

This was happily agreed to, but five minutes later it still hadn't been turned on. So my father-in-law got up and went to the counter to find out again about the air conditioning. This time he was told that they couldn't turn it on, with vague references being made to lost or broken remote controls. He returned to our table and passed on the news. 

It's not X-Wray's fault that both the fan and air con were out of order, of course, although given the layer of dust on both one wonders whether this is a longstanding issue. But why had nobody had bothered to come over and tell us and explain?

Increasingly hot and disillusioned, we decided to move on.

Option 3: Il Cibo (on Market Street opposite Pioneer Park, near the train station)

Fifteen minutes later and after a brief diversion to Breaks (who had air conditioning but were full, no doubt for that very reason) we trudged into Il Cibo.

The wait staff were friendly. They actually greeted us with a cheery hello and a smile as we entered, which didn't happen at Simple Nosh, X-Wray or Breaks. Upon greeting us and seeing the size of our group, the waiter (who bore a remarkable resemblance to both former Chelsea star Gianfranco Zola and, according to my excited mother-in-law, Inspector Montalbano) immediately took the initiative and showed us some tables where we could sit, in comfort and coolness thanks to the functioning air con. This was good.

We sat down and noticed the friendliness and enthusiasm surrounding us. There were singles, couples, and families, all looking content and chattering happily. I immediately remarked to my wife that we should return to Il Cibo more often. The music wasn't too loud and added to the happy atmosphere. Byron was smiling from ear to ear as a scoop of vanilla icecream that he had ordered off the menu promptly arrived with a friendly flourish from the waiter. The food turned out to be tasty, too, and we lingered there for a long while after it was gone, just enjoying ourselves.

My father-in-law commented that in tough times, it is the level of customer service that helps to establish a point of difference for cafes and retailers. I have no doubt in my mind that Il Cibo has created its own point of difference for my father-in-law and that he'll be insisting that Il Cibo is our first option on future visits to Freo for breakfast. 

On this blog, I've talked about the importance of creating memorable experiences for people and having welcoming places. My wife's family did not have a memorable experience (well, not in a good way), nor were we made to feel welcome on Sunday morning. I felt embarrassed about Freo's businesses when my wife and I returned to our apartment. When will Freo's businesses learn that poor or indifferent customer service just is not cool?

And is business really that great in Freo that cafes need make so little effort? Somehow, I don't think so.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Much to do about nothing: A survey about amalgamation

Firstly, a little bit of fun because I couldn't help it and I begged and begged my wife to let me. (I hope Freo Doctor Blog readers know that as a result of my begging I've been forced to begin an exercise program that involves me jogging down to South Beach with my wife cycling by my side. The sacrifices I go through. She said she'd dangle a piece of prosciutto in front of me, so it's not all bad though.)

So how did Fremantle Council end up deciding to survey us all about amalgamation recently?

a) Back in mid-November, Councillor Wilson anticipated that I would suffer a debilitating bout of cruiselag after returning to Freo at the end of my cruise. He thought that he'd do his bit and provide this mild mannered blogger with something to get scribbling about. (There's a seriously awesome power salute coming your way, Councillor Wilson.)

b) In November, and after watching Field of Dreams, Councillor Wilson went to bed and had a strange dream - the Premier beckoning him with calls of "survey them, survey them, I'm really interested to see what they think about amalgamation; there's a state election coming up and if I win I'll claim a mandate, plus it's not Council's decision to make, but what the hey, go ahead and survey them anyway. I could do with a laugh." Councillor Wilson immediately woke up and dotted down the wording for the resolution, ignoring a lingering question as to why he'd been dreaming about Colin Barnett.

c) Councillor Wilson read my awesome blog post about amalgamation earlier this year (click here) and secretly resolved then and there that come December he'd do his darndest to provide a stellar example of why amalgamation really should go ahead. (Sorry, Councillor Wilson, but the City's continued inaction on the Bathers Beach dustbowl, following complaints from local businesses and residents, beats you to the punch.)

d) Thwaites and Wilberforce are back?


Now for the serious stuff:

The sense of community argument

The misconception: Without smaller local governments people's sense of community will wither and die.

The reality: It won't. A sense of community relies on the people, not a bureaucratic organisation. 

I used to passionately believe in retaining the small sizes of our local government areas in Perth. I suppose I had fallen for the whole 'small is better' argument. I also bought too much into the notion that a bureaucratic organisation, such as a local government authority, can play in creating and fostering community. Then we moved to Fremantle, where smaller is definitely not better and the people create the community.

If Perth, like Brisbane, was made up of only one local government, would Fremantle's history disappear? No. Would Freoites no longer get that awesome feeling of coming home when the port's cranes become visible? Nope. Would all of Freo's many and varied community groups stop meeting and gathering? Can't see it happening. Is there no sense of community in Brisbane? I wouldn't bet on it. So what makes local government around Perth, and in particular Fremantle, so much better than their counterparts in Brisbane, or Paris, or New York?

The Hulbert Street Sustainability Fiesta has emerged as a classic example of Freo's awesome sense of community in recent years. It is successfully run and managed. It continues to grow. Was it the brainchild of a bureaucrat or a resident? A resident. Has it been run by a bureaucracy or by locals? Locals of course.

Nope, smallish local governments don't have a mortgage over community building.

The smaller is better argument

The misconception: Smaller local governments are best positioned to deliver on people's more demanding expectations.

The truth: Show me the money! It is simply not going to happen with under resourced and top heavy small local governments.

Historically speaking local governments have specialised in operations. 'Rates, roads and rubbish' is the old catch cry that some people use to describe the traditional function of a local government. It served small local governments really well for a really long time.

Things have changed though. Expectations have shifted, quickly and dramatically. In 2012, local government is way more than just the three R's and I'm not entirely convinced that smaller local govies can meet expectations.

Take bike infrastructure: Granted the City has made a significant investment in cycling infrastructure over the past couple of years, but it's a drop in the ocean. People's expectations about living in a bike-friendly city are exponentially increasing. I read of well funded and resourced cities in the United States and Europe who have delivered oodles and oodles of bike lanes over the past four years.

And that gets me onto public transport investment: Imagine you're the Premier in 2013 and you've decided to invest in a massive public transport programme for Perth. Now put your hand up if you want to deal with thirty two - that's right, thirty two - local government authorities complete with all those hundreds of Councillors? Not me.
Nope, I'm not buying this argument either. Me, I want to live in a city where my local government is well funded and resourced. It isn't top heavy. It has the capacity to carry out its operational aspects (the three R's), implement its own projects without relying on consultants, and deliver quality infrastructure.


Without smaller local governments people's sense of community will not wither and die. A sense of community relies on the people, not a bureaucratic organisation. People's expectations of their local government authority are changing. These expectations will only become more difficult to satisfy if local authorities are under resourced and top heavy.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Freo Quick Shot: Crepes, cops and closing down sales

After an outing to a Parisian bistro with a menu exclusively en Francais resulted in my wife coming eye-to-eye with a steaming hunk of marrowbone (with sinew still attached), she became very attached eating out at the street side creperies. Lemon and sugar were generally the favourite. She would watch the cooks eagle-eyed as they assembled the ingredients, ready to squawk "Mais non!" if their hands hovered over anything other than fruit.

So we were both excited to see that a new creperie has opened in the High Street mall, a couple of shops down from Culley's. This weekend we snarfed down some crepes from the Paris Crepes Cafe. They were delicious and very well priced, and hearing the proprietors converse to each other in French while we ate was a bonus. My wife and I will be back for many more tasty crepes. What a great addition to the High Street mall!

This weekend, we were also were chuffed to see a couple of police walking the beat around Freo. We were especially glad to see them around the eastern part of the city centre. It makes such a difference to see police walking the beat, rather than cruising past in a car, especially during the day and in those parts of the city that are hotspots. I hope it isn't a one off.

Finally, my wife couldn't help herself from checking out the last day of Myer's closing down sale. I tagged along with her yesterday to see what the excitement was all about. Walking into the department store felt like being transported to 1980's Russia - vast empty spaces, swarms of people picking over two or three shelves of remainders. It was a little weird.

I'm sad that Myer is shutting up shop in Freo. My wife and I wheeled our first LCD television from Myer to our apartment on a trolley they lent us. I also went through a phase of hogging the massage chairs every Saturday afternoon following 
a tough game of basketball during the week. Now I'll have to pay for my massages.

I suppose I'm sad because for me, Myer has always been in Freo. I know that its closure was inevitable. It was badly run and it always seemed to be short-staffed. The place was in dire need of an internal refit and don't get me started on the outside of the building. Still, it won't be the same. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

The cruise post aka what I learnt about placemaking from eighteen nights eating myself senseless

The prospect of my first cruise was exciting on many levels. As a placemaking nerd, I was looking forward to checking out the cruise ship that we would soon be boarding. As a closet fan of 'The Love Boat' (thanks mum), I was thrilled to be spending eighteen nights cruising the high seas with, if television could be believed, a mix of fellow passengers who were either having problems with their love life or getting into amusing scrapes (but all devoted to eighties hairstyles). And as someone who enjoys the odd meal or two, I approached the Fremantle Passenger Terminal in a mood of quiet determination, steelily focused on the mission at hand: eating Princess Cruises into insolvency.

Now that I'm over my cruiselag, I thought that I'd share some of my thoughts about our cruise.

Placemaking on the high seas

1. Food

Placemaking legend William H. Whyte once wrote: "If you want to seed a place with activity put out food." Never a truer word has been spoken.

So, in honour of Whyte, I felt that I really did owe it to placemakers around the world to become intimate with the various dining opportunities around the ship. (The sacrifices I go through for Freo Doctor Blog readers.) Sitting at my usual spot at the buffet, I enjoyed watching the social exchanges that food encourages amongst people.

I discovered that not only does food indeed help foster activity, but it is pretty cool how easily it acts as a social lubricant. Groups of people just like hanging out together and shooting the breeze over food.

2. Memorable experiences

Another placemaker, David Engwicht, firmly believes in the importance of creating memorable experiences for people. I can see his point. Why would people return to a place if their visit wasn't memorable?

Our experience was made more memorable by immaculate customer service. It was so good that it kind of started to freak me out a little bit. That wouldn't come as a surprise to fellow Perth residents who have had to endure good, old fashioned customer service, Perth-style. The "I'm going to make you regret handing over your hard earned cash by making your experience in my shop/cafe/restaurant as pleasant as attending a Council meeting" type.

That wasn't the case aboard our ship. The waiters were efficient, friendly and sincere. They actually seemed to enjoy their jobs, and more to the point were extraordinarily good at them.

The Crooners Bar became our favourite place to hang out. Why? The bar staff. They made us feel welcome. Simple as Carlos, the bartender, took me under his wing when I told him he made a mean cocktail. After our second visit, we were made to feel like regulars by the bar staff - whereas I could name several places in Freo where waitstaff still pretend not to recognise me after four years of tri-weekly visits. On the ship, the choice to return was made easy for my wife and me.

3. Programme of activities

The good placemakers at Project for Public Spaces believe that the more activities that are going on and that people have an opportunity to participate in, the better.

Fred Kent would have been impressed with what was going on on our ship. Each day was crammed full of different activities. From our vantage point sitting on a comfy chair and sipping on one of Carlos' tasty martinis at Crooners, my wife and I would watch the other passengers going from one activity to another.

Trivia games, art auctions, table tennis competitions, wine tasting, singing classes - you name it, there was probably an activity for it. All the activities got me thinking about how programming was an important tool in the cruise ship's placemaking arsenal. It felt like that there was something for anyone to be enjoying on the ship at any time of the day. (For me, it generally involved laying around doing nothing, although I did attend a wine tasting class.)

4. Adaptive uses

Another thing that I'm certain would have earned two placemaking thumbs up from Fred Kent was how the ship made use of its places during the day and evening.

For example, Crooners, our martini bar, operated as a cafe during the day. Cafe Corniche (the Italian themed restaurant) functioned as a space for people to sit with friends and to socialise when it wasn't operating. The Champagne Bar doubled as a mini-piazza during the day when it was closed. Much to the chagrin of the Arts Director, the Wheelhouse Bar (a British themed pub) hosted the art auctions.

These spaces were used as much as possible. I got the feeling that the goal was to provide as many options for people as possible to use a space to gather, socialise and to have fun.

5. Lots of people helps with placemaking

Our ship had 1,950 passengers. That's more than double the number of residents living in Freo's city centre. I can't recall feeling like the ship was overcrowded. (Although there were really long lines outside the Bingo events.) As experienced people-watchers my wife and I enjoyed the hustle and bustle around the ship.

For me, the number of people on board helped to inject the ship with a life of its own. Busy restaurants and bars, active spaces during the day, people lounging around and people walking from activity to activity imbedded a real sense of vibrancy.

This sense of life and vibrancy isn't quite matched by Freo these days. I don't expect it to be, given the parameters of our ship compared to our city. Eight hundred and fifty odd residents in our city centre isn't good enough. Such a low population means that we've got to work that much harder to make our placemaking efforts succeed.

Dare I say it: More people living and working in Freo's city centre...full steam ahead!

6. You're never finished

One of the placemaking  principles espoused by Project for Public Spaces is that placemaking is ongoing. I must be a slow learner, but I didn't have that epiphany until seeing it in action on the cruise. Day in day out and night in night out the placemaking didn't stop and it was consistently awesome. One thing that I learnt is that placemaking isn't a one and done, flash in the pan type of project. It's all about turning up and emptying the bins, cleaning the footpaths, replacing dodgy bollards every single day.


That's about it for now folks. Six things I learnt from placemaking on the high seas: Food; memorable experiences; programme of activities; adaptive uses; lots of people help with placemaking; and you're never finished.

After our cruise, my wife and I spent some time in Sydney (at The Rocks) and in Melbourne. Look out for another holiday inspired post about our experiences in these cities soon.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bureauscopes: Horoscopes for bureaucrats

The other day while sitting in a cold bath and playing on my iPad (not a euphemism), I came across an image from a magazine from India called ‘Bureaucracy Today’ via twitter. The image was of a monthly horoscope, tailored to bureaucrats, and at that moment I realised what had been missing in my professional life up till now.

All the horoscope needed to be perfect was the introduction of a slightly Australian flavour, as the working life of bureaucrats in India seems to be comparatively short on such Aussie office essentials as the long lunch, the sickie, and organising your AFL Dream Team.

So if you're fortunate enough to be in the business of bureaucracy, here's a taste of what you can expect from the month ahead.


With Jupiter rising in the first fortnight of January, you may find your will being tested. In the face of adversity, it is important to keep a cool head. Practice some yoga breathing and take the phone off the hook for an hour or two. Generously offer to buy the IT guys lunch so that the network mysteriously goes on the blink for a few days. Tell your manager you're off to archives for a file and instead use the day and a half to sneak out the back door and take advantage of the summer movie scene. Above all, be good to yourself. You deserve it.


The first month of the year should be a case of making hay while the sun shines. January is a great time for Taureans to tackle organisational challenges head-on. Organise a series of office cricket matches, set up your office pranks schedule, update your Excuses and Stalls folder and, most importantly, get a head start on your AFL Dream Team preparations.


Pizza or sub? Decisions, decisions, decisions. You will have to think hard about where you spend your long lunches this month. Don’t be a paragon of self-control though, as January will be the month for acting on impulse. You will do well to follow your heart (and your gut). Why not see where it leads?


Planets indicate an excellent month for you is on the cards for January. A financial windfall can be expected in the form of some higher duties pay after your boss tries to get three reports up for a single meeting. Young bureaucrats being tempted by such concepts as innovation will need to be under supervision towards the end of the month.


Pave the way for a week of sick leave at month's end to avoid a confrontation with a hysterical resident whose view from the bathroom windowis about to be impeded by a neighbour's renovations. Book an appointment with the WALGA counsellor in your junior's name for next month. He's going to need it.


Jupiter is rising in your sign around the 15th, which means you should postpone asking for that extra week of leave till later in the month. Avoid chipping in to any leaving presents if the person is entering private enterprise - they'll be back in six weeks.


Mars and Venus will align in the first week of the month, suggesting amalgamation is on the cards. But do a survey anyway. Ignore critics who say it's a pointless political gesture and a waste of money so close to the state election. Everybody loves a survey.


You are at the peak of your bureaucratic powers. Your foresight in arranging for 98 per cent of the City’s projects to go through community consultation during this month while ratepayers are on holiday could mean you should expect a promotion in the near future. To really be ahead of the pack, draft the Council reports for these projects before consultation ends to expedite the process.


Meetings are a practical alternative to work. Remember this and the month of January will sail smoothly by.


Stick doggedly to your guns in the face of a failing project. If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success. And then redefine it again. Why stop there? Come on... redefine it again.


Planets indicate a difficult month ahead for you. Pesky politicians having the temerity to request work from you; sexual harassment allegations arise from your Christmas Party antics; and, worst of all, a new work experience student means one thing: maintain a low profile.


I don't know any bureaucrats who are Pisces. They're all enablers.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone enjoyed their festivities to welcome in 2013. 

It has been a hot week to say the least at Freo Doctor Blog central. My twitter followers have endured a succession of photos showing how our pets are attempting to stay cool. (Spiro commandeered the kitchen sink and demanded that I do him a bath before wallowing contently with his eyes closed like a feathery little hippopotamus; Pearl on the other hand decided that she was too classy for a kitchen sink and opted for the milk bath option using my wife’s cereal bowl; and Skylar, our cat, cooled down ragdoll style by setting up shop in the bath.)

Now that we’re in 2013 my bout of cruiselag is over and I’m busily working on some upcoming posts. In the meantime, I thought that I’d share some articles that I’ve been enjoying from Atlantic Cities:

Lastly but not leastly, if you’re a fan of comedy and of Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK and Chris Rock then check out this video. (It's part 1 of 4.)