Thursday, January 31, 2013

Second Cup Somerset to Bank on

Second Cup on UrbanspoonYesterday I was out on an adventure and stopped off with the last remnants of my Second Cup gift card to a Second Cup (290 Bank Street, Ottawa) at Bank and Somerset Street West.  Perfect location if you are heading to Chinatown as it is a transfer point off of OC Transpo's Routes 1, 2 & 7.  There always seems to be a number of people in that area either transferring from the buses either to go west along Somerset to Chinatown, south down Bank Street towards the Glebe or north into downtown.   Thus, this Second Cup is a great location to grab a hot beverage while waiting for your next bus.  

I visited at 11 A.M. to find a fair number of people inside but with still some seating left.  Of course most customers were taking full advantage of the free Wifi, but this Second Cup also ensures that there are free newspapers available to read including the Ottawa Citizen and Globe & Mail.  The free newspapers also seem to be respected by customers as they are neatly returned to the counter or left on the coffee table in the area of the leather chairs. 

I stepped up to the counter and ordered a nibble and a drink.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Irish Cream and a Apple Cranberry Muffin.

I exchanged my gift card for my order and visited what looked to be the welcoming arms of the soft leather chairs with a newspaper to read.  The leather chairs sure were soft alright, I nearly felt I was going to be on the floor soon as the back springs seemed to be shot.  I looked around at the other three chairs and saw they were worn around the edges.  These chairs are just starting to be on borrowed time. 

I opened the Apple Cranberry muffin.  Mediocre taste because, as mentioned in previous posts, Second Cup ships all baked goods in instead of making them from scratch.   

The Irish Cream coffee though was one of the best I've had from Second Cup.  I sipped it slowly enjoying the perfect mix of coffee to Irish Cream quotient. 

Overall, this Second Cup location provides a comfortable spot with well prepared beverages.  The free newspapers available are an added bonus as well.  Good spot to curl up for a little bit of time, read the news or talk to friends.  A good traditional Canadian coffee shop sans le donuts though.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Winterlude 2013 is Coming Soon!


One of the first signs that Ottawa's Winterlude is close by is the opening of the Rideau Canal Skateway.   
 
Rideau Canal Skateway and Mackenzie King Bridge
 
This past Sunday I slapped on my skates and headed out from near the Mackenzie King Bridge.  The Canal was bustling with people.  So much so that there was no room on nearby benches or in the chalets to change your skates.  Thus, I improvised by using my back pack to sit on the ice and do the skate changing.

Rideau Canal Skateway looking toward Laurier Street Bridge


I skated southwards on the Canal towards the Pretoria Bridge.  Ice conditions were far from ideal with ruts and light snow on the top.  This is because this past weekend was the first weekend the entire Canal from Rideau Street to the Hartwell locks was open for skating. It seemed everyone and their grandma was on the Canal getting in their first skate of the year.  

Rideau Canal Skateway near the University of Ottawa (left)

I got down as far as Pretoria Bridge before giving up for the day.  The ice conditions, the number of other skaters and the fact I can't remember the last time I had my skates sharpened were all contributing factors.   I've since remedied the skate sharpening issue and hope to take to the Canal like I did in January 2009.

Winterlude though, I'm even more excited for.  My wife has never really taken part in seeing the Ice Sculptures, the Snowflake Kingdom and much more (including looking for Ice Hogs!). 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Milestone of a Meal

Milestones on UrbanspoonSaturday for Lunch, with a gift card melting my pocket begging to be used and my wife and I in downtown Ottawa, we visited Milestones (700 Sussex Drive, Ottawa).  

Milestones is owned and franchised by the Cara group of companies who also own and franchise: Harvey's, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey's and Montana's. Each banner name (i.e. restaurant name) has a different flavour for the dining pleasure.  Harvey's is the traditional burger place that competes with McDonald's, Burger King and others.  Swiss Chalet is the family rotisserie chicken place competing in the Quebec and Ottawa area with Scores. Kelsey's bills itself as "Your Neighbourhood Bar & Grill" which also typically has more family friendly pricing in a place that pretends to be a bar/pub but really isn't.  Montana's is supposedly a cookhouse that specializes in serving up grilled meats of whatever flavour you wish. 

Milestones' dim lighting for the evening with supposedly higher end culinary chef inspired food attempt to make the ambiance and food romantically inclined.  Daytime wise it still has aspects of romance to it as well, but less so with light streaming in through the windows.  

The downtown Ottawa Milestones is in a picturesque location nestled between the upscale yet historic Chateau Laurier Hotel across the MacKenzie Street side of the building and yet on Sussex Drive opposite the Byward Market. But the building also has a architecturally significant tierred patio built into it providing great views from the Milestones' bar / lounge area with wrap around windows facing the Government Conference Centre (formerly the Ottawa Train Station) that provide great opportunities to look at historic architecture as well as people watching of the hoards of tourists walking by on Rideau Street. 

We arrived at the MacKenzie Street entrance through the double front door to meet the two hostesses standing at a table.  The interesting part is about said table is it is really as soon as you walk in instead of a little further back to allow other guests coming in to wait in the warmth.  It was like the designer of this Milestones location thought this was Los Angeles, California where the weather is nice year round instead of a February in Ottawa where it is below freezing and customers may be wielding ice skates before or after a venture on the nearby Rideau Canal Skateway. Not very well thought out, but lucky for us the restaurant was not that busy for a Saturday noon time lunch.

At this point you are given an option by the hostess to either eat in the dining room or in the lounge.  Not knowing that difference was I selected the dining room.  It wasn't until later that I ventured over to the bar area to realize the above noted wrap around windows overlooking the corner with Rideau Street.  I got a few looks from the waitresses when I visited like "can we help you?"  I just looked, went, o.k. that is the view and scurried back to the dining room. 

We were lead to the table by a hostess who, while on the way, showed us where the washrooms are.  At the table she dropped off a slip of paper with our table number on it and the time we were seated.  I'm not sure the reasoning behind this slip of paper but I used it to guage the timely progression of our meal.  

We were seated below a panorama historical picture of the Parliament Hill view from the Hull (Gatineau) side of the Ottawa River.   After perusing our menues for both brunch and dinner I took a closer look at that the photo and noted the time period was definately before the First World War as the Chateau Laurier was absent, the railway was prominent and the Victoria Tower on the Centre Block of Parliament Hill was still present as opposed to the Peace Tower.   An interesting view compared to what that same view is today.  

While perusing the menues,  I first observed the different somewhat gourmet style named and increased pricing compared to your average restaurant.  But offerings weren't that high brow that I was going to need to sell my first born to attend or to expect the Prime Minister to visit with the Queen.  But we did find something for each of us that we would be content with. 

Our waitress, five minutes after us sitting, stopped by to reiterate that the menues were looking at were the brunch and dinner menues and we were free to order from both.   She asked if we wanted to order drinks, we replied nicely that we were ready to order our food as well. 

The Order: The Montreal Stack (Montreal smoked meat, aged Cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and ripe tomatoes served with a house made blackberry ketchup with curly fries on the side) & a Pepsi and a Spicy Thai Chicken Rollup (A warm red flour tortilla, spicy smoked chicken breast, Jasmine rice, peanut sauce and sesame cucumber mayo with curly fries on the side) & a glass of water.

The waitress was pretty quick with service.  The odd thing was she would dissapear for five minutes at a time leaving her three or four tables unserviced for a while.  She would reappear later, service all of them and dissappear again.  No real issues with the service but she seemed to have this down to a science knowing where in the meal process each table was in and what they would need next.  At no time did I have to ask for a refill on my Pepsi, she just quickley offered, grabbed the glass (which I ensured was always at the end of the booth table we sat at), refilled it and returned it.  The only service issue we had was actually with the refill on the Pepsi when our food arrived. 

When our food arrived, in a timely manner, our waitress ensured we had everything and offered to refill my Pepsi glass.  I agreed, she dissappeared and it took three or four minutes for her to return.  She apologized for the delay as I had already dug into my meal.  No sweat though, other than that she was top notch service wise with a dose of good cheer. 

The Montreal Stack smoked meat sandwich was nicely done with finely sliced beef brisket, fresh tasting tomatoes and cheese.  Admittedly, I missed the "caramelized onions" until I reread the menu for this review.   Although the menu promised "blackberry ketchup" I didn't see anything except for a little thing of ketchup that I assumed was for my fries.   This is also because my wife's Chicken Rollup was also accompanied by same said small ketchup container.

The accompanying curly fries on both plates were hot as well.  They were an interesting take on the traditional bar fries that looked like little rings.  At one point I had about six fries intertwined to make a chain of which any five year old playing with his food would be proud of.   The accompanying ketchup tasted better than the Heinz you would find at your average bar and made a good compliment to the fries.

The spicy chicken wrap my wife asked for the spice to be more mild in nature.  She reports that after a couple of bites there was a tang to the chicken spice but it wasn't eye watering suicidal like it might of been.

Overall, Milestones is a good restaurant if you are in search of a romantic spot probably away from the crayons and associated place mats of the family dining establishments. There are a few interesting culinary delights to find here but because Milestones is part of a chain, don't expect the food to overly great with the chefs onsight taking culinary liberties like other single family owned locations.   Looking for a decent romantic spot out in downtown Ottawa after a date on the canal or before a romantic walk at night around the rear of Parliament Hill food you know will be decent? Milestones just might be your place.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Boy this was Bland Pho Noodle Soup, is it on the House?

Saigon Boy Noodle House on UrbanspoonIn my wife and my continuous search for Vietnamese Pho places in Ottawa, we stopped off on Friday for dinner at Saigon Boy Noodle House (648 Somerset Street West, Ottawa). 

We arrived at 4:30 P.M. to a restaurant with only one other customer in it.  A little disturbing but it was early.  My wife and I have learned that if it is before 5 P.M. on a Friday evening, it is fine if a restaurant is not that busy.  Most Ottawa restaurants start filling up after 5 P.M. for dinners.  We have noticed that at a couple of restaurants where we thought things might be questionable because there was nobody inside but turned out well. 

We entered and were immediately seated by a twenty something young Asian man with perfect English.  He followed up with the usual complimentary tea.  He returned to the kitchen to fetch a couple of items and could be heard speaking Cantonese (dialect of Chinese) to someone working in the kitchen.

We looked through the menus and noted the prices for Pho ($9.25 for a large) seemed a little more expensive than both Co Cham and Pho Thu Do.  I was debating on ordering the medium size instead as perhaps the large was simply to large.  My wife would have none of it because if we are going to compare the other Pho places we had previously visited, where we had ordered a large, we needed to order the large here as well. So we did.

The Order: 1 Pho with Rare Beef and Beef balls with rice noodles.  1 Pho with Rare Beef, Beef Balls and tripe with rice noodles.

We looked around the Saigon Boy Noodle House.  It was quite modern looking with newish looking ceramic tile floors, modern wooden tables and plastic chairs.  Even the artwork looked carefully selected.  The restaurant itself looked clean, well kept and family run.  On the door to the restaurant even had the parking metre times for when payment was required and when it was not.  The inside looked well run, uncluttered and unworn unlike other typical Asian restaurants. 

Our Pho dishes came quickly with the Asian gentleman providing excellent service. 

The Pho itself needed a little help.  For any good Pho dish you need to start with quality beef broth that has taste to it followed up by quality beef and other items as per customer order.  The beef broth at Saigon Boy Noodle House was bland and didn't have any taste to it. The broth at both Co Cham, Pho Thu Do in Ottawa and Pho Xe Lua in Toronto have a beefy taste to it. The noodles as well were just run of the mill noodles that you could also find at any other pho place on Somerset Street West in Ottawa's Chinatown.  The meatballs and rare beef were also nothing to sneeze at in terms of quality or quantity. 

Quantity wise, the Pho at Saigon Boy Noodle House is hard to beat.  The Large bowl is huge! I felt like it was just short of a bucket full of Pho.  Yes, the beefy ingredients weren't skimped on either, there was definitely enough rare beef and noodles to go around. 

The tea was also a little disappointing.  Sure it was the regular Asian tea served at most Asian food places, but this was lukewarm.  Any Brit will tell you that tea should not be poured unless it is boiling hot right from the kettle.  Apparently this little but important tidbit was missed.  

We left Saigon Boy Noodle House a little perplexed.  They have a better modernized interior like Co Cham with a family run business.  The Pho beef broth though was bland which takes away a lot from the restaurant.  The other ingredients (i.e. noodles, rare beef and beef balls) were merely average.  With so much competition in the immediate vicinity serving Pho, mediocrity simply isn't good enough.  Add in lukewarm tea, and things get even worse.  We may wait a while to return, unless we find another better Pho location.

A Trip to Manhattan for a Burger: Part 2

Manhattan's Handmade Burgers on UrbanspoonOn Friday for lunch I made a return trip to Manhattan's Handmade Burgers (407 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa) but to a different location from last time.  

On my last visit to a Manhattan's I noted that the burgers themselves were pretty good with the fries rivalling Swiss Chalet despite claiming to be handmade.  Would this location, across the street and a block away in a food court from the previous, do better, worse or the same?  Let's find out.

I visited the Minto Place Food Court (located on the Northwest corner of Laurier Avenue West & Kent Street) to find the Manhattan's.   My wife accompanied me on this visit, but had already had lunch and had already previously visited this Manhattan's location previously.  We arrived at 12:50 P.M. to find the food court, as you would expect in the downtown of any nation's capital, full of government workers on lunch. We found an empty table right away where I left my wife and I headed over to the Manhattan's counter to join the line.

This Manhattan's is like any traditional mall food court where you move from one side of the counter to the other just like a cafeteria.  Here it is quite orderly, choose your drink, place your order, get your toppings and bun made up, pay for your order and finally have your food put together and given to you.  The service appeared like clockwork and the customer's only job is to move with the container.

I grabbed my drink and slid down the counter to place my order.

The Order: 1 Cheeseburger combo with fries and a can of Coke. 

The lady behind the counter, one of 5 employees, wrote down my order on the Styrofoam container in black magic marker. She then takes your container and puts it in one of two places depending on what you order.  For wraps it goes along the back wall where another employee is stationed to make them.  For burgers and salads, like my order, the container is put at the front where another employee does the buns and toppings.   At the toppings station I ordered my toppings but did note a couple of things, Manhattan's could improve their topping ordering by putting a sticker on the glass, like Subway, with the listings of toppings available.  The best thing about Manhattan's is the variety of toppings.  The only toppings that Manhattan's charges extra for are bacon and cheese.  But you can have spinach, two types of onions (instead of the usual one choice) and much more all at no additional charge.  The freshness though, rivals that of Five Guys Burgers & Fries.

I paid for cheeseburger combo ($10.10 including taxes) which I thought was a little steep.  At pubs around these parts I may pay a dollar or two more but get unlimited refills on my pop and better ambience than a mall food court setting.  But the burgers are supposedly better than your average McDonald's Big Mac with fries.  Manhattan's fries though, as mentioned previously, are not any better than Swiss Chalet.  So perhaps the price should be more in line at $8.00 to $9.00 taxes included. 

After paying, I advanced to wait for my burger to be situated correctly on the bun with the toppings and fries dished up. Here there are all the condiments available, napkins and anything else you may need.

So far so good compared to the previous Manhattan's experience at 360 Laurier where the service seemed a little disjointed.  At the Minto Place location all the staff knew what they were doing, handed off orders one to the another in a timely fashion and had all the necessary supplies in an easily accessible location to either themselves or, if needed, the customer. Thus, there were no slowdowns due to employees inquiring about certain orders or to wait for customers to juggle the ketchup bottle while standing at the cash like at 360 Laurier.

Next, I headed over to my food court table to dig into my lunch. 

The fries were exactly the same as the 360 Laurier location, tasted just like I would have at Swiss Chalet.  In other words not crisp and firm but potatoey and somewhat soft. Fresh cut fries? I think not, Manhattan's should save their money on torturing employees from hand cutting these fries, call Swiss Chalet and order their fries instead.

The Cheeseburger itself was tasty with the right proportion of toppings to burger and cheese quotient.  Nothing to runny that came spilling out back into the styrofoam container like other burger places.  Cheeseburger itself was exactly the same as the 360 Laurier location, a strong contender for a better handburger than McDonald's but not up to Five Guys Burgers & Fries or The Works.

Overall, this Manhattan's Handmade Burgers at Minto Place was better servicewise than the 360 Laurier Avenue.  The food court location works like clockwork during the lunch rush with equitably good food.  Best burger in Ottawa, close but no cigar.  Price wise as well this burger place seems a little on the expensive side.  Perhaps this is done intentionally to take advantage of the local clientele, the average government worker who has a slightly larger pay cheque than those in the private sector.  To the average person though, Manhattan's should be seen as slightly better than the average lunch counter. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Overpriced Cardboard Sold at A&W

A&W (Food Court) on UrbanspoonOn my way past St. Laurent Centre Mall on OC Transpo's Transitway, I decided to stop in for lunch before heading over to Nepean.  I made my way to the food court to visit the A&W (1200 St. Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa). 

I arrived at 1 P.M. to find the food court bustling with customers with the odd table empty.

I visited the A&W counter to find two employees at the registers.  There were four registers possible with a short line up.  Two of the registers had the above mentioned employees working them while the other two registers were turned around facing the customer ready for their use. 

Yes, self serve registers at an A&W was available.  I didn't look to closely to see if there were any restrictions but it did say "Express" on them and had an interac machine attached for check out purposes.  It appeared the machines were useable if you wanted to order your Teen Burger combo quickly, slide your bank card through and grab your food and go.  All of the five minutes I was at the counter, nobody used these two registers.  But with decent counter service, these machines would be obsolete. But maybe that is A&W is hoping to do, cut the number of counter people while maintaining the same prices. 

I placed my order with the supervisor who was at one of the registers. 

The Order: 1 Teen Burger Combo (1 Teen Burger, medium fries and medium A&W Root Beer).

The price? $9.50 including taxes.  Yup, a Teen Burger Combo with fries the same size as McDonald's medium fries and a Medium drink smaller than the same McDonald's medium drink costs $2 to $3 more.   Go figure.  

I waited patiently for my meal to be prepared by the kitchen.  During that time the employee working the other register at the front counter was checking her watch and bragging she was able to go home in a hour.  Oh the love of fast food, bragging that you love your "A-Job" so much you can't wait to go home. Since you love your "A-Job" so much why not quit, go to McDonald's and apply for a "McJob"? 

My meal came from the kitchen, was brought over and placed on the tray.  Before the food arrived though, I was asked if I wanted ketchup for my fries.  Two small ketchup packets were dropped on after an answer to the affirmative was provided. One white napkin and one paper sheathed straw were also provided.  I felt like I was in prison!  No longer can customers obtain their own napkins, straws or, heaven forbid, Ketchup packets!  Have to keep prices down and profits up A&W has decided customers are not to be trusted with napkins, straws or any condiments.  Heck, I was surprised I wasn't asked to bring my own tray from home. 

I brought my tray over to find a clean table in the food court. 

I dug into the fries to find them taste like warmed cardboard.  Yup, no real taste at all, they rivalled the old Burger King cardboard fries of yesteryear.  I remember when these A & W fries had taste!  A little bit of salt and they were perfect, these were warmer than the mediocre to barely warm fries provided by other fast food establiments, but the cardboard taste was still there.  Ketchup barely made these fries edible. 

The Teen Burger though was an improvement.  Wrapped in the faux aluminium foil style burger wrapper, the burger looked perfect with a sesame seed bun, condiments, tomato, and paddy.  I bit into it to definately interrupt the bacon and beef's party, it was tasty. Just like the old Teen Burgers I used to enjoy when the University of Ottawa's Food Court had an A & W counter.

The A&W Root Beer was a let down.  A&W has  long prided itself on top notch Root Beer with no ice by chilling the tubes the water and concentrate mix in.  But what I was provided could hardly be classified as "prideful". Sure there was no ice, but the A&W chilling technology obviously wasn't working resulting in barely chilled A&W Root Beer begging for ice.

Overall, this A&W location provides overpriced sub par mediocre food in a busy food court location.  The other A&W Restaurant style location at St. Laurent Centre has recently closed within the past couple of months.  No wonder, who wants overpriced cardboard for fries and not so cold A&W Root Beer?  Anyone....

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Part 2: Runaround Customer Service at The Bay

Earlier in January 2013 I had quite the adventure in obtaining customer service from The Bay

Since that blog post there has been movement on this issue with The Bay.

I followed up with tweet to Ellen Roseman who replied she was glad I at least got a refund from HBC on the jacket

I even forwarded the blog post to the The HBC Twitter account which then turned into an interesting exchange.  The Bay Twitter feed turned into a scripted fun for all of me raising the issue, their boiler plate scripted reply of:   

We are so sorry to hear that you are still having an issue. Pls DM your email and we will take care of you! Thank you.

Of course I was not going to send them my contact information! HBC already had it on file at least three times with my dealings with their Customer Service Department over the phone and via e-mail. If they truly wanted to deal with it, they would pull the file, review it and then deal with it.  The scripted responses from Twitter were not really helping matters. Thus, I decided a different tact was in order.  I reforwarded my e-mails to their "Customer Service" Department with a request they be forwarded onto the Twitter person. 

I then went venturing around the internet to see if anyone else had an awesome customer service experience like myself with The Bay.  I stumbled across "the maggiescene" blog and a thrilling posting on retail stupidity courtesy of The Bay.  Retail stupidity?  This post reads like the top 3 listing of how retail customer service should not be run. I retweeted this experience to The Bay and my own followers pointing out that I'm not the only one with an issue of customer service involving The Bay.

Of course The Bay's twitterer repled with:

We are so sorry to hear that you are still having an issue. Pls DM your email and we will take care of you! Thank you.

So again I reforwarded my e-mails to The Bay Customer Service Department to forward to the Twitter account person at The Bay.  I wasn't holding out too much hope for the e-mails getting to the Twitter account person for The Bay as communication with the Customer Service Department. The Customer Service Department's line of communication seemed a little suspect especially considering that original promised deadline of a Customer Service Manager calling me within "24 to 48 hours" came and went with not even a phone call or e-mail. 

I made some further noise on Twitter with replies to other The Bay promotional tweets of "save so much on..." and "we have just released...".  I also tweeted to other Bay customers on Twitter, who were also looking for Customer Service from The Bay Twitter account that it wasn't likely to happen.   These same customers also received the same scripted reply from HBC of:

We are so sorry to hear that you are still having an issue. Pls DM your email and we will take care of you! Thank you.

Eventually The Bay Twitter would send me the usual reply back to me as well of:

We are so sorry to hear that you are still having an issue. Pls DM your email and we will take care of you! Thank you.

I finally thought  the whole "please contact us so we can follow up on this issue" was a little hillarious. Really?  I've contacted HBC several times and all I got was the runaround.  So my tweet back to HBC was:

how about you sending me your email address? I've done things way and look how far that got us.

Soon enough, I had a DM response back from Christopher Sherman, who is the Social Media person at The Bay, with his e-mail address.    I wrote Christopher the following e-mail on January 10th:

Hi Christopher,
Thank you for forwarding me your e-mail address via Twitter.
I trust you have yet to see the below as I believe communication is to be subpar at HBC.
As you can see I've been through a lot with The Bay and am very unhappy about it.

I've reviewed issues online to see other people have had issues with obtaining fashion items advertised and then getting support for products sold when the item doesn't live up to regular wear and tear within a year.
My complete story can be found on my blog entry here:
I've also received a reply from Ellen Roseman of the Toronto Star via twitter about my story: https://twitter.com/ellenroseman/status/288807512256442369
Bottom line, I asked for something simple from The Bay: To contact the manufacturer in order to assist in resolving the issue. Of course being a good customer I also let The Bay do something as well if they wished (see first e-mail below). Instead, all The Bay gave me was the runaround in customer service. Nobody at either The Bay Customer Service or at The Bay Rideau Street Stor in Ottawa had the number for Misty Mountain. This is unconsionable, as I've stated before, because after attending at least 6 different The Bay stores in the Toronto and Ottawa areas, the largest amount of floor space is to non appliance items and especially fashion. I cannot figure out how nobody would want support if a seam went on a shirt, a zipper had issues or a button fell off.
To make matters worse it seems that The Bay Customer Service Managers are just like Rogers managers: NON EXISTANT. When I spok to Daishawn on my last call to The Bay Customer Service Phone line on Tuesday, he promised a Customer Service Manager would call me within 24 to 48 hours. As of 1:30 P.M. today Eastern (Ottawa/Toronto Time), I will be at 72 hours and counting. I'm not really holding out much hope.
Customer Service at The Bay in my memory has seemed lacking. I've been shopping at many Bay Stores in the Toronto area (Hillcrest Mall and Upper Canada Mall) to not find anyone on the sales floor to help. I've also worked in merchandising at The Bay store at Yorkdale (supposedly "Flagship store") to also have to explain to customers I don't work for The Bay, but I believe the item you are looking for might be in this aisle.
Added to the above, my simple experience of trying to get a zipper pull fixed. If it were not for Matthew at The Bay's Rideau Street store or a separate attempt at The Bay's St. Laurent store, I would have turned my story over to Ellen Roseman of the Toronto Star to follow up with both The Bay and Misty Mountain.
So what am I looking for from The Bay? Recognition of the time and frustration I've been put through in order to resolve this issue. The Bay has let me down big time and I'm obviously not happy about it. A call from the someone above the Customer Service Department's Management level would suffice to restore some trust in me as a possible The Bay store customer. Why not a Customer Service Manager? They obviously don't care as shown by: A. No availability when I called in 2 times, B. Customer Service Management's obvious refusal to call back. C. Not providing their front line Customer Service agents with simple contact information to manufacturers beyond those for major appliances.
Please look into the above, and ensure The Bay acts accordingly. Silence from The Bay will obviously speak volumes.
Sincerely,
Michael Suddard
 
I wasn't expecting much from The Bay.  After all the Customer Service Department was making their title into a farce with no "service" being provided except for bafflegab and runaround for a simple thing: contact information for a manufacturer of products The Bay sells.   But apparently I was wrong. 
 
My e-mails and blog entry were read, but not by The Bay's Customer Service Department, but by The Bay's own  Director of Service Exccelence within the President's Office, Shayne Tryon.  Shayne noted in his e-mail exactly what I wanted to hear:
 
 I had a chance to read through the emails and your blog. The poor service and run around you’ve been given is completely unacceptable. We are embarrassed by the unwillingness of our customer care centre agents to address the problem with your jacket. The lack of follow-up by a manager is also very unprofessional and highly concerning. On behalf of our President, Bonnie Brooks, and our senior leadership team, we hope you’ll accept our sincerest apologies.

Finally, an apology from almost the top!  Someone in the President's Office was replying to a Customer Service issue that The Bay had flubbed big time.  Even better, they were acknowleging in non scripted sincere writing that The Bay was recognizing the issue and apologizing for it.   The best two lines came in the next paragraph of the e-mail:

We’d like to send you a Hudson’s Bay Company gift as a token of our apology. Could you kindly provide me with your mailing address? 

Yes, The Bay wanted to provide something as an apology for what I went through and was even extending an olive branch to welcome me back to their stores via sending a gift.    I replied the next day, January 11th, to the e-mail with my address.

I got a little concerned a week later when there was no response to my e-mail to say the item had shipped.  Though The Bay had either not received my e-mail response or was ignoring it.   But there was still a feeling there that The Bay's President Office would respond.  Shayne Tryon wouldn't let me down though, January 18th (a week after my e-mail) he responded with an e-mail saying my gift had shipped. 

The gift, what could it be? A pair of Olympic Mittens?  A HBC striped wool blanket?  What could it be. 

Fast forward to January 22nd (yes it apparently takes 4 business days to ship stuff from Toronto to Ottawa), I debated, while putting on my Roots winter jacket, about going out to grab a coffee or do a quick shovel of my driveway then go for a coffee.  I chose the shovel first and then head out for coffee option.  Good thing I did!  Three swipes of the driveway and a Purolator truck rolls up, the driver shuffles around for a minute, and opens the door with a big smile.  He hands me my package, I sign for it, and he drives off.  I look at the return address "HBC Mail Room"! 

I dump the snow shovel into the snowbank and run inside.  I unwrap the intricatly taped and wrapped brown paper to find a red box inside.  I open the red box to find, wrapped again in tissue paper, a red scarf!  A signed note also accompanied it on Shayne's stationary.


In the end, The Bay seems to have redeemed itself with this reaching out to an unsatisfied customer.  I'm hoping The Bay will work toward improving their "Customer Service" Department so that within the next year or two that department can be renamed the "Service Excellence" Department.  The Bay customers can only hope that is the case.   As for me, I will rethink about shopping at The Bay.  Sure I'm not likely to purchase a winter jacket, but I may see if they have winter boots or other items available should the need arise. 

Ellen Roseman deals with similar  and other issues on a daily basis. She has recently came out with her own book on how consumers can "fight back" or let companies know they are unhappy.  She has also given several tips and examples on how to use social media to get what you want.  After failing to get any satisfaction with The Bay's Customer Service Department, I turned to social media (i.e. this blog and twitter) to both let the public know what happened to me and to provide an opportunity with business about how I was treated so other customer's won't be treated again.  The Bay, unlike like Rogers, eventually understood the error, made a valiant attempt at retaining this customer for the future and probably will improve their Customer Service by not repeating the same calamity over and over again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Laurier Needs a Second Cup

Second Cup on UrbanspoonStill with a small balance on my Second Cup Gift Card, I searched out for an interesting Second Cup location which I found at 153 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa

Nearby, at Tabaret Hall, the University of Ottawa was holding it's Winter Challenge featuring Beavertails, dog sled rides with more going on later this week.  Tabaret's lawn was overflowing with students and huskies ready to pull you for a ride.  Beavertails had a long line, but there still was that chill in the air. 

I ventured eastward along Laurier Avenue East to the Hyman Soloway Residence building where the Second Cup is located on the ground floor and accessible to passers by on Laurier Avenue East. 

I entered at 12 Noon. to find the Second Cup location bustling with students on their laptops and many sipping their beverages reading books or going over class notes.  Not a seat to be found so I decided to grab a coffee and be on my way. 

I ventured up to the counter, reviewed my 4 choices of coffee and place my order.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Cuzco ("Nutty flavour, with a hint of dark chocolate" - Second Cup website)

I ended up choosing the Cuzco as I really didn't see anything else besides the regular Second Cup Paradiso blend to choose from.   But I wasn't too dissapointed that the regular flavours were not there. 

I paid for my Medium Cuzco, grabbed a lid and left to watch sled dogs do their rounds on Tabaret Hall's lawn.

The Cuzco is advertised as having a "hint of dark chocolate".  Hmm...my mouth never really picked up on any chocolatey taste whatsoever. Nutty flavour?  A tad, but it really tasted like another variation of a high quality regular black coffee.

Overall, this Second Cup is a hit with the local University of Ottawa students.  The only trouble though is finding a seat during the school year.  Nearby there are not that many close options for substitute seating escept during the summer when months when the Tabaret Hall lawn is open.   Good location for coffee "to go" as your not that likely to find a seat inside.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Exchange change for Second Cup Coffee at World Exchange

Second Cup on UrbanspoonThis morning I was downtown to visit OC Transpo to pick up my February bus pass and do a few errands.  I stopped by the World Exchange Plaza to find some coffee knowing there was a Second Cup (111 Albert Street, Ottawa) on the first floor near the Queen Street entrance that I had yet to try.

I visited at about 10:30 A.M. to find one customer in front of me and one just entering to join me in line.  There was only one Barista when I first was at the counter putting together an order for the first customer in line.  But a second Barista had just finished cleaning the tables and was about to help out just after she washed her hands.  Then we were ready to order with the first Barista.

The Order: 1 Medium French Vanilla Coffee

The second Barista poured the coffee as the first Barista took the cash.  The customer behind me also ordered a regular medium sized coffee and had a chat.  One coffee was set down on the counter.  Query? Whose coffee is this?  Chat continues and I'm left stunned.  Nobody moved towards it, so I grabbed it, smelled the vanilla flavouring and left with the other customer looking at me wondering if it was her coffee. 

The coffee itself was the usual refreshing smell of French Vanilla and a pretty good taste. 

The Second Cup location though did not have a lot of baked goods left for lunch.  The front display case was severely sad looking with only 4 muffins available with some looking a little crumbly.  Not very appetizing.  Surely Second Cup could resupply these cases as workers from the nearby office towers will surely want something during their morning or afternoon coffee breaks or heck even to supplement lunch.

Overall, this Second Cup location is pretty good coffee spot if you work in the World Exchange Plaza or the two attached office towers.  With a full food court inside though there is some competition, but no other coffee establishment (e.g. Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Bridgehead, etc.), business must be brisk especially during the cold winters.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Just the Eastside of not my Favourite Anymore

East Side Mario's on UrbanspoonYesterday afternoon, after doing some runaround in the morning and early afternoon that seemed to strech on and on due to one delay or another, my wife and I found ourselves hungry but not wanting to wait until supper time to eat.  Thus, we were looking for a place that would be open at 3 P.M. in the afternoon that would not only fill the need for a lunch but also ensure later in the evening we would not be raiding the cookie jar looking for something to eat. 

We settled on East Side Mario's (1200 St. Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa) within the St. Laurent Centre Mall.  We visited at 2:50 P.M. from the mall entrance.  There was a sign directing us to see the Hostess at the main entrance off the parking lot.  That sign is always there no matter how busy this restaurant is.

We ventured through the restaurant to visit the front entrance following another family.  There were two hostesses seating customers.  Each took one party of customers and sat us down.  This was a significant change from past visits where the hostess is a little surly by taking your name down, having you wait for 10 to 15 minutes and then you get to watch three perfectly good tables that need a little clearing and a wipe go unused.  It has been maddening, but not on this visit perhaps it was because it was early afternoon the restaurant was not very full so the staff hadn't, quite frankl lost all their marbles.

Upon seating the hostess handed us our menues and said our waitress would be right with us.  A couple of minutes later our waitress appeared and asked us if we had the lunch menues.  We of course did not.  She fetched the lunch menues apologizing that the restaurant had very few copies of the lunch menu.  Not sure why an East Side Mario's would be short a lunch menu of all things especially because it is the main promotion they chain seems to be pushing in the Ottawa area in hopes of increasing sales during this off peak time.

We perused the lunch menu to find that the unlimited bread and salad that East Side Mario's was known for was not offered.  The change here was to select a main dish and a side for $9.99.  As well the lunch promotion only runs between 11 to 3 which may also explain why the hostess did not give us the lunch menu as it was already nearing 3 P.M.   Thus, we skipped the lunch menu and continued on with the regular East Side Mario's menu available all day. 

The regular East Side Mario's menu has changed since we last visited this past fall.  Gone is the make our own pasta where the customer chooses the pasta (e.g. spaghetti, angel hair pasta, rotini, etc.), sauce and any other toppings along with unlimited bread, soup and salad.  Now there are only preselected choices that customers must choose from.  The only "make your own" style menu item now is the pizza which, quite frankly, is not that different from any other pizza place.  If I wanted to choose my own pizza sauce and toppings I might visit the local Pizza Pizza for decent pizza at better prices than most East Side Mario's.   Nonetheless my wife and I made selections from the now mediocre East Side Mario's menu and waited for our waitress to arrive which did in five minutes. 

The Order:1 Sausage and Pepper Penne with a Coke and 1 Linguine Chicken Tettrazini with a glass of Water.  Both dishes were supplied with unlimited salad (Caesar Salad and Garden Salad) and bread.

The drinks showed up pretty quickly followed by the bread and Caesar Salad.  The waitress, after dropping of the salad and bread, noticed my Coke glass was mostly drained and offered to refill it.  She was pretty observant at all times to ensure our drinks were filled.  I had drained the Coke glass at the start as we had been out most of the day trekking here and there with nothing to drink.  To say the least we were both thirsty. 

The Caesar Salad was just as it should be.  Creamy with lots of croutons and shredded cheese.  Nothing to complain about there.  The Caesar Salad topped even the higher priced Caesar Salad offering we had at Alice Fazooli's in Richmond Hill

The french bread though, seemed to have shrunk in length.  The bread loaf was shorter than even last fall's loaf and what this restaurant chain had provided in the past.  Not sure why the change in bread quantity, but with unlimited bread we made sure our waitress headed back to the kitchen for another loaf just the same.

After two loaves of bread and a Caesar Salad, we waited for our food to show up.  The problem with the unlimited bread, salad and soup as well as the possibility of having to wait for seats at East Side Mario's causing bar peanuts to be added to the coagulation, is all of this steals the room in your stomach for the main course.  It is pretty hard to enjoy the main dish with pop, peanuts, bread and salad all sitting in your stomach  

The Sausage and Pepper Penne, topped with grated cheese, was delicious.  Creamy tomato sauce that had some chili peppers in it.  It is labelled "spicy" on the menu but for the average person, this dish would be perfect to enjoy a little spice but not lose your tongue to a five alarm fire.  

The Linguini Chicken Tettrazini was a creamy cheesy good dish.  The chicken was decent and not over cooked.

After the main dishes we had another loaf and this time Garden Salad.  The Garden Salad had lots of lettuce with a few other toppings.  The salad was smothered in the house vinaigrette dressing.  The only downfall was there was way more lettuce than their should have been.  

Overall, this East Side Mario's has just started to slide.  On past busier visits the service of the hostesses was more cranky and surly.  This time the bread portions shrunk, the make your own pastas has been removed from the menu and the garden salad was a little wanting.  But the wait staff this time was still attentive while also serving a 10 person kid's 8th birthday party nearby.  The prices though have risen, so instead of the just over $30 to $35 meal we used to enjoy is now $40.00 plus before tip.  We may go looking elsewhere for Italian food due to the pricing and removal of the "make your own pasta" from the menu which was a draw for us in the past.  But for now, this restaurant location is no longer a "favourite" but still a "like".

A New Pho Place!

Co Cham on UrbanspoonIn late 2012 my wife and I were on a search for a good restaurant that served pho.  We had tried a bunch of places in Ottawa's Chinatown and thought we found a decent one in Pho Thu Do.  We had originally found Pho Thu Do as on our previous attempt at visiting Co Cham, we were unable to find a seat. 

Friday evening though, I thought if we attempted a little earlier we quite possibly might find a free table at Co Cham (780 Somerset Street West, Ottawa).  We visited at 4:30 P.M. to find the place understandably with only one table seating.  We were welcomed by a friendly Asian lady who asked us to choose any table we wished and have a seat.  Turns out it may have been the same seat that Ann DeBrisay sat at when she completed her review in 2011.  

The first noticeable thing about the restaurant is the well maintained interior of this Asian restaurant compared to it's surrounding neighbours and the traditional stereotype of an Asian restaurant.  This place is not the typical Asia rough around the edges and in need of a possible paint job Asian restaurant of Chinatown.  Co Cham tenderly cared for immaculately kept glass topped wooden tables and leather chairs that are similar in style to what is found at Jonathan's Fine Foods in Aurora.  The table supplies of chopsticks, siracha sauce, napkins also included traditional North American silverware for those requiring it.  The walls are neatly painted and adorned with nicely produced Asian style artwork and framed newspaper articles either about the restaurant or about historical events from Vietnam.  The floor is the regular linoleum instead of upgraded tile.  But the linoleum on the floor is pretty good shape without any broken tiles or issues to be found.  My only regret about the interior of this place is not visiting the washroom to see if the upkeep was found there as well. 

Shortly after we were seated, a pot of complimentary tea was brought out and placed on the table along with two tea cups.

We perused our menues for five minutes but did have questions.  There was one price only for the Pho dishes which was a little puzzling.  Normally restaurants that serve pho provide two or three sizing options. But there was only one price on Co Cham's menu which was puzzling.  Also, there was a line that indicated if you wanted more than one type of meat you could also have it.  But each Pho dish's menu line only had one, thus we were wondering how to order Pho with Beef, Beef Balls and Noodles. 

The puzzlement ended when the lady came over to inquire if we had any questions or needed help ordering.  We inquired about the portion sizes and how to order the Pho we wanted.  The lady explained we could order a single bowl of Pho with whatever we wanted in it by listing the Pho Dish #'s and it would only cost the same as only ordering a single bowl of Pho with no upcharges.  We thanked her, but the she hovered for a bit as we wrote down on the order sheet provided what we wanted.  We hummed and hawed about the Pho dishes and if we wanted a sandwich as an appetizer.  Co Cham is also known for their Vietnamese style sandwiches and for only $2.95 each they are really inexpensive.   The lady continued to hover not saying anything awaiting our order which we eventually wrote down and handed to her. 

The Order: 1 Pho with Rare Beef and Beef Balls, 1 Pho with Rare Beef, Beef Balls and Tripe and 1 Meatball Sandwich.

The lady disappeared to the kitchen with our order and returned shortly with the Meatball sandwich and a "To Go" bag separate.  She inquired if we would like the sandwich now or for later after the meal to take home.  We politely replied that we would enjoy the sandwich as an appetizer before the main Pho dishes.  

We cut the sandwich in half using a table knife and each took half.  The whole sandwich  appeared about six inches in length on what appeared to be french bread in style.   The meatball sandwich was different compared to the more common Subway Meatball Marinara Italian style sandwich. Instead of the meatballs doused in tomato sauce, there were meatballs with shredded radish and carrots with a garlicky sauce.  We had politely declined upon ordering the options of chilies on the sandwich.   The sandwich tasted fairly well and for $2.95 was pretty good but not a meal in itself like a Subway sandwich would be.  This Vietnamese style sandwich makes for a good appetizer or to accompany something else from the Co Cham Menu.

Our two bowls of Pho arrived shortly after we finished our sandwich.  Both sets of Pho were interestingly arranged with the meatballs around edge of the bowl and meat and the noodles in the middle.  This was the first time I had seen the ingredients of Pho so intricately arranged. 

The Pho bowls themselves were pretty good as well with more noodles than you can shake a chopstick at, decent tasting rare beef and meatballs cut in half.  My only gripe was the meatballs were a little slippery when picking them up with the chop sticks.    The broth itself was a full tasting non watered down style that other Vietnamese pretending restaurants use.   The ingredients in the food, like the restaurant itself, are well thought out and prepared with care.  

During my meal, I noticed a couple of things.  The lady that showed us to our seats and took our order was very interested and gave the best effort I've seen in a while in serving the customers to the best of her ability even when her English was not that great.  When the Pho bowls were brought out it was an older gentleman who brought them to our table and ventured back to what I presumed was the kitchen.  When we were finishing up, I observed a boy in grade 7 or 8 bringing out the complimentary tea service to other tables with care. It seems Co Cham is a traditional family owned and operated establishment that only employs family members. These family members, because the care so much about the Co Cham business, present an ambitious and caring environment as opposed to other establishments that hire servers on an hourly basis.   Thus, at Co Cham the service is better.

Overall, Co Cham is good Vietnamese style restaurant serving traditional Vietnamese Pho and Sandwiches using the best ingredients they could find.  The food is served by caring hands within an above average decorated clean Asian restaurant.  This restaurant is like a diamond in the rough of Chinatown. No wonder some days it is hard to find a seat in this small restaurant.  Co Cham is not likely to expand as it could end up possibly losing that postive family operated and worked atmosphere.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Not a McDonald's to Bank On

McDonald's on UrbanspoonToday, after receiving yet another set of coupons in the mail, my wife and I attempted to enjoy an early lunch at McDonald's (77 Bank Street, Ottawa). 

We arrived at 11:40 A.M., sectioned out our coupon, handed it to the smiling McDonald's employee behind the counter and place our order. 

The Order: 1 Big Mac, 1 McChicken Sandwich, 2 Medium Fries and 2 Medium Cokes for $9.48. 

Our order was taken quickly and in less than a minute our food arrived and placed on our tray.  We moved over to the drink and condiment station to pour our own Coke out of the machine, gather napkins and straws.   We headed over to our table which was clean, sat down, unloaded our winter jackets and a sweatshirt (lost ten pounds right there!) in the somewhat newly renovated restaurant.   Then I realized I forgot the ketchup......

That is where things went downhill.  The drink and condiment station magically was swarmed by about four guys all gathering what they needed.  I went over and patiently waited my turn only to realize that someone was imported from Trader Joe's parking design in Los Angeles to design the layout of this McDonald's restaurant.  To walk in the only front door from Bank Street, there is a double single file door to juggle awkwardly as other customers are coming and going.  To make matters worse, once inside the store you are right at the small drink and condiment station.  If it is busy you have to stick your elbows out like a New Yorker boarding the 4 Train at Grand Central anytime of the day. Who mapped this out and thought it was great idea?  Thus, I was left to impress Mohammed Ali by bobbing and weaving while waiting to get to the ketchup dispenser.  Then I had to dispense qty 4 of those obnoxiously small paper cups that barely hold a thimble full ketchup and retrace my steps back to my table.  

Stop right there, on my way back to the table, I noticed a couple of tables that could easily have been removed that line the right side of the wall running along the kitchen/counter.  The condiment and drink station could obviously have been moved here to provide better customer traffic flows. With these changes included, there would of been additional seating upstairs and a decent amount of seating would still be left on the main floor. But of course that would have been too easy. 

This being flu season, my wife suggested we each wash our hands.  Great idea!  I tried first at the washroom only to find the door locked.  I returned to my wife to let her try the Women's washroom.  Turns out each washroom has a single toilet instead of a several stalls and a couple of sinks.  A busy downtown McDonald's within steps of the Supreme Court and Parliament Hill has to suffice with one washroom for each gender?   To make matters worse, my wife reports back that the water flow out of the tap rivalled that of the Nevada Desert. 

I reattempted to use the washroom.  A manager came with the mop and met an employee with air freshener.  They mopped out the entire place and made Febreeze stockholders proud by emptying two bottles of air freshener.  I patiently waited and then washed my hands.  No problems there until I went to dry them, nothing.  The hand dryer was not working, no paper towels to be found.  I left the washroom with wet hands and used a couple of napkins from the table, at least that was solved.  But now I needed more napkins as a few had dropped on the floor and I had just a couple.  Back to drink and condiment station hell again!

Upon my return, I dug into my meal.  The Big Mac seemed o.k. but was lukewarm at best.  It had the usual sauce, cheese, undersized paddies and sesame seed bun.  Nothing special but that is what you can expect at any McDonald's nevermind this location in particular. 

The fries were also lukewarm.  They apparently had been sitting for a while.  A general observation: Why is it that fast food places like Wendy's and McDonald's either are out of fries and you have to wait the annoying two minutes for the unorganized employees to make it or lukewarm because the fries have been sitting for so long.  Why is there no happy medium?

Overall, this McDonald's needs some help.  The renovations that have recently been occurring at McDonald's across Canada were not done right at this location.  Only one entrance that allows customers to go through single file in one direction at a time in a busy downtown store is asking for trouble.  Couple that with putting the drink and condiment station, it seems like someone who poorly designs mall parking lots finally got fired and was hired by McDonald's.    As well, having only one washroom available for each gender is also an issue due to cleanliness issues.  This location needs retrofitting to save the remodelling concept.  This restaurant back in the late 90s and early 2000s was a decent place to eat especially as a university student after a late night at the bar.  But now, it is nothing to Bank on when visiting Bank Street.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Yellow Pages Detritus on my Front Porch Courtesy of Yellow Media & Bell

Yellow Pages Phone Book delivered in January 2012
Earlier this week, I received a phone book on my front door step.  This was an improvement over my previous experience of receiving an unsolicited phone book as it wasn't wrapped in plastic or buried deep in the snow after being delivered in the middle of the night.
I picked up the phone book to prevent a possible tripping hazard for the mail man who may come by later to drop off the mail I might want and may have asked for (i.e. like a card from someone who cares and actually knows I exist).

I flipped through the book with the nice little blue"Bell" logo on top with the Yellow Pages logo in the bottom left hand corner.  After a quick scan, there really wasn't anything I couldn't find online.  In fact, I would argue that Google does a better job in finding local businesses in my area. I normally visit Google Maps, find my address, then search for what I'm looking for.  Heck even Prime Minister Stephen Harper do this if he is looking for some "Za".  Even better, Google provides user ratings for the listings that are frequently updated.  Sadly, my Yellow Pages do not seem to have these updated user reviews on whether Uncle George's Pizza is a rat hole or provides piping hot pizza with delicious one of a kind toppings that you can rave about.  All I get with Yellow pages are black fingers, paper cuts and useless raves from restaurant owners about being "the most Italian Restaurant in the Byward Market".    I will hand it to Yellowpages and Bell, if you want the residential white pages now, you must request them.

I have had over 2 years to figure out when the last time I have to use a phone book:

Q:Open a phone book to look for a phone number or address? 

A:Nope, still got nothing. 

Q: Are you able to sell it? 

A: No bidders on the last one, not even at $5.00.  If something is useful wouldn't someone be able to use it as in  "One Man's trash is another man's treasure"?  No bidding, not even a contact to see if someone wanted it.  Thus, I don't even consider the phone book to be trash, it is lower than that as nobody seems to wish to treasure it. 

So how to rid myself of this tree killing tripping hazard that I still can't remember the last time I actually used it?  Let's go old school with the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"  to see if we can resolve this problem. 

Reduce

The easiest way to stop the slaughter of green trees that only end up causing your fingers to be discoloured and cut by poorly processed paper in the future is to not get the phone book in the first place. As well, Yellow media Inc. (owner of Yellow Pages in Canada) is trying to reduce it's humongous debt anyway possible.  The company is also trying to, according to Yellow Media Inc's President & CEO Marc Tellier in a Globe & Mail article, "...focus on our digital transformation" to be a producer of websites and feature results in cooperation with a partnership with Yahoo. I figure a couple of shekels could be saved to pay down Yellow Media's Debt and encourage them to focus on their "digital transformation" by not printing my phone book and many others.   Yellow Pages in fact encourages people to opt out by putting a blurb on the top of the front cover reading:

"To stop receiving this directory or to request a residential directory ypg.com/delivery or 1 800 268-5637" 

At least this time Yellow Pages made it easier to opt out of receiving their yearly printed piece of detritus...or so I thought. 

I visited the website link provided (www.ypg.com/delivery) to find a pretty simple step by step instructions on how to opt out of receiving the Yellow Pages.  The average person would have simply gone through the process and felt satisfied that they have done their part to save the environment, helping Yellow Media Inc. with their debt issues and moving forward the cause that online phone listings are much better.

But wait, there is the small print in a size 8 font that the average person would ignore reading "Privacy Statement".   My mouse clicking finger got a little antsy.  Of course I clicked the link and was taken to another webpage headlined "Privacy Statement" that looked about 3 pages long printed (yes you can print it, this is Yellow Pages after all!).  I skimmed through this web page reading about definitions of personal information, collection, what they can use it for and how you authorize Yellow Pages to use it.  All very interesting and took about 5 minutes to read and comprehend.

To save you the time here is in a nutshell what you need to know in our case:

If you fill out any form on the YellowPages.ca website (or anything remotely associated with the Yellowpages name online) you consent to giving YellowPages your information and authorize the company to use said information.  Use of your personal information may include:

"We will generally collect and use personal information to administer our contests, promotions, surveys, reward programs and other services, to understand our customers’ responses, needs and preferences, and to generally manage our business.

We may also use personal information to contact our customers or suppliers with marketing or promotional materials regarding our products, programs and services or to assist our front-line staff in providing tailored sales offers to our customers. We may exchange or merge personal information with data obtained from third parties for the same purposes."

Bottom line, if you fill in the opt out for your phone book, you will not receive a phone book next year, but you may be harassed with plenty of junk mail and phone calls asking your opinion or attempting to sell you crap you don't need.  Yup, YellowPages will sell or give away your personal information to telemarketers without your direct authorization.   So personally, I wouldn't fill out that form, a phone book delivered yearly is probably less of a hassle than telling Yellow Pages I don't want one. 

But still, how do I discard my phone book if YellowPages does not make "Reduce" of the 3 R's that convenient?  Let's move on.

Reuse

Some options I found while perusing on the internet seemed interesting possibilities but led nowhere.

Q: How about to use a book for another use, like to help others out?

A: Nope, the last time I gave a phone book to a granny to boost herself up to drive her car things didn't go so well.  I got nailed in the shins with her wooden cane and called some new words that are not listed in the dictionary (but funny enough are all over Twitter).

Q: Door stop?


A: Sorry, I got one of those that actually does the job better than a yellow coloured badly processed wood product.

Reusing it didn't seem like an option, what to do, what to do? There is still one more "R" to go, hopefully maybe?

Recycle

I guess I could merely toss my phone book in the blue box and let the City of Ottawa take it off my hands.  I am paying property taxes for the removal of recyclables and other trash.  But this seems hardly fair.  Why am I placing the responsibility of the City of Ottawa and their contractors to remove a phone book that could easily not have been left in the first place?  Right, because YellowPages' own "Privacy Statement" basically gives you the option to either not receive the phone book and be harassed or just receive the book and be done with it.  So I'm left with the queasy option: do I harass the City of Ottawa to remove something because YellowPages wishes to bully their customers into taking the book? or do I find another option?

At least "Recycle" does provide me with a viable option and the 3 R's have been exhausted. But it doesn't seem right that the bill for removal of unwanted phone books (like Canada Post and their unwanted junk mail) falls to the property taxpayer to pay.  There has to be a better way.  So just like in school, let's brainstorm! 

Return

There should be a "4th R" to the current 3 R's (Reduce, Reuse & Recycle), RETURN!  I guess I could travel around Ottawa picking up the unwanted phone books left by the litterbugs hired by Bell and Yellowpages and return it to them.  But sadly, the closest Yellowpages Offices there is listed is either in Montreal or Toronto and I don't have the shekels to rent a U-Haul truck and make a delivery like these two did.


I also don't want to be accused of creating a "fire hazard" or harm the nearby daycare centre children mentoned by Fiona Story, Yellowpages spokesperson in front of the Montreal office.

Another option?  Bell has their logo on the front of the YellowPages copy I did receive.  Bell also periodically sends envelopes with my address on it but without my name on it with flyers inside telling me how great their satellite television, internet and cell phone packages are.  I've learned to reduce amount of volume in the recylcing box and help Canada Post make money very easily. Anything Bell sends me, I  scribble out the address, write "Moved, Return to Sender" and drop it in the nearest Canada Post mailbox for Bell to get back.  After all, that does keep their junk mail out of my recycling box, gives Canada Post a reason to keep postal workers employed and increases the amount Bell has to pay in postal charges instead of myself.  An option would be to drop the YellowPages book in one of those red Canada Post boxes as Canada Post does love it's flyers and other junk mail.  But it seems unfair to the postal worker to handle a heavy phone book that presumably they did not handle or deliver.

A quick internet search shows more than 10 Bell stores within 5 Kms of my address. Ironically, one of the top search results is a YellowPages showing me the Bell Store at the Rideau Centre. I do have to pick up an OC Transpo monthly pass for February and am planning a lunch out in the downtown core, I think I will drop off the Bell / YellowPages phone book to the Bell store.  I'm sure after that if, as Fiona Story of YellowPages says "1 in 2 Canadians in a month is still using it" then Bell and YellowPages should be easily able to Reuse my copy of the book after all.  Or if Fiona Story is incorrect, then at least Bell will be responsible for the bill to recycle this product.  The product is recyclable after all by Bell, why else would the blue Bell logo be right next to a green recycling logo.  I think I will choose this option, I can drop off my trash (er...detritous) to Bell and pick up my OC Transpo bus pass at the same mall.

In the end, it seems YellowPages doesn't make it easy to be green.  They litter doorsteps everywhere with unwanted tripping hazards that cause dirty newsprint hands and paper cuts.  YellowPages then provides an underhanded option, via their "Privacy Statement", to not have a phonebook delivered to you but to continue to harrass you with unwanted marketing. No wonder Fiona Story's claim that "there is less than 1% opt out" is true, it's because people don't want to be harrassed by YellowPages. 

Thus, the only option is to anonymously return their books to Bell and YellowPages offices to show them that the following statements by Fiona Story do are incorrect: "Print still answers a need" and "The majority of Canadians use the YellowPages on a monthly basis".  Perhaps then YellowPages will get the message that Canadians' do not want phone books on their front porches on a yearly basis.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Question Period: Second Cup at St. Laurent Centre

Second Cup on UrbanspoonYesterday I was at St. Laurent Centre Mall and was looking for some coffee and of course, with Second Cup Gift Card in hand, I searched out the Second Cup (1200 St. Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa) kiosk.  The kiosk is located on the main floor just near the The Bay on the St. Laurent Boulevard side of the mall.

There were three Baristas working there with one pouring coffee, one taking the cash and yet another making the lattes and other more complicated drinks that require rocket science. 

I walked up, reviewed the selection of coffees on offer only to find none of my usual choices of flavoured coffees were available.  No sign of the Caramello, Belgian Chocolate, Hazelnut Cream, Irish Cream or those of the mild flavour.  What to do? Why must Second Cup put me through such hell!  I know, try something new!

The Order: 1 Medium Black Ethiopian Limu

The Second Cup claims Ethiopian Limu blend is claimed to be "Light-bodied" with a "sweet and smooth flavour with a clean finish" or whatever that means in coffee speak. 

The average person like myself, I ask:

Q: Do you like the taste?

A: Yes! It tastes like a regular coffee you would find anywhere else.

Q: How does it compare to our other flavours?

A: The Ethiopian Limu is a more flavourful coffee compared to Second Cup's regular black coffee blend of Paradiso.  I enjoy the Ethiopian Limu has it has a richer taste but does not taste burnt.  I might even rank it ahead of Tim Hortons coffee as well, but would have to have a few more cups to test it.

Q: Would you have it again?

A: Yes, I wouldn't mind it.

Q: If we provided another flavour for you, would you choose the Ethiopian Limu blend?

A: Depends on what is on offer, against Belgian Chocolate and other I enjoy, probably not.  I only chose the Ethiopian Limu as it was on offer and the others I enjoyed were not.  I tend to choose Second Cup for flavoured coffees as opposed to regular coffees.  If I wanted a regular run of the mill coffee I would tend to visit Bridgehead or Tim Hortons.

Overall, this location is in a busy mall location but like most Second Cup locations lines are not an issue as the service levels are more than adequate with competant Baristas working the counter.  The Ethiopian Limu coffee was an interesting regular blend, but the lack of flavoured coffee in the mild category was a little concerning.  I'm not sure if this was a one off time of selection of flavours available.  Further visits would be able to see if this is the case at this location.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Second Cup to Bank On

Second Cup on UrbanspoonToday I found myself over on Bank Street in downtown Ottawa doing a few things.  With my Second Cup Gift Card in hand and the need for a little coffee, I scoured Bank Street for the Second Cup location (123 Bank Street, Ottawa).  The Second Cup was on the corner of Slater & Bank Streets easy to pick out.  

I visited at 12:30 P.M. to find a moderately full cafe with many a federal bureaucrat enjoying a coffee, some nibbles and taking full advantage of the free wifi. 

I walked up to the counter, choosing my coffee beverage of choice as I passed the flavoured coffees, and ordered.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Caramello Coffee

I paid using my Second Cup Gift Card, grabbed my quickly poured coffee and left to head for the nearby Bank Street OC Transpo station to head home. 

The Caramello coffee was a significant improvement over the previous one I had at the Second Cup at the University of Ottawa's Morisett Library location. The caramel taste was definately present, but the best part was the coffee failed to possess a burnt taste.  This was how the Caramello Coffee from Second Cup should taste.  

Overall, this location is pretty good if you are looking to kill some time downtown and have your own wifi device.  Decent amount of comfortable seating with good coffee is available along with free wifi.  But, if you are looking for a spot with good coffee before you grab the bus, this location will also suffice.  Good location, good coffee and free wifi is what every coffee drinker should be able to bank on especially on Bank Street.

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