Tag Archives: Opinion

Return to sender: why food delivery in Hong Kong sucks

Probably better than Hong Kong food delivery

One of the many reasons I love living in Hong Kong is the food. Eating out can often work out cheaper (and a hell of a lot easier) than cooking for yourself and Hong Kong offers such a wealth of dining destinations, for all types of cuisines and price ranges, that you really are spoilt for choice – as I hope the food reviews on my blog show! However, one of the very few areas where HK gets it so so wrong is delivery.

Delivery is, of course, one of the very few areas in which the UK gets it so so right. Cheaper, quicker and more convenient than eating out – especially if you’re nowhere near a major town – you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Blighty that hasn’t had pizzas delivered (oh Dominoes, how I miss thee) or enjoyed a Chinese or Indian takeaway in their time.

In Hong Kong, the main decent delivery service is that of ‘man on foot from your local chaa chaan teng’. If you’re near enough for a waiter to hoof it round yours, most local places will offer delivery to your front door quickly, cheaply, efficiently and generally without a service charge. Similarly, one of Hong Kong’s defining sights is seeing McDonalds couriers zipping through the streets (or sitting with their bags on the MTR!) – like rats, you’re probably never more than six feet away from the Golden Arches in this city – so their delivery is speedy and the food is still hot when it arrives. Aside from these honourable exceptions though, be prepared for a disastrous experience nearly everywhere else.

Pizzas are a takeaway staple, especially if you’ve got friends round – with the size of most HK kitchens, you’d be lucky to have an oven at all, never mind one that you can fit family-sized pizzas into. Frankly, I wouldn’t touch Pizza Hut here in a restaurant, let alone outside of one (here’s why) so that leaves Pizza Box – HK’s premiere pizza delivery service. If Dominoes made you wait an hour only to deliver lukewarm food, they’d be out if business in the UK; in HK, Pizza Box is actually one of the better services.

Most restaurants sub-contract out their delivery division to specialised firms, like Dial-A-Dinner and Cuisine Courier. The term specialist implies some sort of expertise. I’m lucky to live practically in the middle of the MTR HK Island line, meaning I shouldn’t really ever be more than 30 minutes away from most other Island destinations on the MTR, let alone if you’ve got the luxury of a motorcycle. And yet somehow delivery men regularly contrive waiting times of 90 minutes! Once when we were eating at a restaurant, we saw a courier arrive only to have a ten-minute natter with waiters whilst a pizza rapidly cooled on the counter. Perhaps that explains things.

When it does show up, it’s delivered by drivers who seem to display no sense of urgency whatsoever – watching from my balcony, we’ve seen them meander up my road being overtaken by passing snails. The food arrives, it’s stone cold (half the time, it doesn’t seem to have had any contact with the insulated delivery bags designed especially for this purpose) and the delivery guy hangs round by your door, shooting surly looks because you’ve not deigned to offer a tip for this amazing experience, although you’ve already paid a 10% delivery charge for the pleasure. Frequently, they’ll claim they don’t have any change; if this is the case, the delivery firm should explicitly state this – I remember Dominoes drivers in the UK actually used to telephone to say they didn’t carry more than £20 in change. I was once delivered pasta in a box without a lid.

However, the straw that broke the diner’s back was my recent experience with Subway. Subway used to be one of the better places to order from – they seemed to have their own delivery staff and as such, you got through to someone who knew Subway’s menu inside out rather than someone who has about fifty restaurants on their books and thus know practically nothing about any of them. Food would arrive within an hour and was edible. That’s about all you can hope for with delivery here. Alas, it seems they’ve gone the way of the dark side and employed Cuisine Courier. Big mistake.

[It seem there are two websites and delivery hotlines for Subway. One at http://www.sandwiches.hk, which is presumbly what we used in the past, and one at http://www.subway.hk, which we mistakenly stumbled upon this time.]

When we ordered, we hadn’t realised this, so admittedly did not have order codes (although this hasn’t posed a problem in ordering before). My boyfriend detailed first his sandwich and asked to make it a meal with chips and a coke. Telephone lady confirmed. Then my sub, asking to make this a meal as well, with cookies and a Snapple. Telephone lady confirmed again but couldn’t find Snapple so hung up to find it, then called us back. All seemed well.

Around 80 minutes later and still no sign of the food, my boyfriend gave them a call. ‘Are you Mr George?’ ‘No.’ ‘We’ve been trying to get hold of him but we can’t get through.’ ‘But that’s not me.’ ‘Is it about a Subway order?’ ‘Yes, but I’m not Mr George.’ ‘Well, we’ve been trying to contact him…’ ‘Yeah but that’s NOT me!’ Bizarre. But to her credit, she quickly called our driver, who claimed he was 3 minutes away. This was correct – and it’s pretty much the last time they’ll be correct about anything in this story.

The food came to $235. As regular Subway customers, this seemed way off but I saw little point questioning the driver – there’s not much he can do about it from this end, and after approximately 90 minutes, hunger got the best of me. So I paid up (with exact change = driver stink eye)… where to begin?

Firstly, the sandwiches were not just cold but soaking wet, as if the delivery guy had actively offered our food to the rain gods (there was a light drizzle). As such, although cold sandwiches are fine, soggy ones really aren’t so I stuck them in the toaster, adding a further wait time (after an hour and a half, what’s an extra 15 minutes, eh? And yes, they were that wet, they needed 15 minutes)

The invoice stated a delivery time of 15:54 (30 minutes after ‘Pick Up Time’ despite being from somewhere on the Island) yet our friend managed to arrive at about 16:39, a full HOUR after being picked up. Guys, I can get to the New Territories in under an hour! A carrier pigeon would have probably done the job better and quicker and at least they wouldn’t shoot daggers when you don’t tip. This is made all the more laughable by the fact that a few weeks ago, we accidentally ordered a takeaway from Olympic – that’s across the seas and through a tunnel in Kowloon – that arrived quicker and hotter.

Chips? Nowhere to be found. Cookies? Them neither. Instead, there was a tub of Haagen Daaz ice-cream. I checked the invoice, where neither of our subs had been made into meals, hence meaning we had been overcharged to the tune of roughly $70, and that’s without all the components of the meal actually showing up. If telephone lady had not understood the repeated ‘make it into a meal’ instruction (we later checked Subway’s menu online and it’s clearly there as an order code), why had she kept on agreeing with my boyfriend saying ‘Can we make that a meal? It’s a meal right?’ about three times? Did she think this was a strange sort of vocal tic or something?

I’d also been charged an extra $15 for making my sub ‘Double Meat’ (I don’t even know what that is). Rather than giving us Coke and Snapple from the Subway menu (costing $8 and $18 respectively), they had sent us some ***From Cuisine Courier***, hence costing an extra sixteen bucks ($14 and $28). Meanwhile, the invoice reckoned that the unwanted $35 tub of Haagen Daaz (also ***From Cuisine Courier***) was Cookies & Chocolate flavour (hence explaining the absence of the cookies I suppose), yet we were sitting with Belgian Chocolate instead. I think this sums up the entire experience.

Yes, getting food delivered is a bit lazy but there were valid reasons behind it and, for being a little bit lazy, do we really deserve to be overcharged for soppy food which isn’t even the food we ordered? So order for delivery in HK at your peril… and it won’t be Subway on the menu at ours for a very long time.

EDIT: I actually complained directly to Subway about this, including the above pictures and receipts as proof plus a photo of our sandwiches in a soaking wet bag. After checking my claims, they confirmed we had been overcharged and offered us some money off our next order… if we ordered through Cuisine Courier. Needless to say, we have not taken them up on this offer.]

[Banner photo from hellothomas’ Flickr]

McDonalds Hello Kitty Cosplay toys: Here kitty, kitty…

Is it me or were Happy Meal toys never this good in my day? Or just never this good in England?

Well, strictly speaking, these weren’t happy meal toys. In Hong Kong, collecting shit you don’t need has become a fine art and love of Hello Kitty certainly isn’t confined to kiddies. So all you needed to do was spend $18 at McDonalds, then add on $12 to claim a toy of your choice.

These cute kitties fell under the banner of Hello Kitty Cosplay. Just in case you aren’t sad Asian, cosplay is a fancy name for fully-grown adults dressing up at conventions, usually as comic-book or anime characters. I’m not quite sure why, when you could be Sailor Moon or Pikachu you’d want to dress up as such exotic things as “Graduate” or “Lawyer”, but Hello Kitty’s kinda ker-azy like that. The only ones I passed on were the ones dressed as McDonalds employees – I’m not even sure McDonalds employees want to dress as McDonalds employees so why Hello Kitty would want to is beyond me.

I started off only wanting “Showgirl” and “Bride”. Then I thought “London Guard” and “Air Stewardess” were cute as well. And maybe “Police Officer” too. Soon, somehow, without even realising it, I had become infected by the HK mania for collecting crap and ended up getting near enough the whole set. In HK, people collect for collecting’s sake. They’ll spend thousands at Wellcome just to save up enough stickers to claim a set of pots and pans identical to the set they claimed last year. They’ll try and survive on food bought purely from 7-11 for three months in order to amass a whole series of products slapped with the face of a Japanese cartoon character. They’ll beg, harass and attack McDonalds employees just to get the right colour Coca-Cola glass needed to complete their collection – which they won’t use but just keep in boxes and stare lovingly at on their mantelpiece. And they won’t care that for the amount of time, money and sanity wasted on doing this, they could have just got a cheaper pot and pan set/toy/glass from Ikea. But when you’re in Rome…

You gotta admire McDonalds’ marketing tack as well. These Hello Kitties were drip-fed to the hungry public like jelly babies waggled in front of toddlers’ noses for finishing off their greens. They appeared in weekly batches and you could only get two at a time, meaning you had to go twice a week for three weeks if you wanted to claim all 12. Another one was only available if you ordered a delivery and another three were only available between 9pm-4am with different ones each week. I missed out on one of these ‘after dark’ ones and my poor boyfriend never heard the end of it. You could bypass the whole collection mania by purchasing a box set (getting a special Hello Kitty and apparently “saving” $200 – except you weren’t saving, you just weren’t getting any food) – but where’s the fun in that?! I say ‘Where’s the fun?’; I mean, I was starting to have dreams about my desired Hello Kitty being sold out and knew I needed to get a life.

Luckily for me, my boyfriend is a McDonalds addict, with Coca-Cola flowing through his veins and French Fries propping up his organs – but even he was beginning to tire of a diet exclusively from the golden arches. I was worried he would explode, only for a shower of McNuggets to pop out. This was around the time of Shake Shake Fries and we joked that literally cross-eyed Hip Hop Hello Kitty had OD-ed on too much MSG-infused Hot n’ Spicy Shake Shake stuff. For a while, it looked like my boyfriend might follow suit.

My boyfriend at the end of the month

But anyway, it’s all over now, I got my Hello Kitties and don’t they look cute?! So now I keep them in their boxes and stare lovingly at them sitting on the mantelpiece. This is probably more proof of my burgeoning HK identity than the 3 stars on my ID card.

And if anyone has a “Pajamas” Hello Kitty going for a good price, do let me know 😉

Check out my post on some more (yes, more!!) McDonalds Hello Kitty toys here

Sephora no mora…

Terrible headline aside, the very serious news this post brings you is that Sephora is closing in Hong Kong.

As a VIP member of Sephora (i.e. I have a loyalty card), I received an oddly-worded email last week telling me Sephora was ceasing ‘operations in Hong Kong market for strategic reasons’. All my VIP points would expire on March 31 but in the meantime, there was a clearance sale with up to 70% off to be had. My boyfriend and I duly made the trek to Mong Kok this Saturday and the photo of crazed women screaming that accompanied the email (see below) turned out to be scarily accurate. The shop was literally teeming.

sephora 2

I duly deposited my boyfriend in the 40-minute long queue that snaked around the entire shop whilst I tried to grab some bargains. What became obvious was that half these bargain-hunters had never set foot in Sephora before – as they jostled over the near-empty concession of Sephora’s own range of make-up to grab one of the few horrible shades of eyeshadow that remained (who cares?! It’s only $10!!!), I simply darted downstairs where an identical counter stood, albeit much better-stocked and in a location where I was able to breathe without getting my face wedged up someone’s sweaty armpit.

HKers are notoriously crazy for bargains – I’ve seen a line snake down an entire road in Causeway Bay for what turned out to be free mini-packs of Tic-Tacs, cordons set up at midnight for the Lane Crawford sale and when Happy Valley Racecourse gave away some free souvenir gift-sets, several elderly people were injured in the ensuing crush and commotion – so the crowds at Sephora did not surprise me. They certainly surprised the staff who looked on with an air of bewilderment and fear, like aliens shown the store to illustrate the concept of ‘crowd’ (or merely ‘crazy HK people’).

I might not know much about business (although according to Sir Alun Sugar, all it takes is an ability to not bull-shit or arse-lick, in which case I’m good to go) but I do know about make-up and Sephora’s demise is frustrating because they were doing so much right and had spotted a unique position in the sprawling HK cosmetics market. Unlike standalone stores selling just one brand (MAC, NARS, Clinique), Sephora housed several under one very spacious and luxurious roof. So do department stores like Lane Crawford, I hear you cry – but there, each concession is manned by an individual who takes the trouble to give you the hard sell for their brand alone. Other cosmetics stores in Hong Kong offering several brands certainly do not fall into the leisurely shopping experience category. Watsons and Mannings are more pharmacists, stocking standard drugstore cosmetics brands alongside cough medicines and condoms, whilst the likes of Sasa, Colormix and Bonjour are akin to cosmetics cash-and-carries – yes, their stuff is a little cheaper than the recommended retail price but that means stock supply is unpredictable (we couldn’t possibly speculate as to its ‘fallen off the back the van’ nature), any customer service above the likes of ‘That’ll be $20 please’ is out the window, and goods are stuffed into the shop with about as much care as a toddler cramming toys back into play-box.

Sephora’s staff were genuinely knowledgeable about all their ranges and offered relatively unbiased recommendations. The downstairs floor that so many of the bargain-hunters didn’t even know existed housed dressing tables where you could get free make-up consultations and apply different products to your heart’s content. The VIP card was not exactly a great deal (then again, what loyalty cards ever are?! but at least it was making an effort to give something back, with less strings attached than most VIP cards I’ve picked up along the way (ridiculously-high minimum spends are a perennial favourite).

And Sephora’s own range of make-up was brilliant. Their range of cosmetics was huge, covering every product under the sun, and married quality with reasonable prices. Their skincare range was equally dependable without costing the earth and their range of accessories (brushes, bags, tweezers etc) was extensive. This range was, of course, the most heavily discounted in the closing down sale and I stocked up on their eyeliner pencils (with a range of colours in such great quality bettered only by Urban Decay’s 24/7 pencils IMHO) and their cleansing water, a fantastic product that tackles eye make-up too whilst being gentle and not at all greasy. Basically, for someone that misses Boots and its brilliant Advantage Card as much as I miss anything from England, Sephora was the closest I could get.

That’s not to say they didn’t do anything wrong. The Mong Kok location raised expertly-plucked eyebrows from the start. Mong Kok may be a tourist hotspot for its Ladies Market (an open-air street market selling cheap tat souvenirs and designer fakes) but with its array of street food, pokey shops and hectic bustling streets, the atmosphere is very “local”. Sephora, with its feeling of quality, luxury and an airy ambience, would have fared better amongst the designer stores of Tsim Sha Tsui, the fashionable shopping mecca of Causeway Bay, or in gweilo central, the cunningly-named Central.

Elsewhere around the world, Sephora stores stock brands or items exclusive to their stores as prime draws to make-up mavens like myself. But Sephora HK was filled with brands that you could have procured easily at the same price in department shores or even in their own shops in malls without having to brave the Mong Kok masses (and potential acid attacks), whilst the few exclusives they did garner (excepting the BareMinerals range, for which there was a lot of positive press) did not have great brand recognition. Take just one look at the list of brands on either Sephora France or US to see how we’ve been short-changed here.

And, as the bargain brouhaha described above shows, a few more sales, promotions or freebies couldn’t have hurt – Sephora’s regular VIB promotions are the stuff of legend on beauty blogs worldwide. I hope somewhere out there a Sephora executive is reading this blog and making careful notes, as I’m sure Sephora will return soon enough (they already have 41 stores in China and over 1000 globally, though strangely none in the UK). And next time, Mr Sephora man, please bring Urban Decay with you.

Be careful what you wish for ‘cos you just might get it…

A while ago, I hastily-penned a short article expressing my disdain for the whole Sugababes v.27 thing. Just a few months later, in their eternal bid to prove that anything the Brits can do the Yanks can do better, the Pussycat Dolls are making the Sugababes incident seem like an event of ‘kid pushes over other kid’s sandcastle’ magnitude.

It currently looks as if Nicole Scherzinger is the last Doll standing – a mean feat considering she wasn’t even a Doll in the first place (she was added to give ‘vocal strength’ when the burlesque troupe became a band). Given that Scherzinger apparently manages to sing both lead and backing vocals on When I Grow Up (meaning should the post of PCD magician become vacant, Scherzinger is a dead cert), any other members are clearly dispensable and amidst tales of dressing rooms, drug tests, regulated screen-time in videos, non-sharing of vocals, broken ribs and even homelessness, Kimberly Wyatt, Jessica Sutta and Ashley Roberts have all confirmed their departures. The exit of Melody Thornton, the only other member even allowed within breathing space of a microphone and who had an outburst live on stage about not being ‘featured’ (a reference to the band’s new name of “Pussycat Dolls feat. Nicole Scherzinger” on their last singles), surely cannot be far off.

The fact that you’re probably scratching your heads trying to place these names – that’s if you’re even bothering attempting to place them at all (and no, none of them are the one who looked like a he-she – that was Carmit Bachar and she left 2 years ago) – illustrates the problem. These other members were little more than glorified back-up dancers for Scherzinger and in fact, salaried employees of the record company. This means they picked up pay cheques for a set amount just like you, me or any other average Joe flipping burgers at the local Machouse.

This already promoted the idea that members were interchangeable – in any corporation, no-one is irreplaceable – and this has led to a somewhat blasé attitude amongst some commentators regarding PCD’s (as we know them) demise. But this isn’t a corporation, it’s a pop band. You put these girls on every single record sleeve, you have an official website where each has a member profile, you send them out touring and you do this over the course of five whole years – of course, their job status is a little different to your average Joe flipping burgers and should be treated as such. It’s a little sad if we just shrug our shoulders and continue to lap up whatever material Scherzinger and her chorus line put out next.

The notion of modern pop fandom means having some connection with the individuals in the group, for better or for worse. Yes, yes, it should all be about the music blah blah blah but where would the fun be in that? People inevitably develop favourite members, bustling fansites and forums emerge and Thornton, Wyatt and Roberts have approximately 90,000 followers on Twitter between them; to the hardcore fans, the staple of pop groups who rely on such fans to religiously buy singles even when they’re at the tricky dodgy ballad stage, these women are not just interchangeable faces – whatever Robin Antin, the brains (and the botox) behind brand PCD, may believe.

Compare and contrast the videos for the lead single and last singles from the Doll Domination album campaign. By the end, the other members are lucky to get 20 seconds screen-time between them and aren’t even bothering to lip-sync to backing vocals. It shows disrespect to the fans, disrespect to real bands whose performances aren’t a total charade and disrespect to the girls themselves.

Line-up changes, bust-ups and messy splits are practically written into girl groups’ DNA and I daresay that if the Pussycat Dolls, in whatever Nicole-centric incarnation (lest we forget she had a prolonged crack at solo stardom and comprehensively flopped), continue to release highly-commercial material of a similar calibre to their work in the past, they will continue to sell decently. To lose one band member is bad luck, to lose two is carelessness… to lose four in one fell swoop hints at deeper problems. I hope the press give them a hard time because they genuinely deserve it. Come back Sugababes v.48, all is forgiven.