What Reward?! New Starbucks Scheme & my Email to them

Mr, Mrs or Ms. Starbucks…

As usual, it would seem you are but another large corporation for which I was a happy customer, that has gone and put two fingers up at providing a quality value service and has gone back to wanting to line their pockets with cash by removing the things I enjoyed and benefited from as a loyal customer….

I have, for some time, been a very loyal customer of starbucks and have put a fair few quid through your tills. Aside from coffee by the cup, the purchases from your stores in Reading, Berkshire over the last 18months have included a Large French Press, a Medium French Press, 2 Red Thermal Mgs, 1 Stainless Steel Thermal mug, 2 ceramic mugs, approximately 5 bottles of syrup, atleast 25 bags of coffee (various varieties, my favourites being Breakfast Blend, Xmas Blend & Columbian) and more recently Starbucks VIA (approximately 10 packs of 12 VIA’s since launch, 4 of these were for Xmas pressie).

In a recent visit I needed a bag of Breakfast Blend and upon paying for the bag and ordering a small Mocha with Cream (using my favourite Starbucks Stainless Steel mug), I was shocked when handed the reciept that the small Coffee had not been deducted and upon asking the attendant, I was informed that this offer had been withdrawn and replaced with the new “Stars” scheme. It was busy at the time and rather than cause a scene with an attendant who was only following orders I thought I’d wait to get online and see what this new and seemingly ridiculous scheme was about.

So, correct me if I’m wrong, but aswell as removing the offer of receiving a free small coffee whenever I purchased a bag of coffee, or a packet of 12 VIA’s, you have also gone and removed the other daily benefits I enjoyed such as a free syrup or cream!

This has been replaced with a 2 tiered reward scheme where –
Firstly; regardless of the value of each purchase details from your website of the lowered Tier scheme are as follows:
“Green level of the programme, which means you’ll receive a free beverage when you have used your Card 15 times (which equates to 15 stars). Plus you’ll receive news and offers if you have signed up for email and postal news”

1. I was not even told by Email this scheme was starting and I am registered to receive email updates from you, the last email I received was 28th Nov regarding 12 Ways to Enjoy the Season.
2. In your FAQ it says: “Sign up for email and postal communications. We will then email you the first time you have collected 15 stars to let you know that your free beverage coupon is on its way to you. You will then receive your coupon through the post.” “You should receive your free beverage coupon within about 3 weeks.”

Is it not 2012?! We live in a world of Computers, Mobile Devices and the Internet! Why on earth POST a coupon… I was able to receive my previous discounts from just using my Starbucks card, why take things back an age, why waste paper on coupons and what if I don’t have a postal address registered?! Which I don’t, as I didn’t want crap from you through my letterbox in the first place and choose to top-up my Starbucks card by Cash only. So how will I receive a free coffee Coupon IF I continue to buy at Starbucks.
And 3 weeks! Use email for the voucher or discount using the Starbucks card, why inconvenience customers with a Coupon by post!?

You also now demand I have to make 50 purchases using my Starbucks card (within a year) to even enjoy the same basic benefits for which you over-charge for the morsal amounts of flavour to zest up a bland coffee! So that’s 50 purchases on the Starbucks card in a year, regardless of value just to get free syrup, an extra free shot of espresso or free cream… Shocking.

So, in summary, you’ve switched Rewards Schemes without notifying me, despite my email preferences being ticked that I permit you to email me News & Updates.
The new reward scheme offers me zero day2day benefits from visiting a Starbucks.
The new reward scheme offers me zero benefit or incentive for buying Starbucks branded Coffee products (IF I chose to continue buying Starbucks Coffee bags, I’d be better off buying it cheaper on the internet or at supermarket like Tesco’s and getting clubcard points)

So why should I continue to buy at Starbucks when you clearly don’t care for the coffee and products that I purchase from you and can’t even offer me the basic benefits per visit that gave me an advantage over Non Starbucks Card Customers!?
Why don’t I just go and purchase another premium coffee bean for less, or Starbucks products from the internet. Or in the case of VIA buy the new Kenco range of disolvable micro-blend. What exactly are you offering me or doing to enhanace each visit I make to Starbucks to make me feel valued, and before you start quoting the 15 Star scheme, it would seem I can’t benefit from it anyway without a postal address! What now makes you oustanding from Costa or Nero? Why shouldn’t I just go there instead.

I look forward to your policy driven and non satisfying response.

A very disatisifed customer.

Taster evening; Miller & Carter Steakhouse, Reading

I came across this opening evening at the new Miller & Carter by chance, on Tuesday evening, 7th February.
After walking down the Oracle riverside, Reading on the way to Cote, I noticed the boards once covering the Old Orleans restaurant had been removed to reveal was rather homely looking new Restaurant; Miller & Carter Steakhouse.

The thought of a good steak was too tempting and upon entering the restaurant we were greeted by what I assumed was a front of house manager and a member of the waiting staff, who advised us that this was their first night open to the public, that it was a taster evening and that all menu items were half price. So, as someone who’s up for trying new things, is always ready to accept a good deal and was after a subject for my next blog post, I took a table.

The restaurant was very busy, with only a few tables available and we were shown to a table on the right hand side of the restaurant with a direct view of the very busy kitchen hatch which was visible as part of an open plan service area.

As I said, the restaurant had a homely feel, warm decor, bordered sofa seating and standard compfy chairs alongside large wooden tables. The best way to describe was a cross between a strada & smart american diner with soft lighting. I liked it, though I suspect it’s the sort of place, like Browns next door, that looks very different in the day to the dark evenings.

After being handed a menu we waited for around 10mins for our waitress to return and take both our drinks and food order.

I ordered, as one would expect, a Rum & coke, though the choice of Rums seemed limited, so I settled for a double Captain Morgans 🙂

For Starter I ordered; The Pair of Queen Scallops
For Main; 8oz Fillet Steak (medium rare), Seasoned Fries, BBQ Sauce

After waiting about 20mins, the Scallops arrived. I had wrongly assumed, as it was described as a Pair, that Queen Scallops were large. I was presented with 6 very small scallops in half shells and upon asking the waitress, who seemed a little confused by my question, one of the managers who was close by interjected to advise that Queen Scallops were the smallest and that following confusion & feedback, the restaurant had decided to serve 6 scallops and not just 2.
The scallops were served in a garlic butter and although small, were tasty, succulent and a nice entrée.

Following the starter we waited…. looking over at the kitchen hatch there seemed to be a lot of food waiting to be served and the service area seemed to always be busy with waiting staff not serving a lot of food, so I can only assume the kitchen was having some difficulty with coordinating orders on the opening night. After about 30 – 35 minutes the waitress came to the table and apologised for the wait and advised our order would be ready in “3 or 4 minutes…”, about 10mins later 3 waitress’ came to the table carrying the steaks, presented in large bowl shaped plates and a wooden board with 3 place moulds containing the fries, my hickory smoked sauce and a 3rd bowl, that I wasn’t expecting, which contained a large onion rosti.

While waiting for the mains and seeing food sat waiting to be served, my thoughts turned to wonder whether our Steaks would be sat under the heat of the serving area and emerge dry or overcooked… however, when brought to the table the Steak WAS worth the wait, it was pretty much the perfect fillet. Not an ounce of fat, it was juicy, succulent, very well cooked and was exactly as I ordered. The fries were lovely, crispy but flurry with a light southern seasoning and the Onion rosti was also a delicious nice surprise. The hickory sauce, although nice was a bit heavy for the delicate flavour of the fillet steak, maybe it was a bad call by me and the sauce would have been better suited to a more rustic cut, such as a Rump or T-Bone, so sparingly put a taste of the Hickory as I cut slices from the mouhwatering and tender steak.

After finishing the main, I felt satisfyingly full. The waitress brought over the dessert menu, which I had already decided I wasn’t going have, but then cast my eye down the list of delicious looking desserts and was won over by the Baked Alaska and a macchiato
At this point, the restaurant was somewhat emptier and the dessert and coffee arrived within 5mins.
It was as I had hoped, delicious, and although I didn’t need the dessert it was a nice end to the evening and as all the food was half price I thought why not.

So overall, after ordering, it took approximately an hour & 10mins to be served our main course… which, while I acknowledge and appreciate this was an opening trial night, it was quite clear the kitchen was the weak link keeping up with the demand. But once it arrived, it was a fantastic steak and the best I’d had in a long while. I really hope the service was down to just teething problems and once settled in, the Miller & Carter Steakhouse could definitely become a favourite and a restaurant I would visit on the affluent Oracle Riverside, Reading. It was a warm welcoming venue and all the staff, though some seemed quite new, were enthusiastic and friendly.

Why can't buying a mobile & getting support be easy!?

For those that know me and those that have read my blog, or seen posts on my new 50Percent Facebook page, I do like my tech & gadgets.

Following about 6 months of frustration with my Nokia E6, which on the plus side had brilliant battery life (approx 3 days), fantastic build quality, lovely keyboard, amazing 8MP camera, nice looking operating system. But on the negative, the Symbian operating system is slugish and did lock-up sometimes, the twitter/facebook app was poor, No Spotify app and I find apps continue to run in the background and keep data open when not in use.

I had brought a Nokia E6 offline, so was now due an upgrade with my network provider, Vodafone UK.
When it comes to phones, I’m in the minority where although I like to have the latest tech, improvements in speed, screen clarity, picture quality, sound quality and a qwerty keyboard, a thousand different Apps don’t interest me. I have basic requirements but I want my phone to do them well…

I can tell you what I want in one sentence all the boxes my phone must Tick: Qwerty keyboard for Email / Text, Phone, good Camera, a good battery and can run a small number of Apps incl; Spotify, Twitter/Facebook, FourSquare, a GPS SportsTracker and if possible a built in Sat Nav.

It would seem the Market to meet my requirement is rather narrow as everyone nowadays is going for bigger, better and brighter screens… which you either need a man-bag to carry, or it looks like you have a semi if it’s in your trouser pocket!
Anyway, moving away from the phallic references, after looking around at what was available in my local Vodafone store, I’ve always preferred the hands on approach, I decided I’d give the Blackberry 9900 a go. I liked the Nokia E6’s combination of the Touch Screen and Qwerty and I’d heard some people rate the newer Blackberry OS, so thought why not.
The specs read quite well; 1.2ghz processor, 8GB onboard memory and space for a microSD, 5MP camera which can record in HD, Qwerty keyboard, Touch screen and it’ll run my basic requirements of Apps.. So I ordered one. It was the usual hard-slog of a trick having to go via the Vodafone retentions team and asking very nicely for the best deal while leaning on the fact you might leave them… and I was fortunate the nice lady took kindly to my charm, gave me a free handset on a tariff that they’d normally want a £99 handset charge, on an 18month contract! Though it still annoys me that A) they’ve abolished 12month contracts and B) that you HAVE to ask for the best deals, why can’t they just look after me, their loyal customer whom they love so dearly and want to keep….

The first handset failed to materialise after a package on the courier van carrying it exploded and covered all the other packages, including my phone, in a toxic liquid. I only found this out because the package didn’t arrive, I chased the courier, who advised me. I then told Vodafone who did nothing about until 24hours later I rang them again to ask where my replacement was, to then be told… “oh, I see your note, let me ring the courier and check…” I hung around on-hold and was then advised my new handset would be dispatched shortly. I did ask the customer service agent why I had to chase them instead of them acting on my phone the previous day, to be advised that he was sorry, he’d feedback my concern, la la la… the usual customer service bullsh*t to get you off the phone.

The day then came when my handset arrived. I got home from work Friday to a package containing the little black box and my new Blackberry Bold 9900. I unpackaged it, put in my sim card, MicroSD card and turned on the device. After it had finished loading I went through the Set-Up process, selecting a BB UserName etc and attaching one of my email accounts to the device. At this point the battery was around 70% and I proceeded to set up my Twitter & Facebook accounts, along with Spotify and FourSquare. I had a look on the Blackberry App store for a Tweetdeck type tool but couldn’t find one, but while looking around the phone discovered “Social Feeds” which had automatically associated my Facebook & Twitter accounts to it, when I logged into them via the pre-installed Apps. I then added a few other of my favourite Apps including LastPass, GoogleMaps & WordPress. I noticed that in the hour or so of using my phone the battery had dropped by over 25%.

I then explored the phone and made some commonsense tweaks, like disabling the Bluetooth, Wifi, GPS, lowering the screen brightness, putting the phone into 2G (not 3G/2G) and also disabling the polling & notifications on Facebook. I noticed almost immediately that Facebook had ignored my notification settings as I was getting told that people had “liked” and commented on my status about the new Blackberry… I continued to try and tweak this but it ignored my request, so the only resolution was to go through the profile and disable the sound on Facebook, to remove the annoying pinging! Looking on google this seems to be known issue…

I charged the Blackberry full that evening and went to bed around 2am.
I woke Saturday morning to find that the battery had decreased by around 25% in 6 hours!

I tried to make further tweaks and changes over the weekend and despite hardly using the handset on Sunday and the phone being in a state that was less active than a student on a weekday morning, the battery was almost dead after about 7 hours, which is frustrating, confusing & disappointing that considering Blackberrys are renowned for their long battery life, mine couldn’t even manage half a day!

So I charged the phone again over night and unplugged the handset at around 8am this morning.
I received 2 short calls and read no more than 3 emails on the Blackberry, yet by half 9am, the battery had decreased by 12%, which by my calculations, even in a dormant state the charge wouldn’t last til 5pm!! So I called Vodafone UK and spoke to a member of their brainless (yes, you’ll see why) technical support team.
The first guy I explained the problem to said he wasn’t aware of a battery problem with the Blackberry Bold 9900, I asked him if he’d ever heard of Google and the million+ results when you search for Blackberry 9900 battery problems…  I then explained all the settings I had tweaked and I mentioned the facebook notifications, he decided I needed a software / firmware update. He checked on the Blackberry page and told me that version 7.1.0 was available and I should install the Blackberry Desktop manager and update! I had already seen articles about this update in the USA / Canada and that users had comments it improved the battery, but I’d also seen another article from mid January from a UK user saying the update had yet to be released to the UK. I asked the technical support guy 3 or 4 times, whether he was sure this update was available to me and he said Yes.

So despite my better judgment, I downloaded the 117MB file from the Blackberry website, backed up my phone, clicked Update, to be advised that I was on the most current version! I was now rather p*ssed off.

I rang back Vodafone Technical support, asked for a Manager and was advised none were available, but I could have a call back within 24hours! Which I declined and brainless Techie number 2 asked what the problem was… he read the notes of the previous guy, then decided that I had a faulty handset or battery and would send me a new one! I did explain that there were hundreds & thousands of articles online about this issue, which he refused to acknowledge and said that Vodafone had sold over a million Blackberry Bold 9900’s and this was not an issue affecting other customers!!

By this time I was fed up with the Vodafone Tech departments ignorance and narrow-mindedness so just agreed to swapping the handset. However I wasn’t done with accepting a swap was the only option and while scouring another Blackberry Forum I found a thread between a few users that said they believed the in-built Social Feeds was the cause of severe battery loss.

SO, I thought f*ck and decided to kill two swans with one monkey wrench and deleted both Facebook, with it’s annoying ignorant notifications, along with Social Feeds! And would you believe it, in the 2 hours that followed, I received a couple of phone calls, read a few emails and lost only 3% battery!

I rang Vodafone UK back to tell them they were morons and was put through a Manager on the Tech support desk, a foreign lady (had a very strong accent that wasn’t British) who reviewed the notes, apologised a lot and accepted that I found out more in 3 hours of research online than the Tech support desk at Vodafone knew!! She spent the entire 20min conversation telling me she’d address the problem with the individuals line manager as a training issue… but as I repeated several times, I spoke to more than 1 Techie and they were both using the same Vodafone Tech knowledge database! So why after releasing this handset 6 months, were they not aware of this problem, why are they ignorant to the Blackberry online user forums, why was I being mis-informed & wasted time downloading computer software and why were Vodafone wasting their own money sending out a handset that wasn’t required!

Needless to say, the conversation ended with the Vodafone Technical Support manager thanking me for identifying this issue, would pass my feedback to the rest of the team and she credited my account with a month’s free line rental!

I’m also happy to advise, that it’s now almost 9pm, my phone has been on for almost 13 hours and apart from a 15min window around midday when I plugged the Blackberry into my Laptop to back-up and check for updates, the battery is at 64%! Which is a massive improvement.

So the Tip at the end of this blog. Always question Tech Support, don’t take what they tell you as absolute correct, do your online research on user forums, a group of users is more than likely trial & error correct.
And if you have a Blackberry Bold 9900 that drops battery quicker than I drink rum ! (which is quick) then along with lowering the power consuming settings, delete Social Feeds and Facebook! Facebook can be accessed through a web browser on http://m.facebook.com which means no annoying notifications and it can’t snoop / steal your contacts on your phone either!

Incase you’re in any doubt, here is a pic with the offending App Highlighted:

Watching the Con-Men at work selling fake / counterfeit goods

I got a flyer through the post yesterday (Sat 28th Jan 2012) advertising a cheap electrical goods sale at the Irish Centre in Reading, Berkshire today Sunday the 29th. It was £2 entry, but I thought I’d take a look. It was apparently end of line / sale or return goods from Agros, Woolworths & Freemans.

I’m quite wise to “cons” & “frauds”, habit of a previous career, so from the flyer alone it seemed dodgy, but I thought out of curiosity I’d take a look.

So, now back home from this alleged “Cheap Electronics Sale”, it was crazy, people handing over notes for bits of card which were later exchanged for plastic bags that contained boxes heavily wrapped in black parcel tape.
The guy selling was all talk and sales patter, getting most the room to exchange £10 very early on for boxes of perfume which you needed to wave in the air to buy later items.

They had empty boxed PSP’s, iPads, iPod Shuffles, Nintendo Wii’s & cameras at the start on the display, all these went from view once “sold” and would be handed out later!
He kept engaging the audience of about 50 or so people, would talk about a product or offer, put it on the table, get the cash from those that accepted this ‘discounted price’, the items were then removed from view, to be handed out later (in the unmarked, heavily sealed boxes).
He managed to get a group of Indian lads to each pay £95 for unbranded camcorders. They also had this thing called a WeeGamer which the guy passed off at the new Nintendo Wii device not out til Easter and the new iPhone 5 which was apparently called the MP5 player and was in an Apple iPhone type box with the device pictured on the front.

They almost didn’t let me in because the guy didn’t like the look of me and asked if I was alone, til I told him I was with the mum & son infront of me in the queue. Towards the end when they started handing out stuff from the earlier sales one woman took three boxes off her fella who’d shelled out atleast £50… went to the back of the room and attacked the boxes with her car keys to find a microphone, some cheap looking watches and an unbranded crap electric razor, I looked over and she was sat there, head in her hands.

I managed to get about 5 mins recorded on the phone, but it was difficult with the orange light that comes on when recording with my Nokia and the 5 or 6 guys who were shuffling round the crowd plucking £10’s and £20’s out of peoples hands kept staring at me, they knew I wasn’t there to buy.

The event was brought to a close, the organisers were handing out sealed boxes in blue & green plastic bags and declared the hall was in use directly after the sale by a childrens party and we all had to leave.

I was talking to the Indian lads outside after and told them they’d been conned, one of the organisers saw me and shouted over “talking to ya mates are you”  I spoke back to him and asked him how he felt about being a Con-Man and selling fake / counterfeit / mis-selling goods.  He just said “so what, if they’re greedy enough to want to spend the money, then it’s their own fault…  and yeh I’m not disagreeing with you, they’re fakes, so what!”  At that point 3 or 4 of the large lads who’d been encouraging people to buy and taking money inside came to the door, so I made a sharp exit.

Other than the entry fee, I didn’t pay a penny, I knew the goods were fake and I would warn anyone to stay away from this sort of thing. The age old saying “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!”

I still have the flyer for anyone interested in reporting / investigating this & wants a copy.

Flyer I received advertising the Electrical Sale 29th Jan Reading