Service & People Watching In Russia…

As I wrote about yesterday, I’m in Russia for the first time at the moment, and am loving it. Well, at least St. Petersburg, which is a gorgeous city. I hadn’t heard very much about it before visiting, though the things I did hear were all positive.

St-Petersburg-Russia - 1

While the city is beautiful, one thing that makes St. Petersburg a bit different than other European cities is the service and the people watching.

Service in Russia…

I think there are pros and cons to service everywhere in the world.

In the US, people in the service industry are motivated by tips. In a restaurant they’ll typically be super attentive and efficient, though then they also try to kick you out pretty quickly, since they want to turn the table around.

In much of Europe (I know in Germany, for example), you’ll mostly be left alone, but if you flag someone down they’ll be happy to help. But you can also sit at a table for hours on end without feeling rushed.

I see merit to both approaches, and which I prefer is highly dependent on the situation.

And then there’s Russia…

The first night we had dinner at a restaurant that came highly recommended online. The food was incredible and the service impeccable (did I mention the server was painfully attractive?), but we also quickly realized that everyone eating there was from the US.

Russia-Restaurant

The next night we went to a restaurant also recommended online as a place visited almost exclusively by Russians. It was in more of a “local” area, a bit outside city center. Sure enough, we were the only non-Russians, and none of the servers spoke English, so we had to order by pointing at the menu.

St-Petersburg-Restaurant

I don’t think we saw a single person smile once, and it was 45 minutes before our drinks arrived. Making eye contact didn’t work as a way of signaling that we wanted to order something, but rather I literally had to stick my hand out as if I were hailing a taxi (simply putting a finger up while making eye contact with someone didn’t seem to do the trick).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the place had bad service, but as I’ve had more and more interactions, I’ve just realized that’s how “authentic” service here works. Artificial friendliness and smiling just as a way of expressing warmth isn’t part of the way of life here. In a way I can appreciate that, because there’s no denying that service in the US can be very fake. It doesn’t feel very authentic when your server says “I’m doing great today,” and “I’ll be taking excellent care of you, and what may I have the pleasure of getting you?”

Of course at some places targeted at Americans/Western Europeans, like the restaurant the first night and the W Hotel, they’ve trained their staff on this, and the service has been great even by “our” standards.

The people watching…

There’s a lot that has been incredible about St. Petersburg, but perhaps the best part has been the people watching. It doesn’t really matter where you are, there’s always something.

Let’s start at dinner last night. There were two guys having dinner across from us at what’s supposedly one of St. Petersburg’s best restaurants, and for half the dinner they were simultaneously making phone calls… on loudspeaker. Both of them.

In the other direction, the couple made out twice during the meal. We’re not talking kissing, but rather face-grabbing, grabbing of other things, etc. And these weren’t some teenagers who were briefly let out of the house, but rather 50+ year olds.

Yesterday afternoon we had some coffees in the W Hotel “living room” while working, which was also an incredible crowd.

W-Hotel-St-Petersburg

At one table was a model, her manager, and a guy who I assume was trying to sign her, or something. Listening to him go through all her “stats” and then say she was X% under or over average in that regard was sort of depressing to hear. Then again, I guess that’s what you sign up for when you get into modeling.

Separately, a guy walked in who was built like a tank. Like he must have been 6’6″ and 280lbs, and he walked in with a girl who was maybe 5’2″, 100lbs, and a third his age. He sat down at a table, and then motioned (as if communicating with a dog) for her to sit somewhere else. The place she sat was basically across from us. He had a big meal, while she sat facing away from him. She just sat there on her phone for about an hour waiting for him to finish his meal, with her thong hanging out…

At the far end of the lounge were four Australian guys, and eventually a girl showed up. After overhearing their conversation for long enough, we realized she was actually an Emirates first class flight attendant on a layover, though she was originally from Russia. I still couldn’t figure out what their connection was…

Bottom line

Ultimately a city is nothing without its people, and I’m really developing a new appreciation for Russian culture. It also provides me with more perspective when I experience such service abroad. The culture doesn’t seem to value superficial warmth or friendliness, which I can’t fault them for.

I’ve had plenty of Russian people in the US service industry who I interpreted as being rude, but now I know… they’re just being Russian. Once I understood that context, I’ve actually found many people to be friendly and helpful, even if it doesn’t come in the form of artificial smiles.

Comments

  1. In yesterday’s post about St Pete, and again today (“I hadn’t heard very much about it before visiting…”) …. are you kidding? Is this simply ignorance associated with youth…or because the OP focuses mainly on air travel? St Pete has been a crown jewel in the world’s scheme of history, architecture, art, culture, etc. It is the highlight of organized tours — even in the cruise industry, where a one-day stop is the norm, St Pete is one of the few cities in the world where an over-night stop is the norm.

  2. The sooner you realize his job and niche is to review premium cabins and check-in experiences, and not to sightsee (that’s him on vacation), the sooner you’ll understand this blog.

  3. I visited St. Pete for the first time earlier this year and was blown away as well. The history, architecture, arts, culture. As Americans, we get an one dimensional biased view of Russians. My trip changed that. One thing I was surprised by was the cuisine. Uzbeki and Georgian cuisine is apparently very popular in Russia, but hard to find outside the former Soviet Union. Hit up some of those joints while in St. Pete. I did the Uzbek tour with Alex and it was informative and tasty.

    http://www.sputnik8.com/en/st-petersburg

    Also the subway stations there are so cool!

  4. Russians don’t smile much. Don’t hold that against them. Cultural differences.

  5. I listened to a really cool podcast recently about service culture in Russia. It was about the opening of the first McDonald’s in Moscow in 1990, and how McD’s corporate was training workers there to smile at customers and tell them to have a great day and come back again soon. These were totally foreign concepts to Russians previously. Smiling at strangers was never done. In addition, with chronic shortages of food and goods, service people (who controlled access to the food and goods) had no reason to be friendly — they were the ones with the power. Now some of the “customer is always right” attitude has found its way in to Russian culture, but traditional stoic demeanors are still the norm.

  6. KEVIN –

    Don’t take so much offense, I’m actually glad Lucky appears to be finally leaving the hotel and hotel restaurant to experience local culture. Maybe he’ll learn what traveling is really about 🙂

  7. I wish we had the Russian treatment you got on the local restaurants here. I am tired of the fake treatment we get in the US by waiters trying to secure a tip and boot you from the table. Why in the hell do they bring the check if I haven’t asked for it yet? Just spent amazing two weeks in Greece and Italy eating at amazing restaurants both local and cheap and fancy and expensive and we were always treated in a very genuine way with smiles on their faces and sometimes we spent a long time just chatting and ordering new stuff at our won pace and we were never asked to leave or given the check. There were times were the owner came to talk to us and we engaged in a long conversation, new plates were brought for us to try on the house together with liquors, etc.. I only wish we get that type of service here in the US one day.

  8. My father spent a couple of weeks in the former Soviet Union, and that was his first comment about it. The whole time he was there he never saw a single person smile.

    So in the West we have “fake friendliness” and attentive service. In Russia they have “authentic” sullenness, and you feel fortunate if you get any sort of service….eventually. Hmmm, which would I prefer? 😉

    I had a similar experience in Dresden 2 years ago. Though it’s now part of unified Germany, it seems to be still under the cloud of the former Soviet dominated German Democratic Republic. We emailed one of the best restaurants in town for a reservation, but got no answer. So we went by a lunch time, and had to beg and plead for a reservation, as they were supposedly “fully booked” that night. In the end they relented, and it felt like they were doing us a great favor putting our name in the reservation book.

    In fact the restaurant was never more than 15% full at any time that evening. The two chefs in the open kitchen spent most of their time cleaning and then recleaning things, as they had virtually no orders to fill.

    The food however was fantastic. And the service, though not friendly, was ok, since our waiter had all of 3 tables to take care of. Wanting to come back the next night, we gave him a sizeable tip, then asked if he could make a reservation for us for the next night. He went to the reception area for about 15 seconds, and pretended to look at the reservation book, but we could tell he didn’t really look up anything. Then he came right back and told us “sorry, we’re fully booked tomorrow night”. Given a choice between lots of business, with the accompanying tips, or just standing around with nothing to do, he chose the latter.

    All of Dresden seemed that way. I went to the hotel front desk to tell them that their wifi was done. The desk clerk insisted it was all the fault of my laptop. She said that right up to the point where the 3rd person came up to the desk to complain, then finally had to admit that all of our laptops couldn’t be faulty. At that point she looked up the phone number of the company providing their wifi service and had them send a tech out. She apparently felt it was easier to blame a client than to make a simple phone call, until she was outnumbered. ;(

    The old town of Dresden was gorgeous, but the people were stuck in an Communist era time warp. Authentic sullenness indeed…

  9. @Santastico The experiences you described go way beyond service, and I’d love to go to those places myself. It would be wonderful if I had even one restaurant like that near me.

    But did you actually read this post? What you described is in no way the “Russian treatment” Lucky and Ford ‘enjoyed’. No chefs came to the table to chat, no extra dishes on the house, and no smiles of any sort. The real “Russian treatment” they received was total neglect until they aggressively insisted someone provide some semblance of service.

    After reading these two posts, I definitely want to go to St. Petersburg. But only for the beauty, history, architecture, and art. I’ll being going out of my way to avoid the “Russian treatment” as much as possible. As I wrote above, I’ve already had that in Dresden, and I didn’t find it added anything to my appreciation of the city at all.

  10. The people watching there is worth the visit alone, not to mention the great sights, food, etc.

    And I thoroughly enjoy your new direction – keep it up! There’s room here for new content.

  11. I am just as surprised as Kevin is by the fact that a well traveled and educated person would know so little about a major city like St Petersburg, especially given its prominent role in at least a century of European history. At the same time, as a long time reader of the blog, I enjoy observing “our” Lucky to explore and learn 🙂
    I am also looking forward to people watching reports from Moscow. If you thought St Petersburg had some interesting characters… just wait till you get to Moscow 🙂

  12. Tips at the restaurants in Russia: 10-15%. Very rarely you can pay a tip with a credit card (maybe only at some tourist-oriented restaurants). Leave a tip in cash, even if you paying the rest of the bill by credit card. Servers get the living wage and do not rely on tips, unlike in the US. If you get really bad service, feel free not to leave a tip at all. It is truly discretionary, again unlike in the US.

    When someone is smiling without reason he is viewed as stupid, or dumb, or fake, or idiot, or an American. 🙂 It’s just a cultural thing. You won’t get many smiles from strangers. A genuine smile is usually reserved for friends or close people.

  13. @ KEVIN @ VitaliU — Sorry, maybe I didn’t express myself correctly. Of course I know St. Petersburg has a ton of history, my point was simply that it’s not as traveled to of a place for Americans as Rome, Paris, etc.

  14. Re Benjamin Perley’s comment: True. Remember that during the Sochi Olympics, Russian journalists living in the US had to go on the air and explain why not even the winners smiled on group photos. However, the same is true when you look at family photos of people from Eastern and Central European countries.

  15. Why in the hell do they bring the check if I haven’t asked for it yet?

    As an American I’d ask: why should I have to ask for the check? If it’s obvious we’re done then bring it. Why add an extra step to the processes?

  16. @_ar I guess for the same reason an educated person would know anything about Paris, Viena, or Istanbul, I guess.

  17. If my family had lived in concrete and steel public housing projects under a totalitarian military dictatorship for over 70 years, I might not smile either!

  18. @Lucky, my comment wasn’t meant as criticism either. As others mentioned, you should consider expanding your content to include destination, as well as the process of getting there. This will be a great distraction from credit cards, flights, etc.

  19. @KEVIN –

    My mother’s family has lived in Petersburg since the city’s founding. They were, at that time, largely carpenters and stone masons. They worked alongside Peter to raise his city up from the muck of the swamps along the Neva. They saw it all: the grandeur of the tsars, the chaos of revolution, the brutality of Stalin, the desperation of the Nazi siege. Thus, I have a strong, emotional connection to Petersburg. So, Kevin, I respectfully plead with you to please don’t ever again refer to this magnificent city as “St. Pete”.

  20. @John: Who told them we are done? Just because we ordered dessert it does not mean we are done. That is the big difference between eating in an American restaurant or in a Italian one. In Italy for example, you order a dessert then you may order a espresso, a grappa, another dessert, a Limoncello, etc… Thus, just because you ordered a dessert it does not mean you are done. In the US it feels like people eat just because you have to. In other countries of the world, going to a restaurant is an event where you appreciate it fully and not have someone timing you with a fake smile expecting a 15% tip.

  21. @Robert Hanson: Agree. What I meant by “Russian treatment” is that I prefer to have that type of treatment and have to waive to be served but not having to deal with fake smiles and pre-fabricated phrases that in reality mean “order fast, give me a 15-20% tip and get the hell out of here”. At least in Russia they were genuine.

  22. Thank you, Andy, seriously, how do people not get that 95% of the trip posts that Lucky makes are him AT WORK, as in not on vacation. His work is literally travel and doing reports and consulting from a comfortable hotel and lounge are easier than from an authentic street food stand. This trip, on the other hand, is mostly vacation and reads like it as well.

    Ben, I’m glad you’re liking St. Petersburg. It’s a truly wonderful city with a distinct culture and attitude to life. It is also definitely an Imperial capital with all the pomp and circumstance that goes with it, especially in an eastern nation.

  23. Before I took my then 5 & 8 year old to Russia, I read as much as I could about their culture. As a result, I understood that they were not rude or cold. Simply, they don’t feel the need to smile without reason. Taking the train from St. Petersburg to Moscow alone with my children was daunting, but a woman who spoke no English (I don’t speak Russian) offered to share her lunch with my kids and I and also offered her jacket to cover my son when he fell asleep. As the train pulled into Moscow station she got off immediately. By the time we got off train she was running back and bringing my kids chocolate bars. Eight years later they still remember this because it was all done without verbal communication. Kindness takes many different forms.

  24. @Imperator what a load of high brow bolocks 🙂 “worked alongside Peter”. if they were “carpenters and stone masons” they were forced laborers and most certainly did not work alongside the megalomaniac who decided to build his capital in the swamps.

  25. @Katerina: Agree with you BUT I see an opportunity for Ben to add way more value to his blog if he starts to add a little more content about his trips. I would definitely spend time reading his travel posts since he is very detailed oriented and has great taste. For example on this specific post he mentioned he had dinner in 3 different restaurants and according to him they were all really good. However, he never mentioned the names of those places. Why not take the time to add those? I would for sure bookmark this post and try those restaurants if I ever go to St. Petersburg. Again, I understand his job is to review first and business class products and top hotels but while doing that he is traveling to fascinating places that he could easily share a little more with his readers like he just did when visiting Norway.

  26. I won’t mind the lack of smile for service, but I’ve heard from friends traveling to St. Peterburg about some people can be racist.

  27. @JW because the US is the bastion of tolerance. ROFL I get what you are are saying and it is true that there are definitely racists there, but St. Petersburg is likely more open-minded than other parts of the country.

  28. Ben, To have a better understanding of the context of the your experiences in St. Petersburg and understanding of Russian culture, I’d welcome suggestions as to how you prepared for this trip. I assume you read the New York Times so are familiar with their reports on Russian politics and culture (particularly those of Masha Gessen ( http://www.nytimes.com/column/masha-gessen?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=ExtendedByline&region=Header&pgtype=article ), but are there books you read you might recommend?

  29. @VitaliU – Do you know anything about the Ming dynasty of China? Do you know how jet propulsion technology works? Do you know who discovered the source of the Limpopo? Do you know the names of all the Mughal emperors of India? How many works of Klimt are there in Viena (yes with one n)? When and why did the US get off the gold standard? There’s a vast store of knowledge out there and no one knows everything. One knows what one is interested in and what concerns one. If I’m a Tibetan living in Lhasa I probably don’t give a rat’s ass about St. Petersburg or any other Eurocentric knowledge. If I’m Russian, yes, it’s an important part of my heritage. The point is – education is about context. For you, an educated person is one who knows the same as you (and I’m pretty sure you know little).

    The amount of folks who respond to this blog and are condescending and nasty to Lucky is (some folks on that JAL thread think he doesn’t have a real job like them)… astounding… It’s the internet, I guess you can just say what you want anonymously.

  30. One poster mentioned the Hermitage Museum. I really hope the author didn’t skip out on that. It is only one of the oldest and largest museums in the world and it is just as good if not better than the museums of Paris, London, New York etc. Its my favorite museum in the world. I am surprised by the comment of not knowing much about St. Petersburg for someone in the travel industry. It is a major city in Europe and a frequent stop for cruise ships where you can visit for the day without a visa.

    St. Petersburg is very european though so I wouldn’t look to it for a taste of russian culture. It is like a european version of Russia. I think the author is in for a bit of a shock when they get to Moscow. Moscow is very Russian. It is true the people don’t fake smile there. They don’t get the concept of people asking how they are with fake interest. If you ask a Russian how they are doing they will actually begin to recount everything that is going on with them. They also do smile and laugh when they feel like it. They are an extremely warm and caring people. Another comment mentioned the russian woman sharing her food with them. That sense of community is common as well and the russians do share their food and drink with everyone in the train compartment. They are basically the opposite of the japanese. Where in Japan everyone is fake polite and friendly in Russia however they feel at that moment is basically what you get.

    The Moscow subway system is very interesting (especially the stations which are like mini-museums when it comes to architecture) and really easy to use, so even if you don’t need to use the subway still make time to take a ride on it and check out the system – it is a tourist sight in itself! I’d avoid interacting with the moscow police where possible. They have been known to shake down tourists (in addition to shaking down the russian people themselves). The author wouldn’t get drunk and do something to provoke the police, but if tourists get out of line at all they can expect a beat down by the police. I remember an australian guy being dumped on the steps of the hostel after the police were done with him. At the airport don’t keep valuable stuff in your checked luggage, unless you want it stolen. Its been awhile since I have been there but there are actually machines at the airport where you can have your luggage all wrapped up in plastic to help prevent theft from the baggage handlers. Pickpockets and bag theft from your person is not nearly as common as it is in Paris or Italy. Heck I have come across soo many people been brazenly stolen from in Italy and France. Russia is likely more akin to New York levels and not as bad as some of those european cities. Russian cab drivers can be a bit sketchy and may try the scam oh I don’t have change for your large bill and then drive off claiming they are getting change etc. The whole gay thing is probably slightly more a concern in Moscow. St. Petersburg people tend to be more open-minded. In Moscow it is a very large city and you are bound to find small pockets of macho guys who bought into all the Putin propaganda. That being said as long as you don’t do anything to draw attention to the fact I hardly think it would be an issue. The people in moscow seem to be more focused on their lives than they will be focused on you and many people have to work two jobs just to make the rent. I’m glad you enjoyed St. Petersburg, since its one of my top cities in the world.

  31. The original post in this series was titled “First Thoughts”. I’m hoping that means, as I assume it does, that like most trip reports it will be followed up with a much more detailed post/series of posts, that will include such things as the names of the restaurants dined at and description of the food, museums toured, and the more interesting places visited.

  32. @_ar hey there, familiar handle – good to see you around if you are the same person… 🙂

    @Lucky great read.

  33. SO Lucky, I am thinking back to reviews of the service on LOT. The service culture in Poland is quite often similarly “serious” as people are expected to be what is perceived as businesslike. Bit of food for retrospective thought 🙂

  34. Lucky’s job is to pimp credit cards. Forget the cabin review or *actual* traveling. Let the guy get back to his real job!

  35. To Lucky: to observe real Russians try not expensive establishments, may be something like a buffet, an eatery or a coffee shop.

  36. @_ar, there is a big difference between not knowing something and making statements like you made above.
    I don’t think Lucky needs an attack dog. He’s a big boy, can defend himself, especially since I did not make any disparaging comments about him.

  37. Only two things to add to what has been said. First, I’m intrigued by the assumption that American friendliness is fake. Maybe it’s because I’m Southern, but most people I encounter are genuinely happy and friendly. I dont like fake Ness either, but find it to be the c exception.
    Second, as a few posters alluded to, Russians who are being sullen and not smiling are just being Russian. According to one of my guides in St. P, “Russians smile when we are happy, but that doesn’t happen often; we are naturally suspicious of happy people like Americans. We do not understand how people can be so happy all the time.”
    As a generally happy and friendly American, I was just as perplexed by a whole nation of sullen people. (The border control people were the worst–I sincerely felt like they wished us harm.)

  38. @sbh I’ve only been to the States once, and if I based my feelings on the really truly rude attitude of security staff at ORD (not to me specifically but to everyone) I would never want to visit again 🙂 I was severely tempted to tell them to try smiling except I don’t think it would have been received well.

  39. Love this and the previous post about St Pete. While I love your flight reviews, it seems like you never take time to enjoy a destination. There is so much more to travel than just the flights and airport lounges. Glad to see you having fun. Hope to see more posts like this.

  40. Russians have not had anything to smile or be cheerful about for most (or all) of their lives. I guess they are being authentic.

  41. Ben

    You are really out of luck. There are few cool restaurants I visit often in St. Petersburg with great food and great service. What I love here is that one can really eat for aceptable price and great food

  42. Welcome to Russia 🙂 The first 6 months I lived here was a major culture shock. But, you’re right, no fake smiles from Russians, but you can bet that when a Russian smiles at you it is genuine and warm. Service in Russia is non-existant outside of tourist areas, to be sure. And, as far as people watching, you barely scratched the surface 😀

  43. @ glenn t

    I guess you have not left your hometown ever in your life. West world propaganda shows Russia in way more negative way than it really is. St. Petersburg specifically is an amaozing city, and people here know how to enjoy life and have a lot to smile about.

  44. @_ar A Tibetan living in Lhasa who is planning to visit St Petersburg may be tempted to research the city before travelling – like most people would do before visiting some place they hadn’t been to previously.

  45. I was in Russia earlier on June, and I can’t agree with you more that the Russians we mostly met did not smile. Beware if you’re visiting Moscow next as the people we bumped into appear to be more cold. My local Russian guide said maybe it’s the weather…which when I think of the lovely Nordic people, I cannot quite agree with her. Anyway, enjoy. Visit some of the cities in The Golden Ring of time permits. You’ll be amazed. 😉

  46. I’ve been there and loved it. Definitely visit the Hermitage.

    It is true Russians don’t smile all the time. You can also see this in advertisements for different professions. For example, here in U.S. if you see an add for an attorney, they usually have a big, stupid smile plastered on their face. Russian professionals who advertise usually use a very modest smile or none at all. It’s not bad, it’s just different.

    There are usually good smaller bars/restaurants in the city center. Look for one that is very crowded and seems to be where the locals go. One place I went to – I had to laugh – I was even charged for the waiter “lighting the candle” at the table – 15 RUB

  47. St. Petersburg is quite European compared to Moscow as it’s the reason Peter built it, to compete with the Monarchies of the continent at the time. It still carries that mentality with it. Moscow is definitely more Russian, but still quite cosmopolitan. Kazan and Novgorod are places I really enjoyed, but the biggest thing to remember with Russia is it is much like the US when it comes to the language, don’t expect people to speak anything other than Russian.

  48. @John….I agree about the check. It was strange to me when I went to Europe that I had to ask for it. Ummm They could see I was done, why not just bring it. Lol. Took me a couple meals to get the hang of it.

  49. It’s difficult to generalize the level of service anywhere in the world. I have contradicting experiences everywhere I travel. The US has its fair share of cold, insincere, robotic service.

    In Europe the general rule is that the waiters/waitresses don’t rush you and let you enjoy the experience. A three hour meal with the waiter coming once or twice is usual. It’s a different culture with different expectations. It’s also becoming difficult to generalize since rarely do the service providers at an establishment in Europe ever originate from the country of visit. Personally, I like to be give my space, have time to enjoy, and then ask for the cheque when I am ready to depart.

    The North Americas are also one of the fewest places where tips are mandatory.

  50. I am a US expat who lives full time in Moscow. I love SPG but only in the spring and autumn, too many tourists in the summer. I am so glad that you gave Russia a chance as it gets bad raps often. Like anywhere you visit the first impressions can be lasting. To great a real feel of life in a country, Russia included, it is nice t have a local show one the ropes.

    I am sure you will find Moscow totally different and unique in its own way. Moscow is a world capital filled with government and bureaucrats. Go beyond and I hope you get to see real people.

    Again thank you for your honest opinions and kind words.

  51. @Ben/Lucky: I know I have been a critic of your blog frequently but I am sincerely enjoying these travel bits. They are refreshing- I frequent travel blogs for de-stressing usually on a plane or something to that effect and it’s always interesting to see what others have to say about the places where I have built my own experiences. Great piece and keep it up.

  52. It’s good to see a post about the destination. I actually like the reviews of airplanes and lounges… I don’t get to travel that often, so it’s fun to read about first class, new flights, etc. That said, I would also enjoy more posts like this. Even though Lucky flies all over the world, the hotels tend to be the same. Hearing about other stuff would be good.

    Additionally, I feel like Lucky always eats the same food on planes. I wish he would review the Japanese meal option on flights to Japan, the vegetarian option, etc.

  53. I think those who are critical of Ben are being unfair. Ben’s blog, which reflects his own personal interests and lifestyle does one thing and, albeit from a very personal perspective, he does that well: review airlines and hotels. The fact that Ben’s writing style is highly personal should not mean that his readers should think of him as a friend or confidant; His apparent lack of interest in international relations, politics or culture may be disappointing to some but he has to be complimented on, from a financial viewpoint, building a successful business from the ground up. There are other points focused travel bloggers that one can read if one is looking for more socio-political context and a less personal perspective. The only justified criticism may be the fact that Ben has been banned from flying on United and his having chosen not to share this with his readers, including new ones who might be unaware of this from Ben’s preferring to share that information with the readers of a magazine; That is a glaring omission from a blog that purports provide broad coverage and advice about frequent mile/hotel programs and those who are unaware of this stand to be misled (it also results in less coverage of Star Alliance carriers). Indeed, Ben has not even indicated that he continues to to try and work with United’s management to have the ban reversed, raising legitimate questions as to whether his continued lack of UAL coverage (in addition to any personal preference) is or is not based on retribution, though in any case his readers who may not read other blogs (e.g. the Points Guy) are the losers.

  54. @Stuart – great points but as a self established businessman I think it is important to reevaluate the landscape, perhaps cannibalize one’s own biz to bring diversity and growth. Just my two cents. At the end of the day this is a personal blog so it’s the owner’s prerogative. I have fun reading his offbeat articles for kicks as much as I do other travel blogs and established luxury travel media to continuously refresh the experience for and bring value to my biz jet customers. Regardless keep it up and have fun Lucky!

  55. Totally agree with you Benjamin. While Ben expresses himself well, as long as his blog is a cash cow, I’m not sure he has the motivation to broaden the business, whether or not he may have the ability to do so. At one point, and I’ve selectively followed his blog from its start, I was presumptively thinking he might go to a top business school like Stanford or Harvard, which he could have then afforded, and move on to a successful career in the travel business. (a suggestion he rejected). I don’t know of any road warrior, who generally travels less than Ben, actually looks forward to and enjoys every flight or status recognition the way Ben does, which says a lot. With so many successful entrepreneurs self destructing by taking on more than they are capable of doing, one has to admire Ben for his self understanding of both his strengths (including using the tax code to live in hotels) and limitations, even if one’s own motivation and accompanying career path goes beyond remuneration.

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