Monthly Archives: March 2010

A Restaurant’s Guide to Impressing Diners with Service Dogs

Have you ever felt help like you couldn’t control your body?  Perhaps you couldn’t walk.  Maybe you couldn’t see.  Maybe you couldn’t hear what people were saying.  According to the United States Census Bureau, about 5.4% of Americans are living with a disability.  One valuable furry creature that has been making the lives of people with a disability better is the service dog.  For this post, I’ll be using the term service dog to include any dog (or monkey or pony) that assists a person with disability.  This includes, but is not limited to guide dogs, hearing dogs, seizure alert dogs, and mobility dogs.

A service dog can be trained to:

bullet Retrieve dropped objects or a phone
bullet Balance a person when walking
bullet Open Doors
bullet Turn on/off lights
bullet Retrieve a telephone
bullet Guide a person during walks
bullet Alert a person to every day sounds like a baby crying or a knock at the door
bullet Alert a person when they sense an oncoming seizure

Dogs are intelligent and highly useful creatures.  When I was on crutches, my Mouse would pull me around the house in a rolling chair and fetch items for me.  Mouse had already been taught to pull in draft training and to fetch items in water rescue and obedience training.  Additionally, service dogs can be trained to complete very complex tasks.  My late trainer’s dog completed a very difficult task one day at Pace Bend Park.  My trainer, Dick, took both his dog out on a boat.  Dick threw his cane overboard while in the middle of the lake.  Buddy, his service dog, jumped out of the boat, fetched the cane, and brought it back to the boat.  Buddy then pulled the boat to shore.  Needless to say, Dick was a great trainer, and Buddy was a wonderful dog.

Dick, Chase, and Buddy on the boat back in 2004.

The value of a service dog is that they give people freedom to live their lives more independently, and that value is priceless.  As Austin is a very dog friendly city, it may be difficult to determine whether or not a dog is only a companion dog or a service dog.  Here’s a friendly guide for restaurants on some challenges and etiquette when serving a guest with a service dog.  Please see Keep Austin Dog Friendly for etiquette that companion dog owners should follow when dining out with their dogs.  A big thank you for Sheri Soltes from Texas Hearing and Service Dogs for providing much of this information.

bullet By law, a service dog is allowed to accompany his/her handler anywhere he or she may go.  That means that the dog is allowed in restaurants (not just the patio), retail stores, banks, and hotels.  Even if the hotel does not allow pets, a service dog is allowed by law.  The hotel must accommodate and allow the service dog, regardless of the dog’s size.  Hotels may not charge a pet fee for the service, however, the handler is responsible for any damage that the dog might cause. 
bullet Service dogs aren’t always easy to identify. Disabilities are not always visible or obvious. While many of service dogs may wear vests with logos, some will not.  Service dogs come in many breeds and sizes depending on their function.  If a person identifies their dog as a service dog, I wouldn’t interrogate the handler anymore.  Comments and questions such as, “Well, you don’t look disabled.” or “What kind of disability do you have?” are highly offensive.  Avoid those types of remarks. 
bullet Please do not pet a service dog without first asking permission from the handler. The handler might instruct you on how or when to pet the dog.  Please do not be surprised if the handler requests that you not disturb the dog.  Remember, these dogs are working all the time.  They do need a break once in a while.  Additionally, the handler may be using the quiet time under the table as a training tool.
bullet Please do interact with the dog’s handler.  A common mistake that one might make it to completely ignore the dog’s handler and to speak only to other people at the table.  Also, please don’t direct your questions to the dog.  The dog’s handler is your customer.  It is a restaurant’s job to provide service to the customer, not to make a big deal about a dog. 
bullet Many handlers will ask their dogs to remain in a down position during their visit. Please don’t bark at the dog, call the dog, or throw food at the dog.  Don’t ask me why people bark at dogs. I don’t understand it. 
bullet Most of the time, the handler will let you know where it is most convenient to be seated.  The handler may have a difficult time navigating through a sea of tables, un-level ground, or stairs.  Occasionally, diners with a service dog might be seated in an isolated corner by the staff.  This may make the diner feel as if he or she is a nuisance or bothersome.  Dining out is not something we do to just to fill our stomachs.  Dining out is a social experience that should involve good food, good drink, and good company.  To make someone feel as if his or her party is isolated from the rest of the world does not make for a positive dining experience.  All diners should be seated in such a fashion that they feel that their patronage of your restaurant is appreciated. 
bullet If other diners do not wish to be seated near a service dog, the proper course of action would be to offer the other diners another seating arrangement.  It is considered improper to move the party with the service dog. 
bullet A service dog’s handler should carry water for the dog along with supplies to clean up/pick up. While a restaurant not required to provide water for the dog, it doesn’t hurt to ask if the dog can be offered water. 

Any other questions about dining out with service dogs can be sent to or you can browse the Texas Hearing and Service Dog website for more information.

Adri and Cookie, photo courtesy of THSD

Dining out with a service dog, photo courtesy of THSD

Stephanie Racier and Excalibur, photo courtesy of THSD


Filed under Americans with Disabilities Act, Customer Service, Restaurant, service dogs, Texas Hearing and Service Dogs

SXSW Wrap up. Thanks to @kitchenaidusa @bakespace @pn_atx @suerostvold

Here’s the wrap up the SXSW interactive along with some tidbits from various panels.

*From building Facebook games, two components have been found to make a game successful: 1. Creativity and self-expression in profiles. 2. Competition.

*From another panel called Friends, Fans, and Followers, use the power of participation and engagement to build a community. The examples used were running a contest for best recreation of OK Go’s video. That contest spawned creative entries and gave people something to talk about.

*The panel also said to go where your audience already is. Use activist groups, and community groups that are already in place and already attract your target audience. For instance, don’t try to start a community where there already is one. You’ll only be dividing your efforts and be competing for time with the other community. Instead, work with the existing community.

*You can also invite guest bloggers to reach other readers that you don’t already have. Find out where your followers are already hanging out, and hang out there too. Here’s a write up about the panel.

*I stepped into the Airing Dirty Laundry core conversation thinking it might have something to do with online ratings, but it was mostly about publicizing regretful sex acts on Most of the conversation was about the legality of posting men and photos on the site, the passive aggressiveness in posting, and whether or not there was a therapeutic component to this website. While I generally don’t frequent humor or entertainment sites, this site is very interesting from a research perspective. I’d love to track women’s behavior as a function of the menstrual cycle. Theoretically, women should be engaging in more “” acts during ovulation than during other parts of the menstrual cycle.

*Facebook: It’s complicated was a core conversation about posting relationship statuses on Facebook and the effects it has on our lives. One of the slides presented was that one out of every five divorces cited Facebook as a cause. It isn’t difficult to see that Facebook does make it easier to meet people or connect with past romantic partners, but I’m not sure that Facebook should be to blame. I found this to be a very interesting conversation, and I’m also interested in how social media can change mating strategies and relationship quality.

Overall, SXSW was a blast. I had a great time meeting cool people. A big thank you to @KitchenAidUSA for the blender I won at Cupcake Meet up. Thanks to @bakespace and @cupcakeblog for hosting the meet up. A big thank you to @suerostvold for the incredibly cute Bernese Mountain Dog greeting card. And a big thanks to @PN_ATX for having me at the Entrepreneur’s Lounge at Fogo De Chao. And big thanks to @GMTexas for the SXSW music wristband.


Filed under kitchen aid, porter novelli, sxsw

@GaryVee at SXSW 2010 w/ @koshadillz and @flexmathews

I knew little about Gary Vaynerchuck prior to SXSW 2010. I had heard that he did some wine videos and he had a book out. I did cite one of his articles in my Online Culture, Offline Behavior articles, but I hadn’t really dug deeply into this world of GaryVee. I attended his SXSW 2010 panel, and I was surprised. Gary didn’t talk about anything new. Gary didn’t talk about anything I didn’t already believe or implement. In the first 10 minutes of his talk, I could have sworn he was reading my mind (and website).

However, Gary delivered his message in such a way that it made an impact. He was energetic. He was passionate. And he used the F-bomb at least 40 times. Thom Singer counted 28, but he missed quite a few. This man gives a simple message such a punch that I swear the room was like a religious cult. Here’s some highlights and comments from the panel. Also, there was impromptu rapping at the end of the panel that was awesome. It is probably better than anything else you’ll see at SXSW music. :oP Note: These aren’t my videos. These were on youtube. The rappers were @flexmathews and @Koshadillz. Awesome job to both!

Video One

Video Two

1. “We don’t care enough about thank you’s.” No one these days give enough gratitude. Thank people. Thank everyone on who responds to you on Twitter. Thank them for coming. Thank them for listening to you. I’m an adamant believer in this point. Successful people don’t get that way on their own. I’ve never done anything on my own. Be it dog training, hypermiling, cooking, or writing, there was always and there still is a strong support system taking care of me. In every single activity I’ve ever attempted, I’ve had a mentor. That mentor was there to advise me when I was confused, to encourage me when I felt overwhelmed, and to be happy for me when I accomplished even the smallest achievements. To those people, thank you. Now YOU thank those people in YOUR life.

2. “Don’t sell your product when it comes out. Sell your product before it comes out.” This is self-explanatory. Create the buzz about your product. Get people interested in it before you have it out. Don’t wait until the last minute to start promoting it when it already on the shelves. By then, it is too late.

3. “Experience and interaction are paramount.” Business is built on relationships. There’s no denying it. Gary said, “Any interaction be is a handshake, hug, or butt-grab can turn into business.” Business is also personal (also preached by Jason Calacanis), and it is high time that we started building relationships and then business. We can use social media to build those relationships. There are many ways to not use Twitter effectively, and one such way it to use it as an information dissemination tool. Information is good, but it is not at all sufficient for creating relationships.

For example (if you are standing, please sit as you might hit the floor laughing), there is a certain company in Austin that doesn’t understand social media. To give you a little background, they offer consulting services that cost $250 for the initial meeting, and they think they were worth every penny. They thought social media was useless. Of course the CEO’s account was only following 16 people and had 17 followers after six months. Their marketing plan was to put fliers on cars in grocery store parking lots. They wanted to post fliers with those little pull off tabs in gyms, coffee shops, and on neighborhood mailboxes (which is illegal). This company also posted service ads on craigslists. I asked if they knew any teachers in the area (should be the biggest referrals of their business), and they knew none. The excuse was, “We’d have to buy them lunch and talk to them.” This marketing style was the antithesis of what Gary preached. He would have had a field day with this company. I’m sure the F-bomb count would have been pretty high.

4. “Do what makes you happy.” Follow your passions. If you do it well, and you create waves, there will be arrows in your back. Gary has the same message as Randy Pausch, except Randy doesn’t use the F-bomb. Both people have the same inspirational message and eerily the same words. I’ll probably be using both Randy and Gary in my lectures from now on.

I also got a hug from Gary afterwards. Totally awesome.

1 Comment

Filed under SXSW 2010

Driving the Chevy Volt at SXSW 2010

I was one lucky chick on Monday during SXSW.  Exceptionally lucky.  I got to take the new-under wraps-still in prototype mode Chevy Volt for a spin.  Here’s the report of the fun along with some photos and information.  Since the Volt is not yet released, I wasn’t privy to some information.  This is piecemealed from the bits of information that I was told or have read.  I apologize for any misinformation.

The Volt isn’t a hybrid vehicle or is it; this topic is highly debatable. We’ll stay away from the debate for now.   From what I know, it is essentially an electric vehicle with a gas generator that powers the battery when need be.  The Volt was designed run on the battery for the first 40 miles, and then use the gas generator to power the battery.  The explanation for the seemingly arbitrary 40 miles is because the average American commute is 20 miles.  40 miles using only electricity would mean a round trip commute to work without using a drop of gas.  And thusly, the Volt was designed with a 40 mile battery pack.  I wasn’t even given a ballpark estimate on the size of the gas tank, however, a full tank should get about 300 miles.

Cool Features:

The interior was very modern and the buttons were all “touch” buttons. You didn’t have to actually depress the button, rather it functioned like a touch screen. It had a very Ikea feel to it.  I was told that the transmission shifter would be redesigned, so it won’t look like what’s in the photos.

In addition to the regular horn, there’s a “friendly” horn to warn pedestrians who can’t hear your car because it is so quiet. I do mean quiet. That car didn’t even have a detectable hum (I was in a semi-noisy area). The car also had a rear backing camera with video built into the dash.

There are smart phone apps connected to OnStar so that you could program the volt to charge at a certain time or to start air conditioning in the car before you actually turn the car on. You can also use the smart phone app to honk the horn.  I did download the application on my iphone, but since I wasn’t connected to the car, I couldn’t play with the features.


This car is so quiet that I’m afraid I wouldn’t remember if the car was on or off.  Driving the Volt is exactly like how Josh Bauer describes driving his Tessla.  There is no Vroom Vroom.  You just get on the gas and it goes.  While I didn’t get to see what the Volt really had, I did get to try the turbo button.  I wasn’t clear on the technology of it, but it does give your ride some “OMPH!”

The dash also has a monitor on it with a green ball in the center, if you accelerate too hard, the green ball moves out of the “happy zone” and turns yellow.  If you brake too hard, the green ball moves out of the “happy zone” and turns yellow.  While I’m familiar with many of the tools that have this type of user interface, I’m not sure about the technology behind this one.

Some issues to ponder:

The dash of the Volt didn’t have a Miles per gallon or MPKilowatt indicator on it that I could see.  I think I was told that there was one, but I didn’t get a chance to see it.  The battery gauge did have an indicator with how many miles were left, but I’m not sure how that is calculated.  Presumably, more rough driving should consume , but how does the battery know how rough you’ll be driving for the next few miles?

The Volt does have an OBD port for the scan gauge, but I’m not sure if the scanguage would be able to give miles per gallon readings as there is no gas engine.  I’m not sure if the scanguage would be able to measure CO2 output from a generator.  Additionally, I was told that the generator can turn on to power the battery randomly.  In that sense, gas used by the generator isn’t a function of the current electricity used.  The numbers may be inaccurate.  Again, since I wasn’t given all the details, I might have some misinformation on this.  I didn’t have my scanguage on me (I decided to not drive in Austin that day due to SXSW traffic), otherwise I would have tested it.

The plug.

Woozers.  It sure was bright out.

The front.

The back.

The very modern interior.

I also attended the Chevy Veggie drive in which a group of Austin Food Bloggers drove down to Pearl Farmer’s Market in San Antonio, ate lunch at Farm to Table, and then back to Austin in a variety of 2010 Vehicles.  A big thank you to Chevy, @gmtexas, and Yeti Coolers. Enjoy the pics below! Photos by John Knox.

Camaro and Donna


Tasty Touring and I sample some candied nuts.

I like big paella pans.

Where we ate.

The crowds.

Big enough for a body.

Yummy Sammich at Texas Farm to Table.

1 Comment

Filed under Chevy, Chevy Volt, Hybrid, sxsw

SXSW 2010: “The Yelp Effect”

Yelp is the new four-letter word.  Slapped with three class-action lawsuits, there is no doubt that Yelp brings out the fury in business owners.  I’m a Yelp user, and I have been since 2008.  Addie Broyles and I hosted a core conversation at SXSW 2010 entitled “The Yelp Effect: When Everyone’s a Restaurant Critic.”  The original focus was to discuss how user-generated reviews had changed the challenges that restaurants faced, but it quickly turned into a conversation about Yelp.  She_Eats from the Houston Press wrote up a very thorough review of the conversation, and the hashtag for the conversation was #theyelpeffect.  Here’s some of my personal thoughts that we may not have discussed at SXSW.  I am NOT employeed by Yelp, nor do I have any comments on their legal situation.  I’m a user that sees both the good and bad of Yelp.  A big thank you to the always thoughtful Addie Broyles for inviting me to share my thoughts.

1. Yelp is a social community, and reviews are the commonality among the users.  Many people see Yelp as a review site, which it is, but it also a community of people who happen to write reviews.  Yelp uses have also been called anonymous.  This may be true for the lurkers or the mostly inactive users on Yelp, but most users are NOT anonymous.  In the age of social media, most of the users are identifiable.  Users are pretty easily identified by the places they review, their photos, or other profile information.  Even users with the most generic profiles have been identified by the community.  This business was sniffed out by the community, and well, it didn’t go over so well.  To say that users are completely anonymous is a misunderstanding.  Additionally, Yelp Elite members are required to use their real names and real photos.

2. “I don’t trust Yelp.” This was a common phrase muttered at the core conversation, and I would totally agree if I didn’t know many of the Austin Yelp users in person.  While I do read reviews and view star ratings with a grain of salt, there are some users that I do trust.  I know their likes and dislikes.  I know that they have experience dining out.  And I know that there are not the type to give a restaurant a low rating without considerable thought.

3. “People on Yelp must be *insert derogatory adjective here.*” The demographics of Yelp users might actually surprise you.  Most users are over 21, well-educated, and typically interested in food beyond just stuffing their faces.  You might think that Yelp users must be lazy-do nothings because they “waste” their time on Yelp.  Here’s a video on cognitive surplus that might help you understand why people use online tools including Twitter, Blogging, and Facebook.  Spending time socializing with people (even if online) is not a waste of time in my opinion.  They are contributing to a community, and using that cognitive surplus.

4. “10% of the dining experience comes from the food.” There are so many factors that influence one’s mood, perception, and memory of a dining experience that ultimately feeds into review.  Stay with me for a moment as I dive into some academia.  People in happy moods tend to ignore negative information, and people in grumpy moods tend to think more logically about situations.  There’s an vast amount of research in the field of social psychology that investigates that impact of mood on perception and memory.  For example: Let’s say that I receive terrible service along with some fairly satisfying and tasty food.  I would hazard to guess that the service might put a damper on my experience and therefore I might rate the restaurant worse the food actually was.  On the other hand, there are some restaurants I frequent because no matter how terrible my day was, they always put me in a good mood.  Thank you @FSAustin and @MilanoAustin.

Perspective also influences memory. Research has shown that in relationships, people who are anxiously attached (about 10% of the population) tend to remember things much worse than they actually were. People who are securely attached (about 60-70% of the population) tend not to remember past events as bad as they were, or they may not remember them at all.  At the Business of Software Conference 2009, Dr. Jennifer Aaker gave a presentation about Disneyland.  Disneyland is actually a miserable place. The lines are long.  The food is expensive.  But our memories of Disney are fantastic.  Disney is so skilled at branding and framing, that we have great memories of the miserable time we had.  That’s just some food for thought.

5. Yelp can be likened to a focus group for your business. People come, pay, and give you feedback.  What’s more?  They are your actual consumers.  What better focus group can you get than to get actual consumers?  However, the catch with this focus group is that they put it online for the world to see.  My advice for a business would be to use their free business owner’s account to reply (politely).  That reply is also up for the world to see.  For further details on how to use Yelp, check out their business owners section or contact me.

You might say, “But that review is blatantly wrong!” or “I don’t agree!” This isn’t easy for people (myself included) to get negative feedback about ourselves.  Humans are designed to have high self-esteem.  We are also susceptible to group think (groups that don’t think or listen to feedback).  We tend to ignore things that are inconsistent with our own beliefs, and we tend to look for opinions that are consistent with our own opinions.  We are angry when someone disagrees with our self-perception.  There’s no way around this sticky issue except to accept it.  We all get negative reviews.

As a professor, when those course evaluations come in, I’m sure to get at least one negative evaluation.  I typically get 90-95% “We LOVE Ms. Chen!” evaluations, and 5-10% “I hated this class!” evaluations.  Sometimes those were correlated to the students’ grades, and sometimes not.  I had one student who knew she was going to fail my course, but she gave me a hug on the last day of class and wrote me a thank you note.  I also had one semester where I had such good evaluations that students protested to the department head when I told them I was no longer teaching, but that’s pretty out of the ordinary.  I did teach at that institution for the next three years.  There’s no pleasing every single customer as there is no pleasing every single student.  I take my feedback, improve, and I move on.

At this point, I’m fairly certain that this post will turn into somewhat of a novel.  I’ll end this post by saying that Yelp is not a perfect website.  There are things I would like to change and policies I’d like to implement if I could.  However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Yelp is a useful website for both consumers and restaurant owners.  I’ve also found that once most businesses have learned how to navigate and use Yelp effectively, much of the anxiety surrounding Yelp disappears.


Filed under addie broyles, social psychology, sxsw, Yelp

Why I South by

SXSW is a monstrosity of an event, and I love it for many reasons.  For people who love the crowded parties jammed packed full of awesome people, SXSWi is where to be.  People (yes, you) are the reason why I go to SXSW events.  You might have noticed that I’m a relationship oriented person.  My personal philosophy is that social media isn’t about the user, but everyone else.  Social media isn’t social unless you have relationships.  That’s why I go: to meet you.  To give you a handshake or hug, and to turn our online pinging into an offline relationship.

I’m very sad that I will be out of pocket for Friday and Saturday of SXSW.  Instead, I’ll be wearing a lilac dress, really tall high heels, and holding a bouquet of roses.  Anyone want to trade places?  :o )   If you do see me running around Austin, don’t be afraid to jump in and say “Hi!”  I’m always thrilled to meet new people.
Here’s a short list of events that I would have loved to attend or am attending:


NomX3 with Peter Cashmore

NomX3 Buzz Out Loud

Texas Social Media Awards Party

The Yelp Effect:  When Everyone’s a Critic

Leave a comment

Filed under nomx3, social media, twitter, Yelp

Happy Hours Galore during SXSW

There’s no lacking of Happy Hours in Austin, and to try to hit up all of them would require some teleportation talents.  Here’s two links to popular webpages that sum up most of Austin’s Happy Hour deals as well as a short list of my favorites that are fairly close to Downtown Austin.  So grab a fellow SXSWer and head on down for tasty bites and refreshing drinks.  

Austin Frugal Feaster
Austin Food Journal’s Calendar

My Downtown Faves
Paggi House200 Lee Barton Dr  Austin, TX 78704  (512) 473-3700 @paggihouse
I love Paggi House for the atmosphere, service, and the dog friendly patio.  Not only are the deals great, the presentation of the food here has been tops.  I haven’t been let down here yet!  Half off selected drinks and half off appetizers.

Trio at the Four Seasons – 98 San Jacinto Blvd  Austin, TX 78701 (512) 478-4500  @FSaustin
Trio understands happy hour.  With fabulous deals, cheery staff, great selection of wine, and to scrumptious lamb sliders, Trio has earned my happy hour loyalty.  Half off selected wines and appetizers.

McCormick’s and Schmick’s401 Congress Avenue  Austin, TX 78701   (512) 236-9600 @MccormickSchmicks
While it isn’t the very best Austin has to offer, McCormick’s and Schmick’s is a great place to go for cheap eats.  With a purchase of a drink (minimum $2, ice tea counts), order from a reduced price menu in the bar area.  From half pound burgers and fries for 2.95 to a large serving of hummus and pita for 1.95, you can’t go wrong.  McCormick’s and Schmick’s offers a regular happy hour and a reverse happy hour.  Get there early or practice your ninja skills in snagging a seat.  It can get crowded during happy hour. 

Leave a comment

Filed under happy hour, sxsw