I am in a teahouse in the Hongkou district in northeast Shanghai. This is not the most fashionable part of Shanghai, although I get the impression that it was a district in which Chinese artists and writers lived in the 1930s, and (like much of Shanghai) it is full of interesting architecture from that period. And it may be a little like that in character again – it feels like a slightly bohemian, slightly studenty neighbourhood. A new metro line has recently been built through the area, which certainly can boost a neighbourhood.
The teahouse I am in is a branch of a chain named “Chatea”, which seems to build outlets in nice malls, and which appears to cater to an early twenties middle class demographic, and one that is more female than male judging by the customers in this particular branch. They sell a wide variety of traditional Chinese teas, as well as those funny multicoloured bubble tea drinks that are so popular with young people in the Chinosphere. And they have a food menu consisting mostly of Dim Sum. The music in the background is bubblegum music from six or seven years ago, so that would be right for a mid twenties female demographic. (Specifically the are playing the album Shades of Purple by M2M, who are perhaps best known for doing the theme song in the western world for the first Pokemon movie).
It is pleasant, but for me there is one more possibly more important thing, which is there is WiFi. And the attitude to the WiFi is right. The internet access if free, and I was smiled at when I sat down, ordered a pot of tea, and got out my laptop. A couple of minutes later, a waiter came over to me and pointed out the electrical outlet on the wall, next to the table. (Hang on a moment. My shrimp dumplings, turnip cakes and crab dumplings have just arrived).
Okay. I am back. That was not bad at all. Slightly trendier sorts of Dim Sum than one would find in the backstreets of Kowloon, and fancier service and crockery, but definitely good. A couple of rather studious looking girls at the next table did give me one of those “These foreigners are crazy” looks when I started taking photographs of my lunch, but I am used to that. I am going to get revenge. Little to their knowledge, thousands of people on every continent are shortly going to be looking at a picture of them.
I do like the way they have the standard “studying in a coffee shop” look that is instantly familiar, complete with the sprawling papers, and the mobile phones laid out neatly in front of them. Human nature is endearingly familiar, wherever you go.
But anyway, where was I? Oh yes. The free WiFi and the electrical outlet that I was encouraged to use. I left my power adaptor in my hotel, as I was not expecting to find anything this good. The reason why I was not expecting this is that I find it so seldom in London. WiFi in cafes and coffee chains in London is far too often of the “This will cost £7 per hour” variety. A cafe can set up WiFi on this basis if it wants to, but I am simply not going to pay that. However, if you provide me with free WiFi (which will cost you hardly anything) I will buy more coffee and food, possibly more than £7 worth. And then a cafe might provide WiFi, but will not provide an electrical outlet, or (even worse) if it has one conveniently placed they will tell you that you are “stealing electricicy” if you try to use it, or they will put a cap over it to prevent you using it. This isn’t greed, but just stupidity. There is a lack of appreciation as to what customers want and value, and a lack of appreciation of the cost of providing it. (My laptop will run for about four days on 10 pence worth of electricity). And a lack of appreciation about how providing it will create warm and fuzzy feelings about your business.
And if a chain of teahouses in Shanghai can understand this, why can’t a chain of coffee houses in London? Just one. If you figure out what your customers want and give it to them, then you will get repeat business. It is that simple. If I lived in Shanghai (and who knows, someday I might) I would have lunch here all the time. And I will recommend it to my friends. As in fact I just have. Thousands of them.
A waitress keeps coming back to top up my teapot with hot water, too. I clearly could spend all afternoon here. However, there is much more to see, so it is time to post, drink up, and leave.