Hobbiton and Paying the Bill in New Zealand (Business Brilliance #15)

4 November 2019 | 14 Comments

I had the pleasure of spending the last 2 weeks traveling in New Zealand with my girlfriend. While it was mostly a vacation, I did a few board game publishing related activities (see photos), and I learned a few things from New Zealand businesses along the way. Below are two observations that might apply to your business (and mine!).

The Leisurely Pace at Hobbiton

One of our most memorable adventures in New Zealand was traveling to Hobbiton. It’s a nearly functional movie set of the Shire from the Hobbit movies; that is, it’s not just a few hobbit holes–it’s the entire town (except that there isn’t anything behind the doors in the hills).

Our evening tour vastly exceeded my expectations, which were already quite high. Other than the craftmanship and level of detail, I think a huge part of the reason why it worked so well is that I never felt rushed. The entire experience–the tour, the meal that followed, and the final moments under the stars–took over 4 hours, during which we were pretty much allowed to roam free around the shire. The guides told stories and answered questions, everyone took tons of photos, and the feast stayed on the tables long after we were full.

At Counter Culture in Wellington.

I haven’t been to a theme park in a long time, but my perception of them is that you’re often either waiting in line or you’re on the clock for a quick ride or experience. As much as I want to go to Galaxy’s Edge, I want to savor the experience, not be limited to 45 minutes at the cantina or 10 minutes making a lightsaber.

I’m not exactly sure how “don’t rush your customers during special experiences” could apply to a business like mine, but I’m going to try to keep it in mind as I move forward.

Paying the Bill the Kiwi Way

In the US, at pretty much every restaurant I know, paying the bill works like this:

  1. Near the end of the meal, you either request the bill or the server brings it to you.
  2. The server later returns to pick up the bill so they can go run your credit card.
  3. The server eventually returns with the bill, your card, and a receipt for you to sign.
At Flock in Nelson.

In New Zealand, however, when you’re ready to pay your bill, you simply go to the cashier, pay the bill, and leave. The server isn’t involved at all (which is nice for them) and it’s much faster for you, as it’s on your schedule, not that of the server. Every restaurant at which we ate in New Zealand had point-of-sale chip card readers that were really fast, much faster than the chip readers in the US (I’m not sure why).

It made me think about extra steps I may be unwittingly asking customers to walk through at Stonemaier Games, whether those customers are individuals visiting our webstore to buy a product or distributors trying to reserve games from us. If you have any thoughts, I’m open to them!

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14 Comments on “Hobbiton and Paying the Bill in New Zealand (Business Brilliance #15)

  1. Wingspan in a Twizel hardware shop? Didn’t think there were enough people in Twizel to even play a game of Wingspan!

  2. I’ve noticed a big difference in the speed of chip readers in the US depending on the store. Nugget markets (a regional chain) and Target have absolutely the fastest chip readers – practically as fast as swiping. The same is true for restaurants in my experience – it varies widely. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect it’s related to quality and speed of the data connection the store has.

    Also, some grocery stores here now allow you to insert the card as soon as they start scanning, and process your info immediately, rather than requiring you to wait until they are done scanning your purchases, and your card is ready to remove before the bagging is complete.

    In this case, the bottleneck is again at the cashier instead of the card reader. This of course won’t work in a restaurant setting. But it’s a clever work around that might give you ideas relevant to your own business.

  3. Thanks for sharing your NZ experience. I road-tripped around the Northern NZ island last year, even when you aren’t in Hobbiton, you feel like you’re in middle earth,(except for those random palm trees). Also the lack of trash cans, yet some how their parks and towns are still cleaner than US parks.

  4. The restaurant payment thing is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve had a good experience eating there and then it’s tainted by having to wait 5 minutes before being allowed to pay. Not only does it annoy me more than it should (a personal flaw) to wait when I’m done I also dislike needing to spend my time trying to make eye contact with waiters who ignore me because they’re too busy.

    It’s becomes more annoying because in some places you’re required to go to the counter and pay while in others you’re required to pay at the table and more often than not I don’t know what I’m expected to do. At least the waiters often carry card readers and contactless card readers that respond almost immediately are becoming the norm.

    It’s firmly in the first world problem category, but it seems like a weird way to undermine an otherwise good customer experience – snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Even just acknowledging the customer by making the eye contact and going a few meters extra to say “I’ll be back in a few minutes minutes” would make a huge difference. Then I would know what to expect, can focus on the people I’m eating with instead of looking away to make eye contact with a waiter, and I would feel respected instead of ignored.

  5. Sad I missed it. Counter Culture is my local. Such a great place. Was on my own holiday but just got back last week to play my first game of my Tapestry pre-order patiently waiting to be played. Great game.

  6. On the plus side, some restaurants like Olive Garden and Smokey Bones make it convenient for you to pay your bill. They have on the table a tablet of sorts where you can pay your bill at the table without having to either wait in line or wait for your server to return with your card and the bill for you to sign.

  7. One thought: many companies treat FAQ’s as an afterthought, or at least in a “set-it-and-forget-it” way, but I think it can be much more than that. It should be a living monument to making things as easy as possible for the customer, and created and iterated upon with the greatest care. It can also be the basis of finding customer flow improvements: every commonly asked question is an invitation to improve the UX so they don’t have that question anymore.

  8. You didn’t mention the other major retail pleasure in New Zealand, NO TIPPING and NO SALES TAX. (There is plenty of tax, and service isn’t free, but it’s included in the price) What you see on the menu is what you pay. I’ve actually had a cab driver warn me not to give tips.

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