Saturday, September 12, 2009

Service versus self service

In some markets you serve yourself, in others you are served. Which is the luxury? It depends.

The recent decisions by some universities to manage their shortage of central-campus parking has raised some eyebrows:
Recession? Valet Parking Arrives.
And, indeed, that story makes it sound as if some of the parking decisions are meant to increase customer service where there's a shortage of conveniently located parking.

That being said, it's often more convenient to be able to park yourself rather than have to rely on someone else. But parking lots (and, in Manhattan, multi-story garages served by car elevators) in which the attendants park all the cars allow more cars to be accomodated in a given amount of space. It may be a luxury to leave your car for someone else to park, but it's seldom a luxury to wait while your car is brought out of parking.

Years ago, a colleague from Brazil remarked that one thing she liked about living in the United States was that she didn't have to deal with servants. I foolishly asked why in that case she couldn't just dispense with servants when she was in Brazil. The answer of course was that many things that are designed for self service here are more labor intensive there. I recall that one example was that chicken is sold shrink-wrapped and ready to cook in American supermarkets, but was apparently sold with pinfeathers still attached in Brazil (in those days).

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