Business Trip Meal, 7 wrong perceptions about it.

After so many years travelling and living the business trip meal experience I observed that people around the business traveler can have different and not always positive perceptions about that event.  The first particular situation that comes to my mind is when you take a customer for dinner or lunch.  Depending on your negotiation position you might be invited or you might invite…

1 That customer who thinks your invitation is a blank check.

Dinner with a customer

One day a colleague and I were invited by a Tier One to a meeting; this customer needed our presence as support during a technical discussion and a dinner with his OEM purchasing contact.  We were taken to a nice and expensive restaurant somewhere in the south of France.  You might have had a similar experience, you see something strange in the eyes of the guest and you start to be intrigued by the way his tongue hangs.  This guy was acting like he had won the lottery, he asked for the most expensive beverages and meals, the nicest wines were served and haute cuisine food was prepared.  The place was so good that even if you had asked for water and bread it would have tasted fantastic and correspondingly the pricing was as high as the food quality.  This customer really got away with the best and most expensive dinner ever.  Fortunately not everybody is like that.  The first weird perception about a business trip meal, coming from some customers is that they won a price and they take it to the limit shameless.  That meal was reported here.

2 Colleagues think all your business trip meals are like a Bacchanalia.

Colleagues perception

I remember commenting stories like last one, about abusive customers, to my colleagues.  Some agreed that they had experienced similar situations but some of them, particularly those who are not “exposed” to the business trip meal experience had a strange look in their eyes.  I got the impression that I had left those colleagues with the feeling that all my business meals where some kind of orgy or a dinner like in “La Grande Bouffe”.  The second perception from some of your colleagues might be that your business trip meals are big parties all the time.  Tell them about that quick industrial tasteless sandwich you eat most of the times at the gas or train station on a hurry to your next visit, they won’t believe you. 

3 What your wife could imagine about your business trip meals.


Party with girls

One day I was in Spain with a couple of business partners.  We had to visit a customer next morning and went for dinner in the old down town of San Sebastian.   The hotel was twenty minutes away walking distance and since the evening was nice we decided to go by foot.  During the walk the phone of one of my partners rang; the other guy and I witnessed the following half dialog:

  • Hi honey…  Yes the flight was OK… Going for dinner with the colleagues…

  • What? What do you mean another of MY business dinners?  You know it’s a business trip and I told you I was meeting M. and A.

  • What do you mean by I always tell that story? Please we are not going to do this again!

  • Voices? What voices?  Of course you listen to voices we are in a public area and people are walking around and talking…

  • Women? of course there are women, men, dogs, birds and also squirrels around!!!

  • No, no, no and a thousand times no! I’m only with M. and A., yes!  Honey ? Honey? Hello? Hellooooooooooooo…

That man’s wife had the wrong perception about his business trip meals.  That night we went for nice tapas and wine, no girls were involved but how can you prove that?  Do you need to?

4 EBITDA, you are eating it.

 Eating the EBITDA

Another time some years ago the assistant of our controller came to my office and we had this exchange of words:

  • J: I noticed that on your last trip you had a 37,5 dollars dinner and you were alone, how do you explain that?

  • M: There was no other option, I told her.

  • J: What do you mean by no option?

  • M: I mean the only place available for dinner was the restaurant of the hotel and those are the prices they have.

  • J: You know you should have looked for a cheaper option.

  • M: I always do, that was the cheapest option at that time of the day and in that area, besides the machine at the hotel where you can get chips and water.  Why are you asking this? The signature of my boss is on the travel expenses report!

  • J: I like to double check…

Sometimes your wife might not believe what you tell and sometimes your controller.  No matter if you had a long flight from Mexico City to Boston, then a long drive to Avon and found your hotel late in the night.  It doesn’t count, from financial point of view an Excell file will not support you on that, and for some controllers you are eating the EBITDA.  I knew there had been abuses in the past, I can understand the double checking which means “I’m just warning you” and nevertheless it’s really uncomfortable and not very motivating.

5 Lunch time is still work time.

 Working at lunch time

Sometime around noon you should be having lunch, not writing reports, not answering the phone, not reading e-mails or preparing the presentation you will show to your customers during a meeting.  If you do it can be for several reasons.  For example, you are late with a report and your boss calls to hurry you up to send him that piece of information.  May be you live in Germany and have lunch from 11:30 to 12:30 and get calls from partners in Spain who start lunch later at 13:00 or vice versa.   Ok, one or two times it can happen and those should stay an exception.   If you allow this situation to become regular then you are having a wrong perception about your lunch time.  A healthy practice is to turn off the mobile during lunch or not answering if it rings,  sounds evident?  Then do it!  Chris Rock puts it this way: “even people in jail have an hour to eat, and they are not distracted by anything, a team of officers is even paid to make sure they finish their vegetables”.

6 You can eat anything, you are on a trip.

 Avoid unhealthy food

I’m guilty with this one.  Some of my  sins are: eating potato chips when I drive,  eating a couple of croissants when having breakfast at the hotel, drinking much more than the three cups per day limit of coffee.  I can’t help also to eat sugar in different formats; ice cream, cakes or the chocolate from the minibar.   If consumed from time to time, none of these foods would represent a problem.  But, if you are quite often on business trips and you do not exercise according to your calories consumption, on the mid long term this might have negative consequences.  It was the case for me.  During my last medical controls everything was ok but sugar levels and blood pressure.  Now I’m following the advice of my doctor, eating with more responsibility and exercising much more.  My levels are back to normal.  How about yours?

7 It’s possible to eat healthy “on the road”.

 Balance your meals

Unfortunately this is not true, nor is it that healthy food is cheap.  Times being what they are fast food turned long ago into a commodity and healthy food into a specialty; prices correspond to that classification.  If you want to eat healthy you have to pay much more and wait longer.  Even that salad you can buy almost everywhere is so filled with food preservatives it cannot be considered as healthy any more.  What about a healthy wrap?  Ok there is salad and tuna inside… but the wrapping “tortilla” has so many carbohydrates you could be eating two pieces of bread instead.  Well, it seems you will have to include your meals in the trip planning process: buy that plane or train ticket, book the hotel, make the rental car reservation and go to the supermarket to buy for example fresh lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, onions, a couple eggs, some tuna and a container to carry your “salade nicoise”.  Since you are there, some apples and almonds with no salt can be an option for a quick snack at some point when you stomach craves for a bit of something.  A Bottle of water is mandatory.


Mario Alvarez

About Mario Alvarez

On regular business trips since 1998, I was lucky and unlucky to eat at the best and not the best places in The Nafta Region and Europe while on the road.
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