Business Trip Meal Podcast Episode 1

Hello dear business travellers, this is your boarding call for the first episode of the business trip meal podcast.  On the menu today, as a first course we will present your host Mario Alvarez who’s been a business traveller for the last eighteen years.  As a second course we are going to tell you our definition of  business trip meals.  As a dessert we will comment about the business trip meal community.  All passengers are invited to take their seats at our table.  Enjoy the ride.

Hello and welcome to all business travellers and to anybody who likes travelling and likes food. This is the first episode of the business trip meal podcast.

My name is Mario Alvarez and I am your host at this show.  I was born in Mexico to a Bolivian father and a Mexican Mother.  Dad met Mum when he was studying and working as a Doctor in Mexico.  Mum was a nurse.  I came to this world in Mexico city and a year after I took the plane for the first time to go live in La Paz Bolivia.  There I Studied in a French speaking school where I learned the language of Baudelaire.  English was also on the  curricula for the last four years and I learned the language of Shakespeare.  When I finished high school I went back to Mexico where I became a mechanical engineer.  I got my first job at a German company as a technical service representative which needed that I travel to visit customers all over the Mexican Territory and sometimes in the United States and Central America.

There was a budget to learn languages and since I already could speak english and French my boss suggested I learn the language of Goethe.  After four years in that position I got an equivalent position in France based in Paris.  This time I was in charge of customers in France, Italy, the UK, Spain.  After three years in that position I was proposed a change to the headquarters in Germany where I’ve lived for more than ten years.  I’m still travelling a lot, mostly in France, Italy and Spain and Germany of course but I also move from time to time to the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Poland, The Czech Republic,  Rumania, wherever the customers need my help.  As you can imagine I have been travelling non stop for almost twenty years.

Now let’s talk about business trip meals which is the focus of this podcast.  As a background I must say I have been very lucky because all my life I was surrounded by people who could cook very well.  My mum is a fantastic cook.  She prepared always the most tasty mexican food when we lived in Bolivia.  But added to that, she learned also Bolivian Cuisine which is not internationally known but I can tell you it is fantastic in taste and variety.  My two grannies were, fantastic cooks and my wife is also great in the kitchen.  My brothers and I are also interested by cooking and we inherited mum’s talent and dad’s gourmet taste.  He can’t boil water without burning it but he is a bon vivant when it comes to meals.  My first business trip was not a long one but a very tasty one.  Living in Mexico means you can get mexican tasty food anywhere at anytime.  In that first trip I had to visit a customer together with the logistics company that had apparently provoked a contamination of our material.  After a long meeting whose result is not of interest for this show the big boss of the logistic company invited us and our customer to a great spanish restaurant where we had nice wine, some iberico ham a great paella and a fantastic dessert and coffee.  That first business trip meal was a great start for what has been a glorious gastronomic adventure.  Not all meals are so nice, sometimes you have to survive with a cold sandwich and bad coffee from a gas station, or with fast food but many meals can be really a highlight during a business trip.  My definition of business trip is a travel you have to make to interact with people living outside of your city or country in order to make your business move forward.  Since those trips can last for a day or more it’s likely you will have to have breakfast, lunch or dinner away from home.  Sometimes one of the three, sometimes all of them, sometimes for many days, sometimes alone or with the customers.  Sometimes they will be good and sometimes not, but always an adventure.

The business trip meal community.   Business travel market numbers count in billions of dollars.  A good share of that is used to feed all that people at their corresponding destinations.  You can imagine that restaurants in business destinations are visited on a daily basis by people on business trips curious or scared to discover new meals, eating on a budget or with no expenses limit, inviting customers or trying to respect a diet for healthy reasons or because they are preparing for a marathon.  All those people are in a way or another consuming business trip meals.  All have expectations or issues that have to be dealt with.  They need information or a way to share that local specialty with their contacts online.  Well that is a non dismissable amount of people interacting around food.  Imagine Karl from Gemany flying to Shanghai, or Ku Wan Cheng from Japan going to Puebla in Mexico.

On the second part of this show I will read a post I wrote some time ago describing seven misconceptions about business trip meals.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

Well this has been the first episode of the business trip meal podcast I hope you enjoyed it.  In the next episode we will listen an interview I dit to a business traveller from Ireland, a sales representative working for a german company who is responsible for a customer portfolio in big part of the UK.  If you want to learn more about our community visit us at businesstripmeal.com or follow us on twitter at @Biztripmeal and on Instagram at businesstripmeal

Thankyou very much and have a safe travel and a better meal!

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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