White Collar Travel: A Tale of Two Meals

Business travelers lead dual lives when they’re on the road. One is nothing short of luxurious, and the other is nothing short of depressing. This isn’t a case of good weeks and bad, and there is little they can do to engineer the frequency of the former over the latter. It all comes down to an uncertain mix of luck and timing. The contrast is most evident in the dining experience. Some meals are grand, while others are eaten from a desk, dashboard or on the corner of the bed.

When clients and your own company’s executives are involved, meals tend to be … ummmm … a tad more upscale. The restaurant is chosen with care, and reservations are made in advance. Usually, attention is paid to where in the restaurant you’ll be sitting, with a private room preferred over a meal with the masses. Several choices are evaluated, and the menus are examined for content rather than cost.

Cocktails tend to come before seating, and wine flows abundantly when the party gets to the table. You’ll go through salads and appetizers (and bottles of wine) before enjoying the entrée that you’ve been thinking about all afternoon. By the time dessert arrives, you’re stuffed … but it just looks so good! There’s always room for something sweet, and you eventually return to your hotel room fully satisfied. You start to think, “I really could get used to this.”You wish all your meals could be that tasty, especially on the nights when you experience the other side of your business travel life.

It’s well past 9 PM, and you’re sitting in a conference room with six of your colleagues. The task of the day is projected onto a screen, and the answers just aren’t flowing. Or, you’re faced with a mammoth amount of work, and a deadline is looming. Someone finally realizes that nobody has eaten since breakfast (or the night before, if you prefer sleep to food) and starts taking orders. Fast food fare eventually materializes in the conference room. The smell is a distraction, since the quarters are tight. As you chomp between clicks on the keyboard, you realize that you aren’t tasting a thing. Rather, you’re just trying to fuel up for what is going to be a long night.

Of course, not every meal is taken at the office. In some cases, you may get out at a reasonable hour. But, you’re eating alone, so you need to make your allotted food cash go as far as possible. Occasionally, you’ll treat yourself to something nice, but on other nights you’ll call for a pizza, prop the box on the desk next to your laptop and munch while sifting through your e-mail with a television show you’ve never had time to watch before blathering on in the background.

This is part of the situation to which the business traveler must adapt, of course. Over time, it becomes part of the grind. You can’t call it a routine, because randomness enters into the picture. You get used to it and learn to look forward to the meals you’ll enjoy most.

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