Business travel is frequently vexing because you spend so much time alone when the work day is over. It's hard not feel like a social pariah when you walk into a restaurant and say, "Table for one." Consequently, it's tempting to take get carryout or take delivery in your room every night, but your waistline will definitely suffer. Truth be told, the only perk of company travel is dining on the company dime, so you ought to enjoy it even if you travel alone.
Nearly every part of the country has some regional cuisine that is done really well, so there's no reason to suffer through the generic chain food, regardless of where you are. Inevitably, company meetings and such will be at Chili's or some other place you've been a million times, so don't eat there unless you really feel the need to eat something you've already eaten before.
Still, it can be hard to travel and eat alone. Here's what I do:
- Use the web. Type in your current location and see what local restaurants are well rated. There are gems in most places. I had amazing shrimp in Sunnyvale and excellent lamb chops in Harlem because I did a little searching.
- Order a beverage. I don't drink, but I always order a beverage of some kind. This automatically ups your check just a little bit and gives your server an excuse to visit your table. You'll inevitably get better service.
- Don't be afraid to sit at the bar, even if you don't drink. I usually get great service from the bar, and there are almost always TVs or music or something that is much less alienating than sitting in a booth by yourself.
- Stretch out the meal. When you dine alone, you'll notice that your food arrives much faster, and you finish quicker because there's no one to talk to. Even at a really nice restaurant, you can be in and out in well under an hour, and then you'll inevitably feel unsatisfied. Besides making a deliberate attempt to slow down, I frequently order a soup or an appetizer with dinner, just because it makes the meal more of an experience.
- Ask about the specials. Unless you're at the Cheesecake Factory, the specials are usually actually special. They're the freshest ingredients, chef's specialty, or whatever. Your server will definitely know what most people order.
- Get used to the alone-ness. Relish it. Once you go to a movie by yourself, you'll wonder why you ever try to corral a group of people to try and go to a movie. Dining alone can be the same way.
This week in San Diego has been a culinary masterpiece. I come here often enough that I have some of my favorite haunts. First is Point Loma Seafoods: a fresh fish market that also serves lunch. They have AMAZING chowder. Warning: they only take cash. Second is Phil's: Texas style BBQ, great blues. Beef ribs that would satisfy Fred Flinstone. Warning: closed on Mondays. This time, I also visited the Chart House at Dana Point, and it was simply amazing -- great view.