ways to eat on the road for less
By Salina Khan,USA TODAY
With companies tightening meal budgets, frugal travelers are finding
creative ways to get more for their money.
Here are some examples:
in hotels where meals are included in the room rate: Check
into hotels that offer complimentary continental breakfasts, suggests
Marilyn McHugh of Parsippany, N.J.
Pick up extra bagels and fruit on your way out, adds Jon Melia of
Torrington, Conn. That way you'll save breakfast and lunch money.
Depending on where you stay, dinner could be on the hotel as well. Tom
Powell of Knoxville, Tenn., says he stays at Red Lion hotels and fills
up on the free food - popcorn, nachos or hot dogs - served during happy
your own dishes: Some travelers on longer trips check
into hotel rooms with kitchens, such as at Residence Inns and Embassy
"Tuna at Wal-Mart is 65 cents a can and the bread is 50 cents a
loaf," says Glyn Thorman of Osceola, Wis. "Skip the canned 25
cents Wal-Mart soda and buy the liter bottle for pennies an ounce."
leftovers: Powell orders large pizzas so he can eat for
two days while on the road. "You can reheat the pizza - or even
cans of soup - on the hood of your running car," he suggests.
The hotel ice bucket can become a small temporary fridge, according to
Thorman. "Put the ice on top of your sealed food - cold goes
down," he suggests in an e-mail to USA TODAY. "Wrap the entire
bucket container in numerous towels provided. Guaranteed to keep cold
far out: Avoid eating at airport lounges and hotel
restaurants. Their prices are usually steep. Ask residents for
recommendations in the suburbs. Out-of-the way local restaurants are
sometimes cheaper and tastier, Melia says.
for corporate rates: Find out whether your company has
deals with local restaurants. Some restaurants shave 10% to 25% off the
meal cost, says Heather Gravelle, a consultant for American Express.
Also, some frequent-guest programs offer discounts at their hotels'
for restaurants on the Internet, in travel guidebooks or in reviews in
local papers: Ask the hotel concierge for
recommendations within your price range.
food at gas stations: Eating under SBA Inc.'s $30-a-day
per diem isn't always a piece of cake for Powell. He manages by slipping
the cost of snacks into his gas tab.
at malls: Stop by their food courts just before closing
time to get big discounts. "I've gotten plenty at half price,"
suggestions: Stop by churches for $5 dinners. Drink iced
tea instead of alcoholic beverages. Make oatmeal or instant soup using
hotel rooms' hot-water systems for coffee. Don't pass up airline snacks
if you're not hungry - stash them in your carry-on bag for later.
By Salina Khan, USA TODAY
More business travelers are watching what they eat on the road - and
calorie counting isn't the only reason.
Many companies are enforcing stricter rules on meal expenses. About 57%
of companies surveyed by American Express have guidelines or spending
limits on meal expenses in 1998, up from 50% in 1994.
Eat-for-less: Restaurants ranked by
Zagat's "very good to excellent" for food, service and
décor. Runzeimer's average prices below include entrée, drink
Atlanta:Yin Yang Music Café, eclectic
/international, 64 Third St., 404-607-0682, $17
Chicago Frontera Grill, Mexican/Tex-Mex, 445 N.
Clark St., 312-661-1434, $29
Angeluna, American, 215 E. Fourth St., Fort Worth, 817-334-0080,
Los Angeles: Engine Co. No. 28, American/
traditional, 644 S. Figueroa St. , 213-624-6996, $27
New York: Chiam, Chinese, 160 E. 48th St.
Orlando: Harvey's Bistro, New American, 390 N.
Orange Ave., 407-246-6560, $23
San Francisco: Osako Grill, Japanese, 1217
Sutter St., 415-440-8838, $28
Washington: Bombay Club, Indian,
815 Connecticut Ave. N.W. , 202-659-3727, $36
"Overspending on dining and entertainment is a chronic area of
abuse," says consulting firm Runzheimer International, in a recent
report on travel management.
Companies are moving away from just advising employees to spend
reasonably because "that's loose language that leaves a lot up for
interpretation," says Heather Gravelle of American Express
Consulting Services Group in New York. The infamous three-martini
lunches have been going out of favor, partially because the federal
government in 1994 curtailed a tax break for businesses by slashing the
amount of business meals they could deduct to 50% from 80%.
Travelers find their dining options restricted by these policies:
caps: A manufacturer based in Rhode Island will begin
strict limits Nov. 1 on how much employees can spend on breakfast, lunch
or dinner. It declined to be identified because employees have not been
told yet. In addition, all meals must be charged on the corporate credit
card to monitor overall expenses and increase discounts.
Meal guidelines have been informal at the company until now. If an
employee spent too much, the company sent out a memo saying that
restaurant was off-limits.
But some say the limits are not always practical, especially with meal
costs going up. Runzheimer says business travelers will pay 3.5% more
for food in 1999 than last year.
Tom Powell of SBA in Knoxville, Tenn., can spend $30 daily on meals,
regardless of the location. He says he almost turned into a McDonald's
after spotting its window ad for 88-cent Quarter Pounders while in
Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
"You have to compromise your tastes and eating style," Powell
Some can't and end up spending the difference out of their pockets.
"I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm losing money," says
Jon Melia of Singulus Technologies in Torrington, Conn. "I can't
dwell on it a lot or it would ruin the trip."
diems: Some companies are giving daily meal allowances
akin to the government's per diem policy. The day's stipend corresponds
to the city's average dining cost (www.policyworks.gov/perdiem)
Rolfe Shellenberger of Runzheimer says inquiries from
companies considering per diems are up.
But Gravelle says per diems are not a good idea. Some people scrimp on
food costs and pocket the rest of the money. Companies should require
itemized register receipts - not hand-written tabs - for costs of $15
and up, she says.
restaurants: The National Business Travel Association
says some companies are limiting meal expenses by steering their
employees to certain diners.
One company lists average restaurant rates for its top 20 business
destinations on its intranet page. Another recommends local restaurants
in its newsletter, each month highlighting a city where it has offices.
"There's a certain balance between reasonable cost-cutting and
looking like a tightwad," says Burke Stinson, an AT&T
He says the company has had a $35-a-day limit on meals for several years
but is considering more cost-cutting measures. Managers are periodically
reminded to review expense reports carefully.
AT&T also is exploring restaurant discounts.
Electronic expense reports are making it easier to catch travelers with
"Do it two or three times and your job may be in jeopardy,"
says Harold Seligman of Management Alternatives, a travel expense
management company in Tallevast, Fla.