On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape. This week, she discusses the scenario of drinking wine alone while traveling for business—minus the hotel room's plastic tumblers.
If you are a business traveler like me, dining alone on the road can be more than a bit depressing. This is especially true if, like me, you drink a glass of wine with dinner each night. Room service might be able to produce competent hamburgers and fries, but I can't face an industrial-strength "wine glass" full of warm red wine with a piece of plastic wrap on top and a paper "coaster" keeping it all in place.
Buying a bottle of wine and drinking it over several days in the hotel's plastic water tumblers while sitting on the bed and watching CNN doesn't cut it, either.
So what's a wine-and-food-loving business traveler to do?
When I'm on the road, I often eat at the bar. But I almost never eat at the hotel bar, or at a local watering hole. Instead, I head for one of the national chain restaurants that have full bar menus (like McCormick & Schmick's) or for a local restaurant known for excellent bar service (like Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in Napa).
What I'm looking for: a bright, warm, and welcoming space with good service that's not too loud and treats solo diners right. Because sitting alone at a table often makes me feel isolated, I find the bar is the perfect place to sit, read the paper, strike up conversations with the staff, and—most importantly—get good food with a great glass of wine.
Take last weekend. I was in Cincinnati for a conference and had reached my limit of room service, meals with colleagues, and hotel food. I crossed the street to McCormick & Schmick's and got a seat at the bar. The three bartenders behind the counter made me feel welcome, put out sourdough bread, linens, and silverware and asked me what I needed. All three of them took care of me throughout the evening.
First the female bartender took my wine and food order. I ordered a split of Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé ($15), half a dozen Blue Point oysters, and a salad. I got a proper champagne flute (no plastic wrap!) and the wine was perfectly chilled. Once I made progress on the first glass, she came by and topped up the glass, emptying the partial bottle of sparkling wine. She gave me excellent advice about the different oysters that were brought in fresh that day, and steered me towards the Blue Points (which were excellent).
My food came up from the kitchen relatively quickly even though it was a Saturday night, and one of the other bartenders served me, asked how the food was and if I needed anything else. While I was eating dinner I was already eying their selection of ports behind the bar, and asked the third bartender to walk me through the selections.
By the time I slurped down the last oyster I'd decided to get some Warre's Otima Tawny Port (per his advice) and a warm apple pie served with ice cream. He even insisted that the hostess bring the dessert tray to the bar, just so I could make sure I was picking the right option. While I waited for dessert I read the Wall Street Journal, kept my eye on the college football scores on television, and chatted with the bartenders about the pros and cons of cinnamon and vanilla ice cream with respect to warm apple pie (opinion was divided).
When I left, after enjoying a leisurely, relaxing dinner with good company, great food, and great wine, I felt like I could survive another day of travel and meetings. The total cost of my somewhat extravagant meal (including a large tip) was $55, which was well inside my expense account ceiling. But the best part: I felt entirely comfortable dining alone in public, and didn't have to eat by myself in my bedroom with a tray on my knees.
How do you cope with dining alone while on business travel, especially if you're someone who takes food and wine seriously? Share any tips and tricks below—because business travel is too hard to drink bad wine and eat bad food.
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