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Whether it's grabbing some drinks at the airport bar or sitting down for dinner, customers can be freewheeling when it comes to using their corporate cards.

Tapping Into the Booming Industry of Business Travel Dining

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Americans spend a whopping $50 billion annually on food while they’re on the road. Is your brand ready?
By Trevor Lenzmeier September 2018 Finance

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Business travelers likely understand this frustration better than anyone else: When you’re far from familiar options at home, and with tens of thousands of restaurants to choose from, how is anybody expected to make a decision about where to eat?

Yelp might help, or perhaps Google reviews, TripAdvisor or a colleague’s recommendation—the list goes on. The answer is no trivial matter to the brand on the other side, however. Contributing to a domestic business travel economy worth nearly $550 billion, American eaters spend a whopping $50 billion annually on food while they’re on the road, according to the Global Business Travel Association’s latest report. The busiest month for the industry is October, followed by December.

Vic Macchio is the CEO and founder of Dinova, a $6 billion marketplace of corporate and franchise partners designed to connect corporations and their employees with more than 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. Macchio says October is the most hectic month in business travel for mathematical reasons—October has 31 days, but no national holidays—and because of a mad dash to wrap up business before winter and the holiday season.

Macchio says restaurants hoping to capitalize on the influx of conventions, meetings, and hungry customers should tune in to the business travel market. A calendar of local conferences can dictate staff and supply needs for busy weekends, while amenities like free WiFi, grab-and-go menu items, express lunch options, and prix fixe dinners can attract traveling diners this October.

Founded by Macchio in 2009, Dinova connects major corporate players and their employees with a network of partnered restaurants ranging from fast casual operations like Au Bon Pain to fine-dining institutions like Atlanta’s Ecco. He says Dinova’s facilitating role at the intersection of business, travel, and food is essential because of how often business travelers eat out, and because the culinary needs of business diners are diverse and exhaustive.

“If you look at the typical life of a business traveler, we all need to eat at least three meals a day, and we can’t be in a white tablecloth restaurant for every meal,” Macchio says. “And almost always, each corporate diner, to some extent or the other, uses the full gamut of options because you need that flexibility depending on business circumstances.”

By partnering with restaurants across the country that serve diverse cuisines at several different price points, Dinova offers their network of corporate diners an option for any situation on the road.

That could mean a training manager needs to feed 60 new hires at a yearly retreat in Austin, Texas, for a week, and instead of going out to lunch every day, the manager coordinates catering samples of Boston Market and California Pizza Kitchen.

On the other hand, a meeting coordinator might need to book private rooms at casual dining restaurants every weekend in different cities. Dinova has a recommendation for that diner, too.

Or, after a closing a sale, an account manager working in Los Angeles might take their client out to dinner at Fleming’s in Newport Beach. The point being, whether the dress code is black tie or black apron, Dinova aims to provide their customers with options on any trip, anywhere in the country. 

Macchio says the culinary side of the business travel industry is often misconstrued solely as a “white tablecloth” affair, but in actuality, the $50 billion annually comes from much more than steak dinners. While a common trait of business diners is that they spend what Macchio calls “OPM”—other people’s money—their needs, interests, time commitments, locations, and price points differ drastically. For every filet mignon expensed, there are thousands of bottled waters and apples sold in airport kiosks, Macchio says.

“We tend to just think about the bigger meals we have, and rightfully so. But there are meals that might not necessarily be memorable, but people spend a lot of money there,” he says.

There isn’t a single archetypal “business diner,” Macchio says, but rather business diners with a variety of needs depending on the weekend. For those corporate diners, Dinova has the network to suit any potential client, partner or conference.

“In some cases, the same individual is putting on a different hat on a different day,” Macchio says.