The below story comes from a top tier female executive working for a world renowned multinational
requiring her to travel abroad several times a month.
Personally, as a business person travelling alone, I strongly dislike having dinner all by myself, whether in the hotel I stay at or an outside restaurant. It makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable, and sometimes unsafe. Wherever I can, I resort to room service or the peanuts in the mini bar. If no such option is available, I would go to the restaurant early, and pretend to read a book or a work document. I am convinced I am not alone with this anxiety, and that it is not only women that dislike and avoid lonely ‘public’ dinner experiences; but surely also savvy business men are really not comfortable in these situations.
You just have to observe single travelers in the hotel restaurant, hiding behind a book or magazine, or killing time between meal courses by fiddling with their I-Phones and Blackberry’s, just to create some perception of being busy and important, but mostly trying to avoid eye contact with others in the room at all cost. But basically all that these people sitting alone want is to get diner over and done with as soon as possible, sign the bill and return to the privacy of their room.
The alternative scenario
I had a different, interesting and pleasant experience recently in a business-frequented B&B; that offers a set dinner menu to their guests. The hostess is strict on dinner start time, and instead of having guests seat themselves where they choose, she formally assigns tables and seats; and she introduces guests to one another before starting the dinner service; knowing all their names and their companies by heart. For me being ‘forced’ to eat with strangers this was new and initially a bit awkward, but other guests knew the ‘system’ and the atmosphere relaxed very quickly. For me this was a socially pleasant, interesting experience, and a real informal networking opportunity; where I ended up staying up much longer than expected having drinks with the other guests and talking to a woman that owns a chemical transport company, giving me some good ideas for my own projects.
The extended idea
I believe there is potential to scale up this idea from the cozy B&B to the large, ‘cool’, exec business hotels, introducing to them the concept of the “Captain’s table”. The “Captain’s table” concept comes from the era of the transatlantic cruise ships; where the captain invites selected guests to sit at his dinner table for the evening; an invitation that is considered an honor by the invitees.
In this adaptation the idea is that the hotel manager (or alternatively another interesting business person from the area where they are located), would host a dinner table; where guests would be invited to as they register at reception upon arrival at the hotel. The invitations would be restricted to ‘single’ guests; guests traveling alone without partners or colleagues. The hotel could organise such evenings once or twice a week; whenever from their experience they have a number of ‘single’ business travelers.
The host would offer a welcome drink as an ice-breaker; but subsequently guests would have to order and pay for their own consumptions as they would if they were alone anyway (This process should be clear up front, and administered professionally and discretely by the staff). The host would introduce all guests to one another, and facilitate initial conversation, but I have no doubt that guests start interacting with each other quickly and naturally and truly have an enjoyable experience.
Benefits to guests are obvious; no lonely evenings in front of CNN in the hotel room, or quick get-it-over with dinners in the hotel restaurant, but rather a pleasant and informative evening in a ‘safe’ environment, introduced and moderated by the (neutral) hotel manager. In addition, the evening could turn out to be a real opportunity to meet interesting (business) people from a variety of companies, countries and experiences.
From the perspective of the hotel management, introducing such a new, warm concept could take their reputation beyond the traditional accolades of being “cool”, “efficient” and “professional”; making them front runners on trend listings; ensuring a loyal client base and attract new clients. On the cash side, they can expect to increase revenue from catering; as invitees to the “Captain’s table” are likely to spend much more in such social setting, versus the ‘quick dinner alone’ environment.
Ps. Another feature in business hotels is to have a power-plug / connections right next to the bed where you sit comfortably io only on the TV-desk.
Categories: Business & Borders