Eating on a Budget: Finding Food Values on the Road

November 21, 2012

Japanese Food By Laurent Sansonetti, via Fotopedia

Squid ink pasta with seared foie gras and vanilla cream sauce has to be the most exotic thing I have ever eaten while traveling on business for my Colorado public employer. I admit I am no Andrew Zimmern.  I have never eaten a chocolate-covered scorpion or done shots of snake bile, but I routinely seek off-the-beaten-path, high quality meals to break up the restaurant chain gang that so often plagues business travelers. Not everyone is adventurous about food choices, but many of us want to eat well and stay within our allotted per diem.

No budgets were harmed in the making of my expense report featuring squid ink pasta. How can that be?  Simple. It was a “small plate;” one strategy of many to eating well and staying within a budget.  Here are a few other tips for eating well while preserving your employer’s out-of-town meal budget.

You might even be able to order lamb and still run for office someday.

When your hunger is bigger than your per diem, go with an all-you-can-eat.

A buffet is one of the easiest ways to pack in calories, but still spend a modest amount.  There is a Golden Corral in nearly every state, but if the buffet industrial complex is not for you, check out the lunch buffet at locally owned restaurants.

Grand Junction’s Nepalese restaurant offers a lunchtime buffet of curried meats and vegetables, fresh fruit, noodles, and soups not to be found at any Golden Corral.  I have survived the sushi at Chinese buffets in farm towns, and always stop for a pizza and salad bar at Colorado’s favorite place to carb-load after skiing.

When craving big-ticket menu items like steak or seafood, go to a chain.

These places do enough volume to pass on the benefit of economies of scale.  Many chains have reward programs for frequent customers that provide discounts, or notify you of weekly specials.

When you want high-end fare, go with tapas or small plates.

Small plates allow you to sample a variety of foods without having to commit to an entire entrée or its price tag.  If you don’t end up liking lamb skewers, or fava bean soup, they weren’t the only thing you ordered.  Ask that plates come to your table as they are prepared, giving your stomach time to tell your brain you are full.

If you are still hungry after tapas and small plates, take your next meal at a buffet.

When you are in someplace new, go native.

Go to the restaurant with the most cars parked out in front. Most folks want good food at a reasonable price, and town locals don’t go back to places where they haven’t gotten a value or been “treated like a neighbor.”  When polling locals about good places to eat, one or two establishments typically rise to the top.  Local papers or tourist guides often include coupons, or advertisements for specials at restaurants.

Finding good food at reasonable prices while out of town is easy -- if you employ a few quick strategies.   (Far easier than harvesting squid ink.)

Other articles you may be interested in:
As Seen on TV: Inexpensive Dining Hotspots Around Colorado