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Memorable Meals Make a Difference

One fantastic meal can turn everything around.

We’d all like to believe that every day on the road is going to be a great one. Travel, after all, is the business we’re in. We were all drawn to this industry by the promise of incredible experiences. And it’s our job to make sure the people who trust us with their travel plans have a wonderful time.

That’s the idea anyway. But if you’ve been in tourism as long as I have, you probably know that sometimes things just don’t go the way you had hoped. Bad weather can scuttle plans for an adventure. Traffic, mechanical breakdowns or unexpected closures can wreak havoc on your well-planned schedule. Sometimes, an experience with a hotel or attraction doesn’t live up to your expectations. And occasionally, you — or some of your travelers — will simply wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

There’s no silver bullet for solving all these problems. But there is a way to lift people’s spirits and take the edge off a disappointing day: Treat your travelers to a memorable meal.

Food sustains us, but it’s more than just sustenance. What we eat nourishes our souls in addition to our bodies. Eating makes us feel things: comfort, satisfaction, energy, joy and more. And the euphoric feeling that follows a positive culinary experience can affect the way you perceive the rest of your day, long after you put down your fork.

Meals also have a powerful social component. Eating with people is a fundamental tool in building relationships. When people enjoy a good meal together, they feel closer to one another. The euphoria of the culinary experience is reinforced by the social bonds of laughter and good conversation.

You probably already know all these things. But as a travel planner, are you using them to your advantage?

I’ve been on too many tours where meals were treated as pit stops between more important activities. For the people who planned those itineraries, the meals were simply about refueling and doing so as inexpensively as possible. I walked away from those meals satiated but not satisfied: They may have filled me with food, but they didn’t fill me with joy.

On the other hand, I have also been on tours that featured some exceptional dining experiences. I can still remember the cities where those meals happened, the things I ate and the people I was with, even if I remember little else about the rest of the day. The positive impact of those meals has endured for years.

There’s nothing you can do to protect your trips against unplanned trouble. But you can mitigate the psychological damage by making sure your itineraries include lots of enjoyable dining experiences. That doesn’t mean every meal has to be an expensive, gourmet affair. But it does mean putting some thought into the culinary aspect of your program. Chain restaurants, buffets and box lunches rarely make lasting impressions.

If you ensure that each day of your trip features at least one unique or memorable meal, you’ll find your travelers are a lot more forgiving about anything else that happens along the way. And if you’re going on the trips with them, you might find that eating well improves your experience too.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.