Ok, so this steak meal may have cost a little more than I was comfortable with, but I was with customers. I don’t suggest eating like this every day. Firstly, your waistline will grow very quickly, and secondly, you are missing out on all the exciting local food that people are eating during their everyday lives.
When I am travelling I try very hard to eat like a local. This can be difficult as I am staying in a hotel and do not have cooking facilities, so perhaps I should clarify and say I try to eat like a local who is eating out. One of the biggest benefits of doing this is that you will feel really immersed in the local culture. It will also save a lot of money, reducing your business expenses.
So, gone are the steaks from high-end restaurants, or the burgers that can be found as a staple of many a business hotel. And in comes the street food and hawker markets.
I understand that many people have concerns with eating “local” food while abroad. You may have concern about getting food poisoning, and then not being able to attend your business meetings. The levels of hygiene certainly differ from country to country. In Singapore I have found the market stalls to be very clean and all places serving food have to undergo inspections. In the picture above you can see a local eatery being fully cleaned after their evening service. I would perhaps be less keen of eating from a street stall in a third world country, however I have often done this and use my common sense at the time.
Along with food, another large business expense is the mode of travel that gets us to the destination and the accommodation that we use once there. I have never understood why business people insist of flying business class. Business class may be justified if the trip is urgent and the business meetings are immediately on arrival, but with a little planning this is rarely a necessity. The cost to the company of long distance business class travel is huge and the individuals don’t get to experience many of the cultural benefits of travel. If you want to remain in a safety bubble, then you may as well stay home and connect via video call.
Instead, I recommend travelling the day before, using either economy or premium economy (depending on the distance). Then on arrival, stay at a comfortable hotel, experience some local culture and have a good night’s sleep before attending the meeting the next day. Not only will you be refreshed, you will have experienced some great food, a new country, and will have saved a lot of money on the expense account.
My choice of hotel is a mixture of cost and convenience, followed by how likely it is to immerse me in the local culture. In Singapore I have found the perfect mix in the Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy. The hotel is great value for money and is aimed both at business travellers and tourists. Being located outside of the central business district or tourist hotspots, the hotel provides the opportunity to see the real Singapore. I will write about this hotel in more detail in another post. On my last trip to Singapore I was upgraded to the Executive floor where I was able to have breakfast, with panoramic views out to the ocean.
There is a business importance to experiencing local culture. By experiencing the local culture, you have a small insight into the lives of the people you are meeting for business. I have often talked about my adventures as a way of breaking the ice with business people that I am meeting for the first time. I find that talking about local food or how I have engaged in a local activity helps to humanise the discussion, relaxing all involved. It also helps me to understand some of the cultural contexts that come up in conversation. For example, by seeing which sports are being shown in bars, I know that when people are talking about football in Singapore, they are talking of soccer and have a strong preference to the English Premiership. I can also see whether the society is deferential to certain people, or whether there are certain customs that although normal to me, may be shocking to local people. Lots of this cannot be learnt from books, but you can see it first hand by taking some time to walk around the city and observe the interactions that people make in both social and formal settings.