in the close to thirty years Sharon and I have known each other (Note from Sharon: holy crap, it HAS been that long!), we’ve traveled together a lot. We’ve learned several tips and tricks along the way, many of which we’ve shared here, that have made out travels easier and much more enjoyable. However, while having a conversation a few weeks ago I realized that I never have shared the single most brilliant travel question I’ve ever heard. I’ve been using this trick for longer than I’ve known Sharon and it’s helped me find some of the most amazing places we’ve ever gone to eat. To give proper credit, I have my father to thank for coming up with the question.
The more I’ve thought about the question over the years, the more brilliant it becomes. When I was younger, it was just something my dad said to hotel concierges but now that I’ve been using it for decades I can see the subtle elegance it conveys.
I was sixteen or so when I heard my dad ask the question for the first time. We were staying at the Hyatt Tampa Bay (now the Grand Hyatt) and were looking to splurge for a celebratory dinner. We walked to the concierge desk (a hotel with a concierge was a special treat for us since we were used to staying at places we found in the Entertainment Book) and asked where’s a nice place to have dinner. The concierge looked us over (parents in their mid 40’s with a teenage son) and asked what type of food we liked. A perfectly understandable query since he was trying to suit his answer to our tastes. That’s when my dad said the words that would change my life.
“If you only had one night in town and could eat wherever you wanted, where would you go?”
It’s brilliant. It takes the pressure off them to try to figure out what YOU want and lets the person bring down their guard and hopefully tell you the place THEY really like. By saying you only have one night, it needs to be a place you’d be upset if you missed it and saying they can go wherever they want takes price out of the decision. Now, the location they tell you about might not be the fanciest place or the hot spot of the city, but there’s something about the place that they like and that’s what we wanted – something different. Something original that we couldn’t get at home.
Know where the concierge told us to go? Bern’s Steak House.
I can’t believe I’m sharing this picture but here is photographic evidence of our visit in 1989. Thank goodness we brought jackets with us on the trip (I was in Tampa to receive the YABA Youth Leader of the Year award, thus the celebratory dinner) (Note from Sharon: YABA stands for Young American Bowling Alliance. ‘Cuz Joe is a REALLY good bowler, with three 300 games under his belt. He doesn’t do it as much now, but he’s been bowling since he was 5).
My dad continued to use this question when we traveled and we visited some nice places but I didn’t realize the power of “The Question” until Sharon and I started to travel on our own.
I had honestly forgotten about it because the internet made it so much easier to find places to eat when traveling. Even before sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor, you could do a Dogpile search of restaurants in the town you were visiting and spend hours searching through websites until you saw something that looked good. Not the best use of time on vacation, I know.
It wasn’t until we were on an Adventures by Disney trip and had a night free in Sedona, AZ that I remembered the question. After our group travels for the day, our awesome guides said that we were on our own for dinner and they could offer suggestions, if we so desired. I hung back and listened to their recommendations to the other people on our tour before asking where we should go to eat. It was when one of our guides asked “What do you like?” that the question popped back into my head.
“Since you’re here often, if you only have one night in town, where would you go to eat?” Our guide asked, “Do you like Italian?” I responded, “I do if it’s good.” Without hesitation, he told us to go to Dahl and DiLuca. I asked why he didn’t recommend it to the other tour group guests and he said “When people are in Sedona, they don’t want to eat Italian. If I don’t recommend a steak place, they’re usually disappointed.”
Before leaving for dinner the hotel concierge called our room, supposedly to offer help with dinner plans but more likely to drum up business for the hotel’s restaurant. I politely told him we already had reservations for the night. He asked where and when I told him we were going to Dahl and DiLuca he said “Oh, you’re fine. Have a wonderful dinner, I know you will.”
How do I know that this was a good place? Because when we were leaving the restaurant that night, we ran into our tour guides who were arriving to eat dinner (after they were sure that all the tour group was situated for the evening). You guys, it was awesome enough that we made plans to revisit Sedona just so we could eat there again.
I’ve used the question several times since then. The most recent one was when we were visiting London and staying at the Great Northern Hotel near King’s Cross Station. The front desk was really trying to help us find somewhere to eat but their British politeness kept getting in the way. I finally just asked, “Where do you like to eat that’s nearby?”
That broke the ice and we suddenly had five different suggestions and reasons why they liked each one. Perfect! We ended up going to an amazing Greek restaurant called The Greek Larder, which I’ve now learned has closed as of this year. Guess we’ll have to try a new restaurant our next time we’re in town.
I’ve found that I haven’t needed to use the question as much as I used to. The first reason is that we often visit with friends or family when traveling and leave it to them to pick a place for us to go. That’s how I ended up being introduced Vegan Barbeque when in Washington D.C. The second reason is because of our readers. If we’re in need of suggestions for where to go in a city, all we need to do is ask and we have a list of places to check out. That’s what we did when we went to Chicago and to Las Vegas.
Every time I forget about the power of this one question, a situation usually comes up where it is the perfect thing to ask.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary