Author Archives: Meg Hasten

Food Truck Comeback

Food trucks aren’t just for New York City and the west coast any more. Being based in Atlanta, we have loved seeing food trucks pop up particularly in Midtown. The critics agree the most famous is Yumbii for their Korean tacos, but you can also find south of the border flavors at

The Pickle, photo courtesy of http://www.ultimateculinary.com

Pickle, and don’t forget dessert from Yum Yum Cupcakes. This revolution is mostly with thanks to the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, who are trying to popularize and re-brand food trucks in the metro area.

Even in slightly smaller cities like Fort Worth, Texas, food trucks continue to rise in popularity with choices ranging beyond your standard taco truck to Holy Smokes BBQ (where they smoke all their meat onsite and provide homemade pickles with every order), and Il Cane Rosso, where you can get authentic Neopolitan pizzas.

Perhaps some of the most exciting things about food trucks aren’t just the lower prices and the ability to eat on the go from somewhere other than a drive-through. It’s about community and authenticity.

Neopolitan pizza from Il Cane Rosso

Restaurants are expensive to open and run, but food trucks provide a happy go-between for innovative cooks with delicacies to share. If you’re a germ-a-phobe, don’t despair. These new food trucks aren’t the Mexican taco stands you may associate with mobile food. Take a chance on entrepreneurship (and go off of recommendations).

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Creativity Creates Creativity

Financial and Insurance Meetings online posted an article claiming creative spaces induce create meetings. In fact, the article states, “For Chicago-based Eva Niewiadomski, owner of a quirky and colorful event space called Catalyst Ranch, the key to creativity is an engaging environment. ‘It’s incredibly important to how individuals feel, to the caliber of work they create, and to the outcome of meetings,’ she says.”

We couldn’t agree more, even though so often budgets and regulations prohibit the exploration of creative venues. Three places we’ve previously reviewed as beyond unique are listed below.

East Coast: Old Edwards Inn
West Coast: Cavallo Point
Somewhere In Between: Blackberry Farm

Other venues we’ve come across in the last year are the Chicago Illuminating Company, exuding a modern, urban loft feel for your large one-night event, and the Inn at Lake Granbury for a retreat option with tons of amenities that can host a small to medium sized meeting.

We love a reliable Westin, but sometimes you want to break out of the box and feel a sense of place beyond a brand.

Google's Brainstorming Room

Even within office spaces, we love to see companies who make coming to work fun. Google’s Brainstorming Room is a great example of using space design to foster personal creativity, as is Gap’s Rubik’s Cube Room.

Have you had the opportunity to take a meeting or event somewhere particularly unique this year?

Gap's Rubik's Cube Room

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Code Share: What You Should Know

Thought you were flying United but the flight at your gate says Continental? Did you walk up to the American Airlines counter to check in and the agent tells you that they don’t have a flight that goes to your destination even though you’re holding a confirmation? No, you haven’t lost your mind; it’s called a ‘code share.’

As if flying isn’t complicated enough, now you have to remember to look beyond the simple airline flight number listed on your itinerary in case you might be flying on a code share.

‘Code share’ indicates when one airline sells seats on a partner airline flight and puts their own flight number on it. There are benefits with code share flights such as lower fares and the ability to acquire frequent flyer points with the airline it was sold as, but there’s also the risk of confusion. The biggest confusion for a traveler is which airline to actually check in with.

Airlines will want you to check in with the carrier actually operating the flight. The easiest way to identify who operates the flight is by looking on your itinerary or e-ticket for the words ‘operated by.’

Examples:
Itinerary shows AA1234 operated by United – check in with United (even though the flight number indicates American Airlines).
Itinerary shows DL2234 operated by Air France – check in with Air France (even though the flight number indicates Delta).
Itinerary shows US3345 operated by Continental – check in with Continental (even though the flight number indicates US Air).

Another way to know if you’re on a code share is to take a look at your flight number. If a flight number has four digits following the two letter airline code, it is usually a code share operated by a different airline. Airlines tend to use only three digits in their own flight numbers.

Code shares can cause confusion beyond just knowing which desk to go to. What happens if your flight is cancelled or there is a problem en route? Do you turn to the ticketing airline or the one you actually were flying on?

Technically, the airline that checks you in is responsible to get you to your final destination, regardless of whether the flight is a code share. Sometimes this becomes a challenge between the two carriers and leaves you stuck in the middle while the two airlines try to work it out.

Code share: Yet another great reason to book your flights through your travel agency!

*A special thanks to Michelle Reese, one of our in-house travel agents, who contributed this post.

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To Telecommute or Not

With gas prices constantly rising, traffic making the roads more and more congested, and technology catching up in strides, telecommuting has become more popular the last five years or so.

Our company has blessed its employees with flexibility but are all things equal when telecommuting? We’ve put together a pros/cons list from those of us who do telecommute.

Pros

  • Flexibility: Whether it’s throwing in a load of laundry while you’re waiting for an email, or being able to exercise since you’re not spending that time commuting, everyone agrees that telecommuting’s biggest asset is the flexibility.
  • Financial: Have you seen the gas prices lately? And it’s not just gas; it’s the wear and tear on your car, the not going out to eat with friends every day, and the reduced need for so many suits and skirts. Your wallet, no doubt, benefits from the telecommute.
  • Going Green: Commuting is talked up as one of the top contributors to air pollution, as more and more people join the work force and spend hours on the road. If you’ve ever rolled down your window while sitting in traffic on the highway, you can’t help but agree. There’s a reason people go camping–it’s the fresh air.
  • Productivity: Most telecommuters would agree that without the constant distractions of a traditional office environment, they are actually MORE productive when left to their own devices, and find that they accomplish more in shorter time frames.
  • Peace of Mind: Whether it’s to be at home when your kids get off the bus, or just the relief of not wasting two hours a day in traffic, your day is likely a little calmer than the average commuter.

Cons

  • Flexibility: If you are a routine-type person, the flexibility of telecommuting may actually be an adjustment. Personally, I make myself get dressed instead of sitting in my pajamas, and had to settle into my own version of a routine, even if it didn’t involve getting in the car to go to the office. And if you are a Type B person, telecommuting may provide too much flexibility which translates into less productivity.
  • Social: Telecommuting, no doubt, does take a specific type of person. You have to be content with the lack of daily face-to-face interaction with your colleagues. No, there aren’t spontaneous donuts waiting in the breakroom, and no miscellaneous chats at the water cooler.
  • On-Call: Just as we list productivity as a pro, telecommuting also means it’s ten times more difficult to leave work at work and commit to normal hours. (But hey, maybe that’s a bonus for your boss!) A former supervisor always used to say, “The flight of stairs downstairs isn’t enough of a transition from work Amy to mom Amy.”
  • Technically Speaking: You can’t walk down the hall to the IT department asking why your email archive folder is missing, or join the rest of the office in a coffee break when your internet goes down. No, you are on the phone with the internet provider or your IT rep begging for a solution.

When it comes down to it, you probably aren’t choosing to telecommute unless you have an arsenal of reasons that make it worth it, but what are your thoughts? Would you be well-suited to telecommute or do you prefer the traditional office environment?

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What the Sunshine Act Means for You

Because some of our primary clientele are pharma, the Sunshine Act that goes into effect January 2012 is a big deal for us. Bill Cooney from Medical Meetings wrote a fantastic article on the importance of meeting planners being in the know when it comes to this important piece of legislation. I’ve summarized and added to some of his main points, but I encourage you to go read the full article yourself.

  • Know the timing. The Act doesn’t take effect until January 2012, and BillCooney’s article expresses the importance of using the next few months to prepare; we are already implementing systems for internal purposes (some of our clients already require compliance) that will serve as practice until next year when it’s mandatory.
  • Transparency. I hate to tell you this in case it’s a shock, but it’s not just about compliance anymore. Because PPSA is a public, searchable database, as meeting planners we must work on creating both an accurate and positive reflection of client spending. Now is the time you may want to consider making changes to how you do business and how you advise your clients. Sunshine is not about regulating spending; it’s about managing public image.
  • Create a disclosure policy. Not for your clients so much as your client’s clients: the physicians. They’re busy people, so some may need to be updated on changes in legislation or otherwise that directly affects them and their reputation. Even if you experience resistance from some, it’s better to deal with it head on than let them find out on their own later on.

As planners, we juggle plenty, and unfortunately the reality for most agencies is that keeping up with trends and legislation concerning our client industries is just one more thing.

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Amtrak Celebrates 40 Years

Amtrak started National Train Day in 2008 to commemorate the anniversary on May 10, 1869 of the transcontinental railroad, and this year, Amtrak celebrates their own 40th anniversary.

A commemorative exhibit train will be touring the country and showcase rail travel over the decades, displaying memorabilia including vintage advertising, past menus and dinnerware, period uniforms and photographs. Amtrak will unveil the free exhibit at Washington’s Union Station May 7, with other programs and activities planned in cities throughout the country, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The exhibit will mainly focus in the Northeast, so if you live or plan on traveling to the area, check out the exhibit schedule.

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Top 5 Reasons To Use a Travel Agent

Most people like to believe they can do without the service of a good travel agent when they need to  book leisure or business travel.  Gary C. Sain, CTC (Certified Travel Counselor) provides 5 Top Reasons for Choosing a Travel Agent.

1. Ability to provide the best options and prices. It is not just about price. Consumers should look to travel agents to provide the best overall solution to their individual travel needs.

2. Saving money. Value is what everyone is looking for, and this is where the travel agent can provide a discernible difference. By properly qualifying customers upfront, your agent can recommend relevant offerings and also provide cost saving strategies.

3. Product knowledge. This is the most important attribute next to the offering of pricing and product options. Travel agents can position themselves to be travel experts when they have the proper training and knowledge to back it up.

4. Ability to answer questions about safety/security. Travel agents can provide a terrific service to their customers by providing this information on a timely basis. Many sources are available; some good examples are: http://www.cdc.gov, http://www.asirt.org, http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html, http://travel.state.gov/

5. Saving time. The value of a travel agent is the ability to provide a personalized travel experience at the right quality and price and most importantly, saving time and energy for their customer.

So before you start surfing the internet for that great travel deal, consider all the benefits of using a travel agent.

[A big thank you to Cookie Jenkins, one of our Integress travel agents, who contributed this post.]

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