At business lunch, who picks up the tab these days?

Written by admin on February 16, 2009 – 9:02 pm -

The International Herald Tribune ran an article this past weekend about a new dance that’s taking place. At the power lunch, the check is kryptonite. Clearly not everyone is frequenting the Beverly Hill Hotel. But entertaining budgets have come under scrutiny during these difficult economic times.

There are occasions when you have to spend big bucks to close a deal. But it’s time to be creative and make subtle cutbacks. Be sure you factor in cultural mores when conducting business in other countries.

Most people believe the person who does the inviting should pick up the tab. But they’re are looking for less expensive options. Some suggest patronizing a favorite restaurant and asking the owner or the manager for a discount since times are tough. The hope is that some members of the group will return once they’ve eaten there so it may serve as public relations for future business.

A business owner with whom I spoke said he doesn’t want to give the impression that money is no object when businesses are so bottom-line conscious.

Others suggested a pre-fixed lunch menu with limited choices. When it’s a large group, would the restaurant be willing to comp one or two of the group? Or throw in free desserts and coffee?

Another thought – there’s no mandate business has to be done over lunch. How about breakfast or mid-morning coffee? Another option is having a catered lunch sent into the office and eating (and discussing business) in the conference room.

Some say they’re inviting business guests to lunch in a pub. One caveat: Be sure your table is situated in an area where you can hear people speak and diners don’t leave with headaches.

If you’re entertaining an out-of-town colleague or a potential client, inviting them to dinner at your home may be one way to make a friend forever. Before doing so, be sure it’s an inviting and conducive environment. If there are children running around the dinner table, your good intentions may end up going down the tubes…and fast.

What advice can you offer as to how to entertain without declaring bankruptcy?  This is war.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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A Valentine’s Day full of love without the expense

Written by admin on February 12, 2009 – 9:04 pm -

Some couples traditionally take off for the weekend or go on a mini-vacation to celebrate Valentine’s Day. They may just go to a local inn but it’s become a part of the dating/mating tradition.

Or they might eat at a favorite restaurant to toast their love. This is especially true in Paris where many feature special hearts and flowers menus, accompanied with pink champagne, so diners may express their adoration. Or perhaps their intentions.

Holiday meals invariably carry a monetary premium. Even though there’s usually a more limited menu, the fact that it’s a special event is license to charge more. Ah, the heart-shaped cake and the complementary chocolates. Women dress up and the dining room is decorated for the occasion. Perhaps there’s a string quartet.

This year may be the time to hold back but not delete the day from the calendar. Plan a festive dinner at home. But you’ll need to add some thought as how to make the evening memorable.

Begin your evening with a very French Kir Royale. Some gourmets feel the drink should be made with cassis (a raspberry liqueur) and good champagne. Most people can’t tell the difference between champagne and a sparkling wine when it’s mixed with cassis. But your bill at the liquor store will be very different. If you’re wine drinkers, buy a nice bottle, but it doesn’t have to be a vintage one with dust on it.

Ask the wine specialist to recommend one that’s moderately priced and will compliment to your meal. Prepare a favorite dinner but make it special by using good china and good glasses. If you don’t have them, buy two thin-rimmed wine glasses. It’s a lot less expensive than going out and every home should have a pair. Crate & Barrel, Ikea and comparable stores have moderately priced goblets that will do the job. No need to buy crystal stemware in this economy.

Candles do wonders when it comes to making rooms more romantic. Buy red and white ones at the grocery store; glimmering votive candles add to the ambiance.

Dress for the occasion as if you were going out. Differentiate this evening from others.

Pick out your favorite CDs and have them waiting. You may want a couple to which you can dance. Who knows?

For dessert, chocolate cupcakes with red icing and some sparkles feel festive and can satisfy your sweet tooth.

With the downturn of the economy, this is a time to be creative. Rather than sending a vase filled with long-stemmed red roses, consider a red box of dried rose petals containing a romantic card or note.

Even though the economy has never been worse since the depression, do you think Michele and Barack Obama won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day? I’ll wager they’ll be doing something special.

How do you plan to express your affection?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. She’s an incurable romantic.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

How to take a cheap vacation and not feel cheated

Written by admin on February 10, 2009 – 9:06 pm -

OK  — if you’re not feeling the economic pinch, you’re in a minority. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to put a kibosh on traveling.

You simply have to be more creative and unearth the travel deals to be had.

If you’re a cruise person, your plate is full of choices. If you’re able to be flexible, depart from a port where there are lots of ships (e.g. Miami or Fort Lauderdale), leave on short notice, don’t insist on a state room and forgo cancellation insurance; there are plenty of cruises that cost less than $100 per day.

Travel agents are often your best resource. They have access to deals (and know which ones are worth it) that many travelers don’t. There’s no reason a cheap trip has to be a bad one.

There are plenty of great bargains if Hawaii is your cup of tea. Rather than reducing room rates, hotels and travel suppliers are offering free nights, free breakfasts, room credits, airfare credits and more.

Condo hotels offer kitchenettes so you can have breakfast in the room, prepare lunch to go when you are off exploring and only eat dinner out. Some units have barbecue grills for guests’ use. Invest in a supermarket Styrofoam cooler and pack sandwiches and drinks to tide you over during your days’ explorations.

Now’s the time to cash in accrued credit card hotel points and air miles and use them to get discounts on your stays and flights. Who knows what they’ll be worth next week and why let them go to waste?

All-inclusive packages are good if you want to pay for everything before departure and know what to expect regarding costs. Even if you splurge and eat a dinner or two out, you’re bound to be ahead financially. But factor those expenses into your budget.

Another idea: Take a walking or cycling holiday. Pitch a tent, stay in campgrounds or in inexpensive bed and breakfasts. Pack your own lunch before setting off. There’s nothing wrong in most places with tap water and the price is right. At the end of the day, you’ll be so tired you’ll only want to eat and go to bed. Find places that serve cheap pizza or pasta.

You’ll return home fitter, healthier and less stressed and will have experienced natural beauty close up as you walk or cycle each day. You’ll also realize you don’t need a lot of money to really have a good time.

These are just a few ideas. Sure, there are home exchanges and other ways to stretch travel dollars. I have friends who live in Paris and are playing tourists and exploring different neighborhoods each day this week. Plus, they are taking daylong excursions and returning each evening to their apartment to eat and sleep.

I am eying last-minute package deals that come flying across my computer screen. There are some trips to Morocco and Tunisia that are increasingly appealing as Paris’s winter drags on.

For those of you with travel fever, what are you doing to get up and go without breaking the bank?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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If you only could travel with one electronic device, what would it be?

Written by admin on February 5, 2009 – 9:08 pm -

I’d be lost without my computer, camera and cell phone. But having recently splurged for a Blackberry Bold 9000, I can see that life is changing.

I’ve finally found a quad-band world phone that works in more than 200 countries for phone calls and more than 150 countries for data. I’m no longer unreachable in South Korea and Japan.

The camera actually functions and I can zap photos to my Facebook page. The phone also supports instant messaging services such as AIM and functions wherever there’s Wi-Fi. If only I’d had it during my last trip to Laos, I would have been a happy camper.

I’m able to surf the Internet, conduct online transactions, download documents and listen to music.

Being a technical neophyte, I must admit I spent many many hours on a support line with an employee of Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion. He was based in Singapore, was from Manila and had a Spanish last name and the patience of Job. It’s a whole new world of communications.

I’ve found my electronic soul mate even though I was lobbying Santa for an iPhone. The iPhone has so many applications and reading the New York Times online was a pleasure. But when push came to shove, I had trouble with the keyboard when it came to typing. Perhaps its because I’m a member of the older generation.

So many people I know are converts and wouldn’t live without theirs. They love the functionality and being able to download iTunes and the stability of the Unix-based operating system no matter where they are.

The iPhone’s travel kit allows people to charge their phones anywhere in the world and you can share your phone photos on Flickr and, naturally, Facebook. This is the world of social networking and all of this new and improved technology enables people to have instant gratification.

Again, I am so far from being an electronics expert that I suspect there are still people performing inside my television screen. Please enlighten me and tell me which mobile technology you’re opting for and why?

Who knows – I may spring for another cell phone in the  next decade?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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5 tips to stretch your business travel dollars

Written by admin on February 2, 2009 – 9:11 pm -

Some people are putting traveling on hold and not going any place that isn’t 100 percent essential.

Welcome to the world of video conferencing and talking via Skype or other programs such as Go to Meeting.

But there are times when business people need to sit down together and make personal contact. The challenge is how to make meetings more cost effective.

Here are some options:

1. Surf the Internet for the least expensive airfare and decide whether or not you’re willing to stay at one of the suggested hotels and rent a car (if needed). Package deals often save money.

2. Some people are opting to stay at less expensive hotels. “Residence” ones, where you can eat some meals or have a drink without going to the bar or the restaurant are cost effective. More than likely, there’s a grocery/liquor store within striking distance.

If you’re traveling on business, ask your client to suggest a hotel. If it’s the pits, you can book another. Make sure it’s close to where you’ll be conducting meetings or make sure there is direct public transportation.

3. The days of having a car and driver waiting have become an extreme luxury. Ask the receptionist to arrange for a taxi to meet you when you’re leaving a meeting.

Some people suggest their colleagues or clients meet them at the airport, and/or pick them up and drop them off each day at the hotel. It saves on rental cars and taxi fares. Plus, it insures you get to meetings at the scheduled hour. In addition, the commuting time can be used to discuss business.

4. If you have to host a meal, arrange to hold it at a restaurant and offer your guests a fixed menu with two to three choices for each course. That way, you’ll be spared from having to ante up for the person who decides he or she craves lobster. Plus, it saves time not having to discuss who’s eating what.

Some people pack their own food ranging from power bars to pre-packaged food. That saves money and can be eaten on the run. There’s nothing like having nuts or trail mix to satisfy middle-of-the night munchies. Whatever you do, stay away from the mini-bar.

5. One friend told me she is now willing to share a room at a conference. Sue said she would never have considered that before but it’s a real cost saver and she’s met some terrific people. I wouldn’t share a room with a stranger — but that’s me.

Welcome to 2009 and being creative when it comes to saving money. Your job may depend on it as well as whether or not you win the contract.

What compromises are you willing to make when you take business trips?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Fur flies across the Atlantic, for a price

Written by admin on January 30, 2009 – 9:13 pm -

Many people wish animals would be banned from flying in airline cabins. Some people feel the same way about young children and badly behaved adults. Others are allergic to certain fragrances and the list goes on. Still, $200 for a cat who demands nothing and sleeps during the entire flight is more than steep.

I travel with Kitty. This is an expensive luxury. But for reasons many people don’t understand, it’s a given. Kitty was born in France, has a EU passport and can travel—even to London, that until recently, required  an animal spend six months in quarantine before entering the U.K. for fear of rabies.

Preparing her medically cost more than $800 and necessitated numerous trips to the vet for shots, blood tests and the insertion of a magnetic chip.

This feline adopted us and was my legacy from my deceased husband, whom I threatened to kill if he fed this pathetic looking kitten who was camping outside the kitchen door of our country home. I neither killed him nor disowned her.

Kitty has made at least 20 round-trip transatlantic flights. She goes to the vet on both sides of the Atlantic to obtain a health certificate within a week of traveling, has rabies shots plus a few extras and meets all of the health requirements for entry into the U.S. and the EU. This 10-minute check-up costs approximately $150 each visit. That is if she doesn’t need a shot or any extra attention.

If only my in-flight neighbors were as healthy or as quiet. Kitty, all nine pounds of her, sees her carrying case and immediately assumes a Zen state, definitely on a higher (and different) plane. She’s a frequent-flyer but can’t collect points or miles.

If I were French, I would strike. Being American, I grin and bear it — kinda. That was until United announced it raised the price of Kitty’s transport by $75 each way. She weighs less than most new born infants and the cost is now $200, the same price charged for an additional 50-pound suitcase.

When informed of this, I noted that as a Premium Executive member who was flying business class (thank goodness for the miles I’ve accumulated), I was entitled to check three suitcases and checked only one. The people behind the check-in counter looked embarrassed. But it wasn’t their rule.

Am I the only person who feels $200 for transporting a kitty in a mini-carrier is gouging? There are Expats who are forced to factor this expense into their budget and it’s a major factor. Other passengers may view these four legged animals as animals. But there are some of us who don’t. They’re integral parts of our families. What do you think?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Why am I landing in Brussels instead of Paris? Not enough fuel

Written by admin on January 27, 2009 – 9:16 pm -

Dear powers that be:

I am writing to protest my recent trip between Washington/Dulles and Paris, France.

My United MileagePlus account was credited with one segment and 3,861 miles. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Because there wasn’t enough fuel on board due to weather conditions, we were forced to make an unscheduled stop in Brussels. Rather than landing 30 minutes early as the Captain announced upon take-off less than six hours before, we landed in Paris approximately two hours after our scheduled arrival time.

I recognize things are tight at United and another 1000 employees are being laid off. There will be additional cutbacks and times are tough.

But how much did that unscheduled stop cost? Weren’t there landing fees incurred with our Brussels visit? What did it cost to file an extra flight plan?

Rather than a non-stop Paris landing, the plane was forced to fly an extra leg. This dictates additional fuel, not to mention wear and tear on the plane and the passengers. And what about the turn-around time for the aircraft?

Was United forced to pay extra to the French workers who were responsible for the aircraft’s inspection and turn-around? I don’t know about the French aviation union but if it’s like other French unions, a rush job probably carries a premium.

The crew was angry and conveyed the feeling this wasn’t the first time they’d made an unscheduled stop. One mumbled the flight’s captain was none too happy.

It’s becoming clear that the potential of saving some money is more important than catering to those who have boarded the flight. The crew did its best to smile but was having a hellava time.

What would your reaction have been had you been on that flight? Can anyone calculate how much that unscheduled stop cost United? Is this the future of travel especially when it comes to US carriers?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Move quickly to snare a hotel room for $1 a night

Written by admin on January 26, 2009 – 9:19 pm -

Beginning on January 26th, LastMinuteTravel.com is conducting a two-week-long zinger sale on hotel rooms — those who move quickly enough can book a room for up to seven nights and pay only $1 per night. Is this too good to be true?

Well, yes and no. Last MinuteTravel.com is offering up its worldwide 15,000-hotel inventory for sale. But there’s a hitch and make sure to read the fine print.

One hitch: Travelers won’t know which hotel they’ll be booking until the deed is done.

The real catch: This dollar-a-night deal will be available for only 15 minutes each day and exclusively during weekdays. Aaahh… which 15 minutes?

Travelers will need sign up for email clues to find out which 15 minutes are the hot ones. For any gamblers, this could be a very worthwhile game to play.

Hope the site doesn’t crash from an overload of traffic or LastMinuteTravel.com will have plenty of grumbling bargain hunters and some embarrassed hotel affiliates. In this economy, it’s worth going the unconventional route to get super bargains.

Winners, however, won’t be able to complain about the room cost.

Be prepared to move fast. Get ready. Get set. Go. Good luck!

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis and is always delighted to unearth a bargain.



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Witnessing the beginning of a new era in Washington

Written by admin on January 21, 2009 – 9:23 pm -

I witnessed history in Washington yesterday. The expression sounds trite, but it’s true. People descended on the nation’s capital from everywhere for the big event.

There was such a feeling of solidarity. People who’d normally never talk to one another have become best friends as they waited — and waited — to board the Metro. Getting around the city was a walking event and people from all over the world gathered together to welcome President and Mrs. Barack Obama and his two daughters to the White House.

People were literally in tears — of happiness and from the cold — as they watched the 44th President of the United States be sworn in by the Chief Justice of the United States.

Even if they were nowhere near the Capitol, just being on the Mall was enough to be a part of the event.

There were at least twenty events taking place in Paris including one at the Hôtel de Ville (French for “City Hall”) today. Americans held celebrations all over the world.

If people couldn’t attend an event, they could sign onto the Internet. Facebook and other social networking sites enabled people to virtually participate in the swearing in and other festivities. More people watched this event than any previous inauguration – either on television or via the Internet.

Being in Washington holds special significance — welcoming the first black American President. Barack Obama is inheriting some the greatest problems the world has ever known.

Everyone, no matter their political affiliation or nationality, is unanimous in wishing him and his administration luck. Even though the weather was cloudy yesterday, the sun is shining.

How did you celebrate this Inaugural Day?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Sorry, no Inauguration Day tickets — or space on my floor

Written by admin on January 16, 2009 – 12:16 pm -

When you have digs in the Nation’s Capital, your popularity increases exponentially when Inauguration Day rolls around every four years.

This coming Tuesday is different from other recent Inauguration Days. An estimated four million people will be descending on Washington to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as America’s 44th president.

Festivities will commence at 10 a.m. at the west side of the U.S. Capitol. For the first time ever, the length of National Mall will be open for those wishing to attend the swearing-in ceremony.  Sure, there are bleachers with allocated seating. But obtaining a ticket is next to impossible and if you don’t have one by now, don’t plan on scoring one.

The President-elect and Vice President-elect and their families will participate in the traditional inaugural ceremonies and events that include performances by the United States Marine Band, the San Francisco Boys Chorus as well as that city’s Girls Chorus.

After proceeding with the formalities including speeches, invocations, musical selections, Vice-President Biden will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Barack H. Obama will take the Oath of Office, administered by Chief Justice, the Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.

President Obama will then deliver his Inaugural address. That’s simply the beginning of the day and the formalities.

Later in the evening, there are ten official Inaugural Balls taking place in the city. President and Mrs. Obama will make an appearance at each of them. They’ll be surrounded by the members of the Secret Service and the Press Corps. People will be able to see what dress Mrs. Obama is wearing (and, later, read about every detail).

If you’re a woman who’s attending a ball, do not buy a new dress. The balls are so jammed-packed that you’re going to feel like a sardine and your outfit will end up looking as if came from the Salvation Army — and I don’t mean a chic second-hand store. Most dresses don’t survive being stepped on, having drinks poured down them and other mini or major catastrophes. Men are expected to wear Black Tie.

Unfortunately, I can’t get you a ticket to a ball. They were doled out long ago. Even the “peoples’ ball” tickets were sold out before you could navigate buying them on the Internet.

Transportation is going to be another horror. The District of Columbia isn’t equipped to deal with so many people. Bridges to and from Virginia are going to be closed and the only way to navigate the city will be by metro, some buses and more to the point, by foot.  Yes, there will be private cars for dignitaries and the very rich. But don’t plan on renting one now.

Do access this Web site: Metro on Inauguration Day to see what’s available. Please remember it’s going to be cold. Be prepared to walk. A lot of areas are going to be closed off for security reasons.

So what plans have area residents made?  Some have rented their places and left town. Others are stocking supplies and have decided to watch this historic day in the comfort of their own homes. Many others whom I know will go to a neighborhood bar and celebrate (and drink) while watching a large screen television.

Some people are throwing parties in private homes, delighted to avoid the massive crowds. The one I am attending is “Black tie, pot luck and please bring a bottle of champagne.”

If you haven’t made your plans by now, you’re pretty much out of luck. Hotels are filled, albeit you can still find a few rooms on Craig’s List.

If you can physically get to the Nation’s Capital, you can try calling friends to see if they have an available blow-up mattress. Whatever you do, don’t request a ride to the festivities downtown. Your hosts may like you a lot but some things are out of the question.

If you are Washington, DC bound, what plans have you made, when did you make them and how will you be spending your time here?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.  She is currently in Washington but doesn’t have an inch of  floor left in her apartment.


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