Two towns over from me, on a busy turnpike, there’s an Italian restaurant we’ve driven past a hundred times with a giant sign that reads, “King Umberto.” Just passing by you get the vibe there is a lot happening there, you can see people going in and cars stopping out front to drop people off. Still, we never went in since we have plenty of restaurants closer to home.
But one day, one of us was yearning for a meatball parmigiano hero and so we stopped in.
Since then we’ve become regulars even though the parking is challenging and it can be tough to get a table after 6 p.m. if you don’t call ahead. The dining rooms aren’t fancy; in fact, if it’s crowded you’ll have to sit mighty close to your neighbors as the elegant maitre d’ shuffles the seating to accommodate newcomers. Big families frequently come in to celebrate so it can get loud at times.
Why do we go? The food is excellent standard Italian fare and you always have leftovers to last you through the week, which seem to get better every day. The pricing is good and the service is super professional; your water glass is never empty and if you order a bottle of wine it’s delivered with such reverence and respect that you savor every sip, even if it’s a simple Chianti. Last time we went, we chatted with the couple next to us; they’ve been going there for 40 years. They told us the wine cellar is second to none on Long Island and that the owner, who was visiting tables and getting hugs from everyone, goes to California regularly to sample new wines. We left marveling yet again that we’d discovered a simple, iconic place so close to home. We felt happy for days afterward, as if we’d been to a very special event.
It’s a great idea to send your clients to places like this when they’re traveling, the informal grande dames in a neighborhood that the locals cherish. Your DMCs will know where they are because they likely go there themselves. It’s important, however, to manage your clients’ expectations so they’re not expecting a hushed, Michelin-star dining room and don’t oversell it so their expectations get too high. Just let them absorb the pleasure of watching locals gather in the most traditional way — glad to see friends, excited to order their favorite dish and to speak to each other without phones in their hands. It’s moments like this when you stop being a tourist and instead feel like a special invited guest.
Why not host client events in simple restaurants like this, which really promote bonding? As Myste Wright of Protravel says, “We’re all human beings, so it’s about being able to identify and relate to people. I don’t really think it’s about a dollar amount.” In other words, everyone yearns for human connection in its simplest form, and that’s the greatest luxury you can give them.
Ruthanne Terrero, CTC
Vice President/Editorial Director