Today, business travelers are less likely to dine on steak and wine and more likely to grab a Big Mac and a Pumpkin Spice Latte, a new study shows.
According to the latest Certify SpendSmart Report, the three restaurants business travelers expense the most are Starbucks, McDonald's and Panera Bread. Starbucks dominates breakfast, with a whopping 12.9 percent of meals expensed during breakfast hours eaten at the coffee chain. Meanwhile, McDonald's meals make up 3.3 percent of lunches expensed and 1.7 percent of dinners.
How did these chains end up on the top of the corporate credit card stack? Certify CEO Bob Neveu revealed three things these chains that others lacked.
They have Wi-Fi.
Stuck in an airport or a foreign city for a few hours? Most likely, all you want is some food and a place to catch up on work or check Facebook. Chains at the top of the most expensed list, especially Starbucks and McDonald's, have made names for themselves as providers of free Wi-Fi.
"You think about Subway… it generally doesn’t have Wi-Fi," says Neveu. Even when individual locations offer Wi-Fi, the fact that some chains are widely known for the service boosts their popularity. McDonald's realizes the power of this reputation, as it builds its McCafe line as lower-priced take on Starbuck's refuge for individuals who want a cup of coffee and a place to work on their computer.
Whether you're in Tokyo or London, you're sure to be able to find a Starbucks to grab a coffee. Mega-chains like Starbucks and McDonald's, as well as Panera to a lesser degree, rely on the assurance that wherever you go, your meal will be reliable and familiar.
"You specifically see companies saying, let's use the same hotels, the same rental car companies, the same airfare plans, even the same restaurants – it's predictable, not only in terms of quality, but in terms of price," says Neveu. If you're planning to take a client out to lunch in a foreign city, better to stop by Panera, where you know the menu and you're sure you won't go over your budget, than get food poisoning at an unknown local restaurant.
"[People] think, 'Oh, it is business traveling, let's go get $50 steaks and $100 bottle of wine – you might see that," says Neveu on individuals' perceptions of expensed meals. "But by and large, that's really not what's happening today."
Instead of employees having field days with their company credit cards, the report found most expensed meals were workers traveling solo or grabbing a fast meal on the go. Of the top five expensed restaurants (No. 4 is Subway and No. 5 is Dunkin' Donuts), only Panera has an average cost of over $16. At $39.59, the soup and sandwich chain seems to be a go-to for business meetings with multiple individuals getting meals.
"What we see now is people who need something that is quick, that is reliable, that is affordable and a lot of times that ends up being fast food or a quick service restaurant," says Neveu.