Business or Pleasure?

I turn over the stiff sheets. I can smell the detergent on my pillowcase as I reach in the drawer for my glasses, next to the Bible. After 5 minutes of fidgeting with the screws and switches of the light fixture, I throw on some wrinkled clothes out of my suitcase and head out for my most anticipated feast.

I convince myself I deserve bacon and eggs and hashbrowns AND pancakes, because I…well I just deserve it. I imagine each plate, each mini bowl of whipped butter and heavily iced water before I even walk into the restaurant. After the menu exchange with the smiling server, I clutch my coffee and take in the musical stylings of Kenny G.

Every morsel tastes exactly as I predicted, down to the grainy sweet ‘n low packets. After I consume every bite I can convince my stomach to digest, I say my 5 favorite words, “Charge it to the room.”

Hotel restaurants are my aloe vera when my skin is screaming from the tropical sun.

They are my sweatpants when I leave mine at home.

They are my favorite bottle of Pinot Noir when it’s taken at airport security.

They’re the one point of my vacation I can depend on. I’m not a big planner. I like to pick a place, book a room, and see what awaits me. I don’t read guidebooks, and pretty much the only research I do is at weather.com. The brochures I impulsively snatch in the hotel lobby dictate most of my trip. But there is one plan I will always stick to—the hotel restaurant.

They’re almost all named “So-and-So’s Café” or “(Local landmark) Bar & Grille.” The décor is always sensible—with a few Norman Rockwell-esque paintings interspersed between earth-toned wall sconces.  The staff always greets you with a smile, ask where you’re from and share pleasantries about the local flora and fauna.

I finish the Deluxe Sampler for breakfast and promptly enter a whirlwind of kitschy tours and even cheesier souvenirs. I track down a map of the area to window shop, sightsee, caffeinate, and decide on some type of plan for the next few hours.

After a long day of—well I don’t know yet exactly—I feel my feet begging for a couch. I’m always inexplicably tired, either from too much adventure or too little amusement, so French Onion Soup and Chicken Marsala for dinner sounds great. I’ll nod to the fellow guests dining at the same table where they ate breakfast and ask them about their day. I know the house wine will be acceptable, but I know the bartender will make my Mojito just as I please—easy on the ice, heavy on the mint sprigs. It’s the sense of comfort that can only be matched by my kitchen at home.

One Christmas, my family went to visit my brother in London. Little did we know, the UK actually celebrates Christmas, not commercialism, in their homes. After pouring through guidebooks, brochures, and concierges on Christmas Eve, we realized the city shut down on December 25.

With nowhere to turn, I remembered the one restaurant that’s always open—the clean tables, assorted breadbaskets, and soft rock sang to me.

We spent our Christmas in 4 different hotel restaurants. I can still taste the salty scrambled eggs from our first hotel. I remember our waiter’s crinkled nose when I asked him what bread “soldiers” were. The sticky crumb cake still feels pasted on my fingertips during our afternoon pick-me-up location.

I remember watching my mother’s face light up when she read there was spiced wine on the menu at dinnertime. And I’ll never forget playing with my father’s reading glasses after a few gin and tonics.

I’ll never forget those moments, but already the names of each hotel have escaped me. I cannot tell you where we walked to find each grinning server with a nametag with their hometown.  I don’t remember if the restaurant was part of a Hilton or a boutique inn. But to me, none of that matters.

I know each restaurant has menus that are blueprints from each other, but I know I have a haven in every city that I can recall memories from every other trip in the complementary breakfast buffet line.

I know that when I return my apartment, thousands of miles and altitude pressures away, I won’t have a menu to comb over, or a soup of the day to ask about—but I know I have my rock, my hotel eatery to visit when I just can’t cram in anymore spontaneity.

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