WorkZone: Travelers value ease

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Business travel tends to pick up this time of year, so Starbucks and McDonald's might want to brace for the rush.

Those two chains topped the list of restaurants that showed up most often on employees' expense reimbursement forms, based on more than 6 million transactions between January and November last year tracked by Portland, Maine-based software company Certify.

More than 20,000 restaurant receipts recorded purchases at Starbucks, followed by 12,000-plus from McDonald's, more than 8,000 from Subway, 5,000-plus from Panera Bread and just over 4,000 from Burger King.

See, business travel isn't all that glamorous.

Bob Neveu, CEO at Certify, is not convinced that clients using his company's expense tracking software are putting big programs in place to reduce travel and entertainment spending. "I don't believe companies are saying, 'You must eat at McDonald's,' " he said.

"I think it comes down to employees on the go."

In other words, sales reps and service personnel hurrying between appointments are grabbing coffee or food at the most convenient places -- and all of the most expensed restaurants have hundreds of locations around the country.

Access to Wi-Fi connections helps, too, something that is often found at such restaurants. Mr. Neveu said when he's traveling with co-workers on business, "The first question is, 'Where's Starbucks?' "

Overall, employee spending on travel and entertainment was up 1 percent during the period, according to the data tracked by Certify, which the company took to mean companies were feeling better about their prospects.

"We sort of see it as companies are still investing in the road time, face time," said Mr. Neveu, who noted that is happening even as a number of programs have been successful in making it easier to have Web-enabled meetings that link people in different places.

This is the first time Certify has done this sort of tally and released it publicly, so Mr. Neveu couldn't say if the names of restaurants in the top five have changed over the years.

For those interested, the company also ranked -- based on the number of transactions -- the top airlines (Delta, United, Southwest, American and then US Airways), hotels (Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn and Starwood Hotels) and rental car services (National, Hertz, Enterprise, Avis and Budget).

In some cases, the reach of the service providers involved was probably a factor, Mr. Neveu said. Airline choices are influenced by where the businesses included in the survey have clients and flights are available.

As for where people are going, the data showed the city expensed most often was Chicago, followed by Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and New York.

Business travel tends to fall off around the December holidays, but things pick up again around this time of year, Mr. Neveu said.

"There's a lot of traveling going on. They got their new budgets. They're hitting the road."


Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018. First Published February 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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