Peter Rubin loves nothing better than to plan travel for clients who share his deep love of fine dining. It actually makes him a little sad when a client doesn’t share that love. But the professional chef turned luxury travel advisor has learned that not all travelers are equally food obsessed.
“I love really high-end fancy food, but a lot of people, if you put them in a 3-star Michelin restaurant, are going to be extraordinarily uncomfortable,” he said. It’s not a question of wealth; some high-end clients simply prefer a more relaxed, authentic dining experience. There are even people, Rubin conceded, who eat merely “to sustain the energy to move on to the next project.”
Rubin is co-owner, with his wife Lauren Rubin, of About Going Places, a small storefront agency in suburban Atlanta. The couple purchased the agency from Lauren’s mother about eight years ago, soon after learning their young family was in for a big change.
Rubin, a French Culinary Institute graduate, had just been offered a coveted job as executive chef at a top Atlanta restaurant when Lauren learned she would be giving birth to twins while their firstborn was still a young toddler. Peter knew that the chef’s lifestyle, with its 15- and 16-hour workdays, didn’t fit with having three children in diapers, so he traded in his chef’s toque for a career in travel.
Today, he and his wife are equal partners in parenting and in their travel business. Last year, with the help of three part-time assistants and one independent contractor, their sales topped out at $3.65 million.
Finding his footing
Rubin was in his mid-30s when he left behind the chef’s life for a career in travel. The transition wasn’t always smooth. For one thing, after 15 years of multitasking and working at “high-intensity speed” in restaurants and catering, he had to slow down enough to focus on critical details, like client names, dates of birth, and travel dates. “I really had to re-learn how to work,” he said.
It also took time to figure out how to leverage his culinary expertise. “In the beginning, I had difficulty finding my voice as a chef in what I sold,” Rubin told Travel Market Report.
Soon enough, he found that rolling out his culinary bona fides to position himself as a food expert had its advantages. With clients, sharing his background helps him gain trust when recommending a restaurant or hotel for its food.
With vendors, Rubin uses his credentials to clarify his expectations around culinary experiences. “I let the destination management company know that I’m a French-trained chef, that this is important to me, and I want my clients to have a higher-level experience.”
For instance, he said, he’d much rather his clients experience a food tour led by a local chef-restaurateur than by an ordinary guide. “There’s something different about going to the market as a purchaser; it’s incredible. I want my clients to have the restaurateur take them around.”
Going deep with clients yields rewards
Rubin spends a lot of time getting to know his clients, and not just around food preferences. “It’s about having a deep qualifying process, really listening and paying attention.”
Doing that well sometimes yields higher-priced bookings. He recalled a customer who had traveled to Switzerland and Lake Como many years earlier on a trip arranged by Rubin’s mother-in-law. “He walked in saying, ‘I loved the trip – she had a limo take us to the hotel in Como.’ He was so stoked to have somebody pick him up and drive him for a distance.”
Noticing this, Rubin suggested a private guided tour of Italy. When the client balked at the expense, Rubin pointed out that he had exclaimed about the private limo on his previous trip, not the hotels or any other experiences. “I said, ‘Let me provide that to you, and this is how I’m doing that.
“I’m not upselling him for the sake of more money,” Rubin added. “I’m providing this experience they’ve never had before, and it’s going to knock their socks off.”
Qualifying clients around food
At some point in every qualifying conversation with new clients, Rubin asks if they care about food and wine. “Usually someone either goes on for 20 minutes, or they’re like, ‘Eh, we like to eat,’ or, ‘We’re not really into wine,’ and I know immediately these are not cuisine-focused clients.”
When clients do indicate that good food or wine is a priority, he asks about their previous fine dining experiences to gauge the extent of their interest as well as their tastes and spending habits. What he’s aiming for, he said, is “to define what sort of culinary experiences people are looking for and assist them in having a top-level experience.”
On those occasions when he suggests a three-star Michelin restaurant to someone, he does so with utmost care. “That’s a $1,000 meal, you don’t just throw that out there,” he said. It’s not just the expense; he wants to make sure that clients new to such rarified dining experiences know what to expect.
When the fit is right, Rubin loves nothing more than opening the eyes of first-timers to a world he loves. “It’s like, this dining experience can change the way you see food; you’re going to think differently about food and service and restaurants.” And that, he indicated with his characteristic intensity, makes him very happy.