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Dining at Trade Shows

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for June, 2004

Convention center food is usually about on par with airline food: awful and overpriced. Still, it's possible to eat well:

* Eat the freebies from the floor. Many booths will put out cheese, chocolate, fruit, samples from their restaurants or cookbooks. Sometimes you can actually make a meal that way.

* If you have a press pass, see what's in the press room. Many times, vendors woo the press with extra munchies.

* Many vendors will have parties, either at their booth or in some other location. Keep your ears open and get yourself invited.

* Stop at a grocery store on your way in and pick up some easy-to-carry, nutritious snacks: trail mix, hard cheese (if it's not too hot), bagels...

* Bring soup mixes in a cup. It's usually easy to find hot water.

* Participate in conferences that include meals.

* Walk out the door and see what's around in the neighborhood., it doesn't work at Chicago's McCormick Place (there is no neighborhood!)--but, for example, at the Los Angeles Convention Center of New York's Jacob Javits Center, there are decent places to get inexpensive food within two or three blocks (and usually, the lines are a lot shorter than at the center itself).

Does it work? Well...in six days in Chicago, I spent all of $65 on food-and $44.50 of that was for two splurge meals (a price-fixed dinner with a bunch of Internet friends, and a treat at one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Russian Tea Time). Subtract those two, and consider that one day's worth, and that leaves only $20.50 for five days worth of food. That's all of $4 a day. That covered a burrito lunch, two breakfasts, and a falafel and soup dinner. The rest of my meals were either included with an event or grazed from whatever was being served.

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