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Use of rewards program inspires entrepreneur's restaurant idea Add to ...

For Ian Risdon, business travel has proven to be much more than just another facet of work. It inspired him to make one of the most important decisions of his life. Mr. Risdon wanted to open a restaurant that was unlike anything he had experienced in Toronto.

Using loyalty rewards programs from hotels and airlines as he ventured to Los Angeles and Vancouver to discover unique eateries, Mr. Risdon discovered Vancouver’s Salt Tasting Room, a restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood that specializes in charcuterie platters served with inventive condiments and decadent cheeses.

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“If it wasn’t for travelling for business, I wouldn’t have found Salt. It was then that I thought to open PicNic,” Mr. Risdon said. He started PicNic Wine Bar in Toronto’s Leslieville area in 2008.

Mr. Risdon and his fiancée, Seika Gray, take advantage of their travel rewards memberships whenever they go on the road to learn about other restaurateurs and to source products.

“We use Starwood points most of the time. They have such a variety of hotels and really good locations pretty well around the world.,” Mr. Risdon said.

Starwood’s advantage for both the business and leisure traveller is the number of properties in its collection. Hotels range from budget brands (Four Points) to chains that cater to the mass market (Westin and Sheraton) to luxury options (Le Meridien and W). It has hotels in more than 100 countries.

Other options for small business owners are Accor Hotels and Choice Hotels.

Accor’s “Away on Business” plan gives users discounts of up to 10 per cent on rooms at any of its hotel partners. Members also receive 15 per cent off car rental bookings and other savings opportunities.

Meanwhile, Choice includes 10 brands – all but one in the budget category. Companies that have more than five employees who travel frequently are eligible for savings of 5 per cent on all bookings with Choice.

Business travel accounts for more than $8-billion in spending annually, according to Statistics Canada, and hotels are one of the largest benefactors of such activity. And for the traveller, the rewards of leaving town can occur simply through serendipitous encounters, as Mr. Risdon pointed out.

“It’s good to get away and experience other things and different countries and different cities,” he said. “Travelling, no matter what the reason, definitely helps us bring ideas back that we can apply to the business.”

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