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The Best Drinks to Order in Every Business Trip Scenario

From ordering cocktails for a gluten-free colleague to picking the perfect bottle of red at a client dinner, these bartender-approved tips will have you covered for your next work trip.

This content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

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Here’s a truth about business trips — the social events can be just as mandatory as the meetings. And when drinking is involved, there’s plenty of social etiquette. When you’re off the clock, sip whatever you like; but when you’re with colleagues or clients, it’s all about making a good impression.

If you’re not yet familiar with the wide world of wine and spirits, it can help to know the basics. So we asked Hilton Hotels & Resorts top mixologists and bar professionals from around the world to share their ordering tips for a number of business trip scenarios you might encounter. Here’s what they had to say.

Keeping Your Wits About You at Happy Hour

A long day of meetings is now in the books, and it’s time for a drink to unwind — a little. (Early inebriation doesn’t look good on anyone.) What’s a sophisticated, low-ABV drink that won’t knock you off base in the hours before dinner? “I like to start my evening with something that will help me relax,” says Lemmy Cooper, general manager of Jackrabbit at The Duniway Portland, a Hilton Hotel. “Amari (bitter Italian liqueurs) and high-end vermouths are delicious and can be a conversation starter, as most people think of them as a mixer for martinis and Manhattans, but they’re perfect on their own.” His suggested order? “A good Spanish vermouth, served over a big ice cube with a twist of lemon.”

Ordering a Red for the Table

Dinner hour has rolled around and you’re all at the steakhouse — when you’re the one handed the wine list. What’s a crowd-pleasing, classy red wine that’ll suit the whole table? Look for an Italian red. “The perfect red variety for an excellent steak dinner is a Brunello di Montalcino, a variety from the Toscana region,” says Mauro Scala from Hilton Pilar in Argentina. “It’s sophisticated, with soft notes of black fruits, spices, and French oak.”

Bubbles That Don’t Break the Bank

You’ve landed a major deal or you’re wrapping up a successful trip; obviously, bubbles are in order. But Champagne can be uniquely expensive, rarely less than $100 per bottle on a bar or restaurant menu, and often much higher. What’s an equally festive, more reasonable option? Think domestic. “There are some incredible domestic wineries producing delicious bubbles these days, so there’s no need to venture outside the country to find something worthy of celebration,” says Lemmy Cooper. “Producers from the Willamette Valley in Oregon are making top-notch Brut, Blanc de Blancs, and sparkling rosé at a much more approachable price point.” A personal favorite of his: the Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Brut Rosé.

The Sober Business Trip

At the end of the day, drinking is a personal matter, and there should never be pressure to imbibe when you’d rather not. But on a business trip, there are still likely to be occasions where everyone else is drinking. What’s a booze-free order for when you’re participating in the cocktail hour — just not the cocktail part?

Fortunately, more and more bars are catering to the non-drinker. “At Hilton Austin’s restaurant Cannon & Belle, we designed several zero-proof cocktails for this very occasion,” says Joshua Stock, lead mixologist at Hilton Austin. “Instead of focusing so much on the main spirit, we instead rely on other unique ingredients to build the backbone of the cocktail, such as our blueberry and lavender syrup, orange blossom water, and egg whites to give the cocktail more body.”

If there’s no upscale cocktail menu in sight, you still have options. “A soda water with a lime in a Collins glass is always a winner and can appear like a vodka soda, if you’d rather be subtle about not drinking,” says Billy Besaw, who leads the cocktail and bar program at Hilton Columbus Downtown. “Remember: We’re here to make sure that you’re taken care of, so you can always lean in and give the bartender a quick heads-up.”

Addressing Food Restrictions

Let’s say you’re ordering for a colleague with celiac and want to play it safe. What should you avoid? “Despite popular belief, virtually every spirit is gluten free unless it is very lightly distilled,” says Billy Besaw. “It’s the additives that can trip you up. Make sure you’re not getting a spirit where caramel coloring is added, such as a ‘well’ gold tequila that isn’t 100% agave or lower-shelf whiskey.”

Lemmy Cooper agrees. “Ordering something classic like a Vesper, Old Fashioned, or Manhattan is perfectly okay; the key is to order a high-quality spirit.”

Alone at Last

Pressure’s off — you’ve made it back to the hotel bar, all by yourself. What’s a great drink to close out the night? “I usually prefer to end the night with something neat, such as bourbon, Scotch, or an añejo tequila,” says Billy Besaw. “And a nice port wine can be extremely satisfying.”

It’s also a moment where you might want to take advantage of the hotel bartender’s talents — whether that means taking a moment to dream something up together, or opting for one of the signature cocktails on their menu.

“I’d want to get more creative, and surprise our guest with an option that is not on her mind, but will be mind-blowing,” says Estiven Cubas of Hilton Lima MiraFlores. “Our Sangre Negra is perfect.” Made with whiskey, vermouth and balsamic vinegar, “it’s a mix of flavors you won’t expect. And at the end, the smoked notes will be the final touch.” A nightcap well-deserved.

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