Eating out, incognito

  @FortuneMagazine September 19, 2013: 7:45 AM ET
ROA07 kent taylor

Kent Taylor at a Texas Roadhouse in Bear, Del.

(Fortune)

The CEO of an international steak house likes to take a dirty old T-shirt with him on the road. He also carries false teeth and a sweat-stained hunting hat, and lots of cash. He tips well, even though, when he's wearing the shirt and the hat and the hillbilly dentures, he's been asked if he can afford the restaurant he's sitting in -- which is usually one of his own. Kent Taylor, the CEO of the Louisville-based Texas Roadhouse (TXRH) chain, is the kind of dude who likes to, as he puts it, "wing it." He disguises himself from employees and competitors, has driven 35,000 miles in a year, and spends nine months visiting the 400 steak houses in his empire and scouting new locations. Some of his very particular travel tips.

My survival skills

The garbage-bag trick. My carry-on is always too big for overheads, so I have a small garbage bag in there with my clothes stuffed in. I pull that out and put it next to the carryon so that everything fits. It all happens quick -- flight attendants don't even see me do it.

Bring memorable gifts. When I visit suppliers, I give them Willie Braids. We were doing a lot of promos with Willie Nelson, and we had a marketing gal one time who ordered like half a million, so now the wigs have become my kind of calling card. People don't forget them.

Hat = hands-free. I wear a cowboy hat and stick my phone in the band so I can drive hands-free. In the old days, before the hat, I used a large rubber band for that purpose. But I've evolved.

Incognito. It's important that I not be recognized when scouting. I have Bubba teeth to dive to another level. The goofier you are, the more folks don't care about telling you stuff.

The atlas rules. I've had four in 20 years -- whatever those big road atlases are. Oh, yeah: AAA. Won't break down or run out of batteries. Still, I prop an iPad on my lap sometimes.

This story is from the October 07, 2013 issue of Fortune. To top of page



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