Regardless of where you’re traveling, a person’s gotta eat. And if you’re in a touristy area, there are going to be restaurants that specifically focus on tourists. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – but if you eat at a tourist trap restaurant, there’s a better chance you’re going to be paying more (either by price or unnecessary upcharges) and potentially not being served the quality of food you might get if you ate elsewhere.
Here are some things to look for to help avoid a tourist trap restaurant:
It’s in a touristy area
This one pretty much goes without saying. I mean, tourist trap restaurants are going to be where tourists are. We’ve seen them in Reykjavik, Cozumel, NYC, Paris – pretty much any big city that gets a lot of visitors.
Your hotel recommended it
It could be because the concierge knows it’s popular with tourists. It could be because they’re getting a kickback. But if you’re in a larger city that tends to be a tourist town and the hotel recommends a place, there’s a good chance it’s a tourist trap. Better to ask this question of your concierge and they may steer you somewhere much better.
Lots of tourists are eating there
If a tourist trap restaurant is doing its job, there will be lots of tourists eating there. If they’re American tourists, you can spot them from a mile away. But even if not – are there lots of people with backpacks or fanny packs? Lots of people speaking a language that’s not native to where you are? (i.e. lots of people speaking English, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, etc., at your restaurant in Iceland). Chances are you’re in a tourist trap, because the locals know better than to eat there.
They’re practically begging you to eat there
I remember our very first trip to Paris, way back in the mid-90s. We came across a restaurant with a very friendly man outside who invited us to eat in his restaurant. Like, “non-stop” inviting us. He went on and on about why we should eat at their restaurant – how delicious it was, how inexpensive it was, you name it. We fell for it (hey, we were young and didn’t know any better). Save for being charged for 3 bottles of wine when we asked for 3 glasses of wine, the meal was completely unmemorable.
The menu is HUGE
Tourist trap restaurants want to ensure they have something for everybody. And I mean EVERYBODY. So their menus are a bajillion pages long, with choice after choice to match every palate from practically every part of the world that has people who tend to travel. From burgers for the Americans, to fish & chips for the Brits, to ramen for the Japanese, to chicken parmigiana for the Aussies, to schnitzel for the Germans, to salads for everyone’s who’s watching their weight, to a huge kid-friendly menu.
Fake plated food
Granted, there are some places, such as Japan, where plastic plated food is the norm. But that’s not the case in, say, Hollywood or Frankfurt. If your restaurant has plastic food out so people who don’t speak the native language can just point to what they want, chances are it’s a place that caters to tourists. You may want to reconsider where to eat.
The servers are dressed in costume
Are you in a restaurant in Paris where everyone’s wearing a beret? A place in Germany where the servers are wearing lederhosen and dirndls? That steak place in that Midwest city where everyone’s dressed as cowboys and cowgirls? Yeah…they’re catering to tourists.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If a restaurant just has one of these things, it might not be a tourist trap. Cheesecake Factory’s menu is HUGE but it’s (usually) not a tourist trap. Some restaurants may have their servers dress up for certain holidays. And there’s nothing stopping a hotel from recommending a place just because it’s a good place.
But if you see a restaurant that has more than one of these…or especially more than two? Maybe look somewhere else.
Not that catering to tourists is bad. But you can probably do better.
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