5 Ways To Spot a Tourist Trap Restaurant

Food & Drink Articles

Traveling to destinations whose main economy is tourism has its pros and cons. On the one hand, you are assured that the language barrier is not going to be too much of an issue and there will be plenty of organized tour packages and options for you. There is also likely to be a lot of content online helping you make good decisions with your time and money.

On the other hand, as a visitor, you are always going to have incomplete and potentially inaccurate information, and nowhere is this more noticeable than with restaurants.

Tourist trap
Tourist trap

Sure, you can read Trip Advisor reviews, but how do you know the people leaving the reviews share your tastes or standards? They might be raving about a tourist trap restaurant with overpriced food that doesn’t really care whether you have a good experience or not because there is an endless line of people just like you coming and going. Great food and a memorable experience isn’t this kind of restaurant’s business model.

With that in mind, below are 5 ways to spot a tourist trap restaurant.

1. The Menu is in Multiple Languages

If eating local is the goal, bear in mind that if a restaurant’s menu is available in multiple languages, it’s likely that they’re catering to tourists. They know that many visitors to their city or country will be from other places and might not speak the local language fluently.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the restaurant is a tourist “trap” in the sense that the food isn’t made with love and care. It is, however, one of many signs that you should start to be suspicious.

2. Novelty or Gimmick Factor

It’s almost impossible to go anywhere in the world and not see a Taco, Pizza, or Sushi restaurant. While I love all of these things when made authentically by people who know the cuisine, what are the odds you’re getting authentic sushi at the place beside The Hard Rock Cafe in Cancun or Tacos in Chiang Mai?

Bad tacos
Bad tacos

3. There’s a Long List of Foreign Dishes

Tourist trap restaurants very often try to be all things to all people. You’re in Greece, but the menu you’re looking at is advertising Greek, Italian, American, Chinese, and whatever else they think might attract international tourists. While it is not impossible to get good Italian outside of Italy (and the same holds for all the other cuisines mentioned above), too many menu options are always a bad sign.

4. It’s Always Crowded

Another sign that you may be in a tourist trap is if the restaurant is always packed, no matter what time of day or night it is. They’re usually popular for a reason – they’re located in a prime spot for tourists – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re serving up great food. I always take a stroll past this type of restaurant to see what the food on people’s plates actually looks like. Does it look fresh and local or like something out of a massive can or jar?

Crowded restaurants
Crowded restaurants

5. Overpriced

One dead giveaway that you’re in a tourist trap restaurant is if the prices are sky-high. They know that visitors to their city or country often have more money to spend than locals do, so they charge accordingly. If you see entrees that cost more than you would normally pay, chances are you’re in a tourist trap.

How to Find the Gems

In my experience, the best way to find the best local restaurants anywhere you go is to cross-reference Trip Advisor and Google Reviews with foodie travel bloggers and then run a restaurant’s menu (if available) through the above gauntlet of tourist trap criteria. If it looks like it is consistently mentioned by people who have spent a while in a place (e.g. a digital nomad), it has solid online reviews, and the menu is simple and mostly local fare, it’s probably worth checking out.

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Alexander Gillard

Since 2015 I have been a freelance writer and wildlife photographer, working out of some of the planet's most spectacular wildlife and nature travel destinations--from the Amazon to Raja Ampat--diving, snorkeling, fieldherping, birding, and photographing my way around the world.

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