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What makes a restaurant a "tourist trap" or "touristy"

So often local restaurants, (NOT CHAINS), are pooh-pooh-ed as being too "touristy" or a"tourist trap"; especially in an area that attracts a lot of tourists and conventions. Just what, IYHO, makes a place a tourist trap? If out-of-towners get recommendations from locals to eat at a specific local restaurant, does that then make the place "toruisty" because you show up and (like you can really tell) there are a bunch of non-locals eating there?

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  1. I'm not sure, but if the food is good, i actually like being in restaurants where tourists are in abundance...they always seem to be in a good mood, lively, cheerful. It kind of puts me in a more upbeat mood. And i feel that with many people these days, one of the biggest thrills of a vacation is the food, so surely many tourists are seeking out some of the best places for food when they travel. Some of the best restaurants in our towns must surely be frequented travelers, right?

    1 Reply
    1. re: iluvtennis

      so surely many tourists are seeking out some of the best places for food when they travel.
      Not always. Many tourists also seek out the same type of food they can get at home - which is why they only eat at McDonald's in France or an Applebees in Iowa/Michigan/California. Because they know it will be safe and "the same" as what they already know.

      As to the original question, there are always those restaurants that get labeled "tourist traps" because they're putting out crap food by people who don't care about the food but care more about the money the tourists bring in.

    2. It occurs over time.

      Often it's a restaurant that serves good food at good prices, has great press, and then gets a good reputation. More often though, these restaurants then start to cater to the crowds and service and food often suffers - they aren't interested in the repeat business. They become world famous tourist traps when they are able to maintain the reasonably good flavors and the press (and then they get to raise their prices!) . These restaurants become stuck in what made them famous with their flavors and ambiance while other 'undiscovered' places can innovate.

      Not to say that you won't get a good meal there, it's just less likely you'll see a local or new food/restaurant trends.

      1. Personally, I don't care whether or not there are tourists, as long as the food is good. Some great restaurants in NYC (where I reside) have a bunch of tourists -- ie. Shake Shack, Per Se, Craft, etc. But then you've got those "tourist traps" where a local generally wouldn't go to because the food sucks and is overpriced but where tourists get suckered into it because they read about it in a guide book or there's some sort of history to it, etc. Examples of those types of restaurants would be Tavern on the Green and most of the restaurants in Little Italy. Those are the restaurants I like to avoid.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Miss Needle

          I agree completely. A lot of locals don't like Balthazar b/c it is touristy, but I love it anyway and always enjoy the food. And I'm quite happy to have tourists spending money here, so I'm not about to complain or be snotty about it.

          1. re: MMRuth

            Yikes! I remember that Balthazar thread! Balthazar has good food, whether it's touristy or not. I can see "ambiance" be more relevant when it comes to things like bars and clubs. But I go to a restaurant to eat. If I had to gripe about something related to tourists and Balthazar, it would probably be that the number of tourists makes it more difficult to get a reservation.

            I also agree about your statement of having tourists spend money here. It's great for the city. They are an integral part of NYC.

        2. When I think "tourist trap," I think of a restaurant that offers a fake, low-quality version of whatever food the locale is known for, at inflated prices. There is a legendary Italian tourist trap in Boston's North End, for example, a restaurant that locals know to stay well clear of even if the sort of old-fashioned red sauce Italian they serve is exactly what they're in the mood for.

          1. one of the seven early warning signs that a place may be "touristy" is the big bus parked across the street. nothing wrong with that.

            "tourist trap" has a nasty connotation. it smacks of a place that charges big bucks for crummy stuff. no value returned to the customer.

            i'm a tourist most places i go. i try to fit in, try to avoid the big-bus-across-the-street places but at the end of the day it's just a matter of degrees. doing a little homework, learning a few pat phrases and not being intimidated seem to be good attributes. a self-deprecating sense of humor seems to knock down barriers wherever i go.

            1. I am fortunate to split my time between two tourist areas... north and south. Touristy, to me, suggests overpriced food relative to quality, a good location (i.e. on the water or with a view), a claim to make local specialties, and, generally, an establishment that has been around a long time. But there are some restaurants that have long established reputations and do deliver reasonable versions of the local specialties. An example of the latter is Versailles in Miami, the first recommendation when a tourist wants a Cuban restaurant. The food is ok, reasonably priced and you go for the experience. Still, the usual use of "touristy" is pejorative.

              1. To me, there's two differences between a tourist trap and a plain old bad restaurant. A tourist trap is in a location heavily trafficked by tourists, and inflated prices.

                1 Reply
                1. re: spellweaver16

                  Yes - if it wasn't for the steady stream of unknowing visitors they would have had to close their doors long ago.

                2. At first I thought: there's no real definition. Then I realized, this is what I think a tourist trap or touristy restaurant is: a restaurant that has some feature apart from the food that will make people likely to go. This sort of feature would be either location (ie, a water view, on the water, top floor of a tall building, nearest a major attraction like a bridge or monument) or a gimmick (ie, rotates, enormous fish tank, what have you). The locals will have learned that the food isn't much good but because of the aforementioned feature, people will still flock to the place. Thus, tourist trap: the locals know the food's no good but the local are trapped by the desire for the feature.

                  (Note: this does not mean that all restaurants with such features serve bad food. Also, it does not mean that in order to be a tourist trap that a restaurant needs to have such a feature. Sometimes its just a place coasting on reputation that is no longer deserved.)

                  6 Replies
                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I agree as well, especially with the waterfront / view issue. Images of Pier 39 in SF, some of Seattle and Vancouver's Waterfont restaurants and a few in my neck of the woods in BC's Okanagan Valley

                      1. re: newJJD

                        Agreed. Another example would be the Top of the Hub or Anthony's Pier 4 in Boston.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Excellent examples! On the other hand, there's Durgin Park, which is definitely touristy but not at all a tourist trap by this definition. Though having said that, I haven't eaten there since its recent acquisition by an out-of-town (NYC-based?) restaurant group, it may have gone downhill.

                        2. re: newJJD

                          I was thinking specifically of Pier 39 in SF when I wrote that.

                      2. re: ccbweb

                        I love ccbweb's definition, but I'd add one thing to it: celebrity chefs.

                        For example, lots of visitors to Boston ask me if they should check out a Todd English outlet or Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger, and I steer them clear, as they will usually be disappointed. It's not an ironclad rule, but I think it's pretty obvious that many places slip once their chef garners fame beyond the town that put him on the map.

                      3. Places that have mediocre food and get a lot of fourist traffic.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mpalmer6c

                          YES! I was thinking of a restaurant (and I suspect there are many more like it), that was very near the theater district in NYC. The food was absolute crap, but they were attentive to getting you in and out relative to your touristy, theater needs....

                        2. probably not applicable in the US, but in Europe, most restaurants with multi lingual menus generally signify a touristy joint.

                          In London, the ubiquitous 'angus steak houses' all over the city are a typical tourist trap restaurant. Gaudy facade, mainstream city centre locations, 70's furniture, expensive menus, mediocre food. Usually full of Americans, who I imagine are bitterly dissapointed.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: foreignmuck

                            The Maine highway lobster pound is our local tourist trap. Why some would want to sit next to a busy highway listening to trucks roar by and breathe CO, while some 16 year old is boiling an over- priced big bug is beyond me. There are good pounds in beautiful settings w/ reasonable prices (10 bucks for lobster and corn on the cob), but one needs to ask a local. Just an aside; the term "lobster pound" is an abreaviated form of lobster impoundment. There still places that block off a tidal cove, ie impound the waters and use it to store lobsters. In the day they would set up a cook shack and boil the lobbers for passing tourists. So I guess the Maine Lobster Pound was originally designed to be a tourist trap.
                            Some how I feel I'm going to take an (im)pounding over this.

                            1. re: foreignmuck

                              Angus Steak Houses are definitely my idea of a tourist trap. They make me want to weep. I would also put Garfunkels and Caffe Uno in that category, along with a lot of those places around Leicester Square that sell pizza by the slice.

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                I ate at a Garfunkel's once, because it was near my hotel and the only place I could find that was open for breakfast on a Sunday - never again!

                                Those Leicester Sq. pizza joints are just nasty, surpassed only by the ones off Damrak and Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam.

                              2. re: foreignmuck

                                Hmmmm, possibly. But in some cities that have become international centres due to Universities and political/business organisations, there are multiple menus. Was in a place in Zizkov, a not terribly touristy part of Prague (but excellent) where multi-lingual menus had become common. Indeed, due in part to upped traffic, but not necessarily a tourist trap.

                                Similarly, Brussels has multi-lingual menus because it is in a multi-lingual nation that also houses many bureaucrats from around the world. Having English on menus has become shockingly regular.

                                All that said, foreignmuck, you are right in keeping an eye out for that. But really, that comes along with being in a central location with sights that everyone wants to see. Thus, keeping Brussels as an example, one can go to the Grand Place, and in the side streets find all these shops that sell beer and chocolate. These offerings are highly priced (although may come n special boxes) while going outside the area to a supermarket will yield many of the same finds at a significantly lower cost.

                                Tourist traps need not be bad-- what they are are restaurants in highly trafficked spots that capitalise on this location by raising prices (tired tourists who are tired, starving or desperate to find that last gift won't care at this point) and sometimes-- but not necessarily-- offering inferior fare. 'Trap' is just that-- set up at a prime spot to take advantage of people who are too tired to continue their search.

                              3. If they sell wearing apparel that's a good sign that it's a tourist trap.

                                1. The worst experience we ever heard of, but avoided, was a tourist restaurant in Rio many years ago. At the time, you could have eaten filet mignon or shrimp for about $7 because the exchange rate was so favorable. One group of boisterous Americans went to dinner at this popular place, which was highly recommended by our hotel (in fact, they made reservations), and was brought a large platter of raw fish to select from for dinner, choosing against ordering off the menu. Apparently, their bill ended up being close to $100 per person. This, by any stretch of the imagination was a "trap". It was possible that the cost of wine inflated the bill, but we are talking many times over if that was the case. We heard their whining the next day at the pool, and knew not to be taken.

                                  DH and I ate there several days later and waived the fish tray away because we wanted pizza and pasta. You could see that the help was visibly upset, actually telling us not to order off the menu (which had prices). In fact, they came back several times with the tray, and we just insisted on ordering from the menu. In spite of the lack of common language, we got our way and managed a $15 bill, including wine. But I can still remember how pushy the staff was, as though they were just disappointed that these two guests refused to be marks for their scam. BTW -- we decided to risk it because we had a sample menu. Perhaps this was just bait, but we decided we would leave in advance if anything didn't look reasonable.

                                  Nope, after this -- nothing else seems to qualify as a trap.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: RGC1982

                                    That's really a separate category though - hustles to watch out for in foreign (particularly 2nd & 3rd world) countries. Like in some parts of Eastern Europe, beware of "off-the-menu" wine that's offered at the table, or posted menus that (if you read the fine print in the local language) go up tenfold in price after a certain hour. Scams, certainly, but not really "tourist traps" in the US/UK sense that I believe is meant here.

                                    1. re: BobB

                                      The wife and I went to Rome last year and surprisingly had several awful meals IN THE TOURIST AREAS. The issue we found was that the level of tourism, the shear number of people to serve (most of whom aren't foodies) means that many restaurants don't have to have interesting food to succeed. Outside of the tourist areas (e.g. Trastevere) we easily found more suitable food.

                                  2. In Toronto, there's a place called "Captain John's" that is on a (moored) boat in the harbour. They advertise heavily in all the hotel magazines, and the pictures and website make it look very grand and luxe inside. However, the decor is actually tired and stained, and the prices are ridiculous - $52.95 for an Alaskan crab dinner? $109 for a seafood platter for two? You can get much better food at much lower prices in many different Toronto spots.

                                    No one I know that lives in Toronto has ever gone back once they've visited. It depends on tourists who don't know any better to survive. That's my definition of a "tourist trap".

                                    1. There is a restaurant in Victoria, BC that advertises "Ask for the Local Menu!" on the radio. They have two identical copies of the same menu: one with high prices for tourists, one with average prices for locals. I'm sure this is totally illegal, but they've been doing it for years.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Jetgirly

                                        That reminds me of places in Hong Kong that have Japanese menus with higher prices.

                                        Here in Portland our tourist trap is Jake's Crawfish (founded 1894), which is the original McCormick & Schmick's before it was bought and turned into a chain. 40 years ago it was the place to go. Now it's reserved for the tourists with money to burn and who don't know better.

                                      2. I bartend a couple nights a week in a restaurant that could probably be called a borderline "tourist trap." It's now part of a growing chain (which people don't always realize), but this location was the original, and I guess it's considered a Chicago staple. The food is good, we have live music several nights a week, and we have a good mix of locals and out-of-towners. I love working there because we're located downtown and have conventions in town from all over the world ALL the time. I think it's because of this that you could probably classify us as a tourist trap.

                                        That being said, I've met some absolutely wonderful people (even went and had drinks after work the other night with two gentlemen from the UK) and made some fantastic contacts that will be super useful once I graduate from law school. I love that I get to talk with people from all over the world, and even though I haven't lived here long, I've started to take some aspects of the city for granted, so it's refreshing to see people who are absolutely THRILLED to be visiting and who think I'm really lucky to live here.

                                        1. To me "tourist trap" most often (but not always) means a restaurant that could care less whether they ever have a repeat customer. The food reflects the attitude. I rarely knowingly go to a tourist trap unless it comes highly recommended by a native who has eaten there more than once.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            I pretty much agree with Caroline. When we travel and stay in a hotel/motel, we usually ask at the front desk about where the locals eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner. I don't think these types of place where a tourist may end up can necessarily be considered a 'tourist trap' or 'touristy'. Becuase if it's a place frequented by locals there's a reason for it. And it's not because they don't care whether or not they ever have a repeat customer or that becuse of this the food reflects the attitude. It's becuase they treat their 'locals/regulars' to good food and good service. If they didn't they wouldn't be coming back.