We are known as an ethnic neighborhood restaurant. What can I do to attract culinary tourists?
– Liliana Ramos, Owner, Los Mariachis, Brooklyn, NY
“Culinary tourism” can mean a variety of things. Lucy Long, editor of the book Culinary Tourism gives examples ranging from going on a food and wine tour of a region, to sampling a cuisine from far away in a local restaurant, to structuring a vacation around a cooking class. What these experiences have in common is a quest for an authentic interaction with another culture through food, a unique and memorable experience.
Long suggests several ways of presenting the restaurant experience in ways that will “stir curiosity and attract customers. First, if the food is a type that is unfamiliar to the targeted clientele, it needs to be presented as both edible and palatable. That can be done by using several strategies: framing it as tasty food; describing it in a tasty way; juxtaposing it with familiar foods; explaining what it is; changing ingredients to be more familiar to those customers. These strategies help customers feel ‘safe’ trying new foods. Also, though, if the food is a type that's already familiar, it can be ‘exoticized’ in similar ways—explaining or describing the history behind it, its meanings and uses within its own culture; [and] presenting it in an artistic way.”
Often culinary tourists just “discover” your place—someone happens upon you, has a phenomenal experience, and blogs, tweets, posts, and just plain talks about their experience. That’s great!
Even if that discovery does not happen naturally, you can plant the seeds for culinary tourists to find you and fall in love with your restaurant:
- Go online. Culinary tourists hang out on the web sharing their finds and debating the virtues of one another’s favorites. Try forums on chow.com, seriouseats.com and local sites like citysearch.com. Let readers know about you and encourage your regulars to post reviews.
- Emphasize a high margin signature item. Culinary tourists often focus on finding “the best” example of a favorite food. Promote positive reviews of a signature item and highlight it on the menu. A trek in search of “the best taco ever” may resonatewith culinary tourists more than a trip to a good Mexican restaurant.
- Market to tour operators and partner with competitors. In terms of formal culinary tourism, hold a tasting for tour guides and collaborate with other operations to form ready-to-market experiences like a dine around, crawl, or series of short talks and tastings.
More on culinary tourism here.