Food tours, such as this one in Budapest, Hungary, have exploded in popularity
- Food tours are a way for travelers and locals alike to dine at multiple restaurants, one after another, and try the best of each place
- Food tours are thought of as ‘pub crawls for restaurants,’ and are different than progressive dinners, food festivals, city walking tours and other related events
- While guided food tours have been around for decades, self-guided food tours are a new dining trend that allow mainstream audiences to discover new restaurants easily and affordably
Andrea and Mark are visiting Los Angeles for the first time. They’re here for a week, armed with a list of tourist attractions to visit, but food is also a top priority. They want to experience as much of LA’s dining scene as possible, from celebrity chef restaurants to hidden gems that allow them to live like a local would. Their problem comes with having too many options. Andrea and Mark want to make the most of every meal they have in LA, and are getting overwhelmed with endless reviews and posts adding to their ever-growing list of restaurants to visit. They don’t know how they’re going to fit it all in.
Javi lives in Los Angeles, and has friends visiting him for the weekend. He’s excited to take them out to some great meals, but there’s no way they can cover all his favorite spots in the short time they have. Javi is looking for a way to give his friends a snapshot of his neighborhood’s best restaurants, and perhaps discover a new place he can return to in the future.
Shawn and Maggie live in Downtown Los Angeles, and typically stay there when it comes to eating out. They’ve heard that Santa Clarita, a northern suburb, has become quite the food destination, but it’s 40 minutes away. It’s hard for Shawn and Maggie to justify the drive for just one dinner, but they’ve been thinking about how to turn a meal into an event worthy of the trip.
Andrea and Mark, Javi, and Shawn and Maggie all find the same solution. They’re booking a food tour.
What is a Food Tour?
Put simply, food tours are a way for travelers and locals alike to dine at multiple restaurants, one after another, and try the best of each place. By creating a way for people to taste signature dishes across a city’s best restaurants over the course of one meal, food tours allow people to experience the best of a community’s food scene in a short amount of time.
When guests visit a restaurant on a culinary tour, they’ll be typically be served smaller portions of top-selling items. These food tastings usually add up to a full meal’s worth of food by the time the tour ends. Think of a food tour as a way to spread out a meal across a variety of restaurants.
Restaurants of all types are featured on food tours. Fast casual to fine dining. Mexican food, Chinese food and Italian food to burger spots, steakhouses and gastropubs. Drinking establishments such as bars, wine rooms, lounges and breweries can be on food tours as well. Ice cream parlors, bakeries, chocolate shops and other dessert makers are popular stops as well. Food tours can also be called culinary tours, food crawls and several other names, though these labels are interchangeable.
Food tours have operated in major cities around the world for many years. They’ve traditionally taken the form of guided events, where a chaperone will lead groups of 10 – 20 people through a set list of restaurants over the course of an afternoon. Self-guided food tours, a new type of food tour that allows people to discover new restaurants within the privacy of their own group, are also gaining popularity, due in part to their lower prices and increased flexibility.
Why go on a food tour?
One of the biggest reasons people go on food tours isto try new restaurants and signature dishes that they may never have discoveredotherwise. Tourists book culinary tours to make the most of their limited timein a new area. Locals book food tours to check several places off theirrestaurant bucket list, or to justify the drive to a different neighborhoodthey want to visit.
Food tours are also utilized as date nights andstaycation activities, as well as networking events and company retreats. Theyadd novelty and a sense of adventure to what would otherwise be a traditionalmeal, transporting guests through multiple dining rooms, cuisine types and tastesof the world.
You should book a food tour instead of a regular meal if…
- You want to try a restaurant without committing the time or money needed for a full meal
- You want to discover restaurants and dishes you may not otherwise have known about
- Your time in the area is limited and you’d like to enjoy as much of the food scene as possible
- You’re unfamiliar with the area or can’t decide on just one place
- You’d like to taste more items than you’d otherwise be able to order on your own
- You’re looking for more of an experience, rather than just a meal
- You want to show off on Instagram, Facebook or any other social media platform
Who goes on food tours?
Culinary tours are enjoyed by a wide range of audiences, from travelers looking to get a sense of the city’s food scene to locals discovering a new part of town. And while some may think that food tours are expensive activities only enjoyed by food snobs, the truth is that these experiences usually cost about the same as a typical meal and are enjoyed by diverse groups of regular people, all with a common goal of trying new restaurants.
On a typical food tour, you can expect to see any combination of the following people:
- Tourists who want to experience the city’s food scene
- Locals who want to discover new restaurants
- Staycationers who want to explore a neighborhood they don’t often visit
- Leaders of their social circles looking for new eateries to take their friends
- Food-minded business travelers looking to make the most of their work trip
- Business owners taking out clients or employees
- Community managers creating networking events by bringing people together through food
How Do Food Tours Work?
Enjoying a self-guided food tour in San Diego, CA
Different types of food tours work in different ways. Guided food tours are typically more regimented while self-guided food tours are naturally more flexible.
Guided Food Tours
Guided food tours are ticketed events, where groups of10 – 20 people are led through a preset list of restaurants. A guided food tourworks like this:
- Guests book a food tour in advance, in the same way they’d purchase a ticket to a sporting event, concert or other attraction with a set date and time. The cost often covers food, tax and tip at each restaurant visited, as well as any necessary transport, but not tip for the guide.
- Guests show up at a specified location, typically the first restaurant on the tour, at their designated date and time. There, they will meet their guide, as well as the other people who booked the tour.
- The first restaurant serves bite-size portions of designated menu items. These items are predetermined by the restaurant, so guests don’t typically know what they’ll be eating until the food is served. It’s not customary to order additional items, such as drinks, at each stop.
- After finishing, the guide will lead the group to the next restaurant. Walking food tours are common, where each restaurants is in close proximity to one another, though some food tours provide a bus or van and a driver.
- The guide will continue leading the group through a preset list of restaurants, sampling items at each stop, until the tour concludes.
Self-Guided Food Tours
Self-guided food tours also allow people to visit multiple restaurants, but allow people to pick and choose the places they visit and when to visit them. A self-guided food tour works like this:
- Guests browse from a large collection of available tours. Each tour displays broad time windows that they can arrive at each restaurant, as well as a tasting menu of signature items to choose from upon arrival, dietary and allergy accommodations, and other helpful details.
- They choose their tour date and group size as they would when making a standard restaurant reservation. Some self-guided food tour platforms will let guests pre-pay for drinks as well, often at a discount compared to regular menu prices. They then complete their purchase, which includes tasting menu items, tax and tip at each stop.
- Guests visit each stop in any order, at any valid time. No guide or additional guests are present. The person who booked the tour shows a confirmation email to each restaurant upon arrival.
- The party is seated and places their orders from the restaurant’s tasting menu. Those items are cooked to order and typically come out in larger portions than you’d find on a guided food tour, while remaining small enough to warrant multiple stops. Ordering additional items is allowed, though some self-guided tours do provide substantially more food than you’d get during a typical meal out.
- A bill isn’t issued unless additional items are ordered, allowing guests to move onto the next stop whenever they’re ready. They continue visiting each restaurant at their own pace until their tour is complete. While most guests choose to visit all of their stops in a row, some will split up their tour, visiting a few stops in the afternoon, taking a break for sightseeing, then completing their tour in the evening.
When to do a guided vs. a self-guided food tour
Guided food tours are great for those seeking a more structured and educational experience, who don’t mind paying a premium for the addition of a guide. Here are some additional benefits of guided food tours:
- Everything is pre-arranged, so you don’t have to worry about choosing restaurants or deciding what to eat at each place
- Most guides hold deep knowledge of the area and each restaurant you visit, making the experience as much about history and culture as it is about food and drink
- Transportation is included, for tours that involve driving from one restaurant to another
- Larger groups provide the opportunity to make like-minded friends, especially helpful for solo travelers
- Wait times at each restaurant are typically minimal, since the restaurant knows exactly when the group will arrive and often has a table waiting
Self-guided food tours are great for those who place more value on the food itself, as well as people looking for greater flexibility and customization with an experience that's still quick and easy to book. Here are some additional benefits of self-guided food tours:
- Self-guided food tours are naturally less expensive than guided food tours, as guides are typically the largest cost center
- Self-guided food tour platforms partner with more restaurants in more areas, so they can be enjoyed at many locations where traditional guided tours don’t otherwise operate
- Self-guided food tours can be enjoyed virtually any day and time, while guided food tours are limited to a set schedule
- No additional guests are present, leaving you to enjoy your tour within the privacy of your own group and move at your own pace
- There’s no strict start or end time, so you can dine at your leisure
- Most tasting menus allow you to choose 2 – 3 items from a list of 5 – 6 signature dishes, adding flexibility and proving especially helpful for those with dietary restrictions and allergies
- Tasting menu portions are typically larger and it’s possible to order additional items at each stop
How do I book a food tour?
Most guided food tours are booked online. While some bookings are made directly on operators’ websites, many are made using search engines such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. Because guided food tours are often small, independently-run businesses, virtually every city has different operators who provide varying levels of experience. When booking a guided food tour, it’s best to read reviews to get a sense of what the tour will look like before booking.
Self-guided food tours can be booked on TastePro, with new locations being added on a regular basis.
When do food tours take place?
Most guided food tours take place during non-traditional meal periods, typically in the mid-afternoon. While many guests would otherwise want a food tour to coincide with lunch or dinner, several barriers prevent this from happening:
- Restaurants are busier during peak lunch and dinner hours, making it difficult to reserve space for larger guided food tour groups
- Food tour guests consume less food and drink per person at each restaurant than standard guests, since their meal is spread across multiple places. From the restaurant’s perspective, it makes more sense to seat food tour guests during times when a table would otherwise be empty, as opposed to when the table would be occupied by a group who would generate more business for them
- Unpredictable crowds during peak meal hours can cause unexpected wait times. Delays at the first stop can start a ripple effect that will negatively impact the guest experience and operations at other restaurants
- Kitchen staff have more time to perfect each dish during slower periods, creating potential for guests to enjoy better food in a calmer ambiance
Self-guided food tours have greater potential to take place during peak meal times, since individual restaurants set the hours in which they’re able to accommodate food tour guests. But while it’s feasible for someone on a self-guided food tour to book restaurants that are all available during standard lunch or dinner hours, this still isn’t a guarantee, especially on weekends.
Fast-casual restaurants, who do more to-go business and aren’t as worried about their seating capacity, are more likely to be available on self-guided food tours during peak mealtimes. Similarly, hidden gems that haven’t generated as much media hype, but could be as good or better than their popular neighbors, are more likely to be available. Some people actively seek out these types of full-service restaurants to be among the first to discover them before they become more well-known.
How long does a culinary tour last?
Most guided food tours last for 3 – 4 hours, depending on the number of stops and the time to get from place to place.
Most self-guided food tours last for 1.5 – 2.5 hours. Each stop averages around 30 minutes, but can be longer or shorter depending on several factors, such as the type of restaurant, whether your group decides to stay for additional drinks, etc.
How much does a food tour cost?
Prices for guided food tours vary widely, with quality tours starting at $80 – 100 per person and going up to more than $500 per person in some cases. This includes food, tax and tip at each stop, as well as any necessary transportation. It does not include tip for the guide and driver.
Prices also vary for self-guided food tours, but are often much lower. Quality self-guided food tours can start at less than $40 per person. These prices include tasting menu items, tax and tip at each stop.
How do I prepare for a food tour?
Guided food tour guests should plan to arrive at their designated meeting point at least 10 minutes before their tour begins. Late arrivals will have a hard time tracking down their group, since few guided food tours publish their itineraries beforehand and the guide’s contact information isn’t always available.
Anyone going on a guided food tour with allergies or dietary restrictions should contact their tour operator beforehand to inform them of these limitations, so that any available accommodations can be made.
Self-guided food tour guests should be aware of the time windows for each restaurant, and plan their itinerary so they arrive at each stop within the window listed.
In both cases, guests should arrive hungry, and are advised against arranging large meals or strenuous physical activity after their tour concludes.
Will food be provided on a culinary tour?
Food is provided in most guided food tours. In cases where food is not provided, the operator will note this in the tour description.
Food should always be provided on a self-guided food tour.
What types of restaurants will I visit on a food tour?
Guided food tours vary significantly in the types of restaurants visited, but are often reflective of the city’s culture and local flavor. Many culinary destinations will be regionally famous restaurants, known for a signature dish, a prominent chef, or playing an integral part in the city’s history. Some tours will advertise a theme, such as a taco tour or pizza tour, while others will visit a variety of restaurants. In most cases, guests won’t know the restaurants they’ll visit when booking their tour.
On a self-guided tour, guests choose from a variety of available tours in the area, taking on many forms and themes. Self-guided food tours can include restaurants of all types, styles and levels of fame, representing cuisines from across the world.
In both cases, the restaurants visited on a food tour can encompass virtually any type of business that sells ready-to-eat food or drink. Fast-casual to fine dining restaurants, stalls and storefronts at food halls and farmers markets, wine bars and breweries, representing a wide variety of cooking styles and price points, are all represented. Oftentimes, food tour guests will experience a variety of eateries from opposite ends of each spectrum.
What type of transport is provided?
Many guided food tours take groups to restaurants that are walking distance to one another. In these cases, no transportation is provided. Other guided food tours require driving from place to place, where a bus or van is provided.
Transportation is not provided on self-guided food tours. Most self-guided food tours are easily walkable, with each restaurant just a few doors down from one another. In other cases, guests have also used bicycles, scooters, public transit and rideshare platforms. Some have even rented limos.
Should I tip on a food tour?
On a guided food tour, it’s expected that you tip your guide, as well as your driver if you have one. A standard tip is 15 – 20% of the tour price. Tip is typically included at each restaurant you visit, so it’s not necessary to tip restaurant staff.
On a self-guided food tour, tip is also included at each restaurant you visit. While it’s not necessary to leave an additional tip, you’re still welcome to do so.
Are kids and pets allowed on food tours?
Guided food tours will specify whether kids and/or pets are allowed. Parents with picky eaters are advised against taking their children on a food tour, as restaurants are often unable to make substitutions for more kid-friendly items.
Restaurants on self-guided food tours will specify their individual kid and pet policies. Those with children and pets should read into these policies, as well as whether that restaurant’s tasting menu is fitting for every member of their party, before adding that restaurant to their tour.
Food Tour Myths and Clarifications
A guided food tour in Los Angeles, CA
While food tours have existed for decades, many people are nevertheless unfamiliar with the term ‘food tour,’ and even fewer have participated in this type of culinary experience. And because food tours are still uncharted territory for most of the population, myths exist about these types of food events. Here’s some clarification on common misconceptions about food tours.
Food tours are for everyone, not just snobs
From an outsider’s perspective, culinary tours may appear to be reserved exclusively for food snobs. Thankfully, this is not the case. Food tours are enjoyed by a broad range of people with a simple common bond: the love for food.
The term ‘foodie’ is also often misinterpreted and mistakenly associated with food snobs. Food snobs stereotypically partake in mostly gourmet meals with lavish ingredients, fine wines, expensive cocktails, high-end coffees and designer desserts. Not to downplay those indulgences, but foodies value taste, culture and authenticity over luxurious ambiance and branding. You’re more likely to find a true foodie ordering a carne asada burrito at the newest taco shop than savoring foie gras at a posh brasserie that books out months in advance.
Even still, not everyone who enjoys food tours would even identify themselves as foodies. Food tours are meant to be enjoyed by anyone looking to discover new restaurants. Locals and tourists, young and old, from all walks of life with limitless differences, those who enjoy food tours are as diverse as the people you see walking through any restaurant district, all looking for the next great meal.
Food tours include all types of restaurants
The restaurants visited on food crawls are as diverse as the people who participate in these experiences. Some may think that food tours are reserved only for fine dining restaurants offering intimidating and high-priced menu items, but these the exception rather than the norm. Most food tours cover a range of places that the average person would visit, with casual atmospheres and approachable dishes enjoyed by all.
While some guided food tours do specialize in steakhouses, seafood restaurants and other high-end options, many stick to local favorites that include moderately-priced full-service restaurants, fast-casual eateries and businesses that specialize in pastries, ice cream, beer, wine and cocktails. These options provide guests with a more authentic sense of the community’s food scene, as well as gives them a list of places to comfortably return to in the future.
Self-guided food tours add a level of customization by allowing guests to choose the restaurants they visit. While the dishes served at each restaurant on a guided food tour are usually a mystery, Guests on a self-guided food tour will be able to view each restaurant’s tasting menu beforehand, as well as get a sense of whether the restaurant suits their tastes prior to booking.
Food tours don’t have to be expensive
While food crawls vary in price, most are far from expensive considering the value they deliver. Visiting multiple restaurants on your own and ordering tasting-size dishes at each place is either virtually impossible, since many restaurants are unable to accommodate these requests outside the context of a food tour, or very expensive, since paying full price for a myriad of dishes will run you well beyond the cost of a standard meal.
At the end of a culinary tour, you’re going to get about as much food and pay about as much as you otherwise would for a full meal at a restaurant of similar caliber. Food tours compresses multiple restaurant visits into one, where signature dishes and their prices are shrunken down to lower-cost, tasting-size portions. The only premium you’re paying is for the guide and any transportation that may be provided.
Self-guided food tours are usually less expensive than food tours, and patrons will find that the tasting menus offered at each restaurant often hold greater variety and portion sizes than those offered on guided tours. Many guests find that they actually spend less on a self-guided food tour than they would on an equivalent meal at a restaurant of equal caliber.
Food tours are for locals just as much as tourists
One of the biggest misconceptions about food tours is that they’re for tourists only. In reality, these experiences are enjoyed by locals about as much, and sometimes more often than visitors. Food tours are among the best things to do for dates, social gatherings, networking events and business functions, and even bachelor and bachelorette parties.
While visitors use food tours to maximize the limited time they have in a city, locals use them to host friends, explore different neighborhoods or discover new restaurants. In both cases, food tours allow guests to efficiently experience the best of multiple restaurants, rather than invest the time and money needed for a full visit at each place.
While many guided food tours are typically confined to highly trafficked tourist destinations, self-guided food tours have greater breadth in their restaurant offerings. Travelers looking to live like a local can enjoy eateries off the beaten path, while permanent residents who typically avoid touristy areas are able to discover restaurants in neighborhoods they can visit on a regular basis.
Food tours vs. progressive dinners
Progressive dinners typically split a meal into three courses, with each course enjoyed at a different location. Guests visit one restaurant for appetizers, a second restaurant for entrees, then a third restaurant for dessert. Variations can be made to progressive meals, such as ending at a bar, brewery or wine room, but in general the natural flow of a meal remains.
On a food tour, restaurants aren’t constricted by order or course. They typically serve several smaller-sized items, rather than just one full-size item, that represent multiple menu categories. While a progressive dinner reflects the flow of a meal—appetizer, entrée, dessert—a food tour is more like several mini-meals all in a row. A guest may sample an entrée and a side at their first stop; several appetizers and a dessert at the next, an appetizer and entrée after that, and so on.
You should book a progressive dinner over a food tour if…
- You want to stick to a traditional appetizer-entrée-dessert meal format
- You want full-size dishes served at each stop
You should book a food tour over a progressive dinner if…
- You want to taste more of the menu at each restaurant you visit
- You want to visit a broader range of restaurants
- You want a more flexible, free-flowing experience
Food tours vs. food festivals
A food festival is a ticketed event where dozens of restaurants, wineries, breweries and other food, drink and dessert purveyors come together in a central location and hand out bottomless samples of signature items. Many food festivals are annual events requiring extensive production, similar to music festivals, and last for 3 – 4 hours. Local food festivals include Master’s of Taste, held at The Rose Bowl in Padadena, the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival at the Newport Beach Civic Center, and the Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival, held at the Paseo Shopping District. Tickets to these events typically start at $100 – $150/person.
Some events advertised as food festivals are free to enter, but require guests to pay for each food and drink order. These events are more often a gathering of food trucks, caterers and other mobile food vendors rather than traditional restaurants, and for comparison purposes aren’t classified as true food festivals.
Food tours take place at the restaurants themselves, as opposed to one central location, so patrons are responsible for getting from one restaurant to another. While food festivals offer unlimited tastings, food tours are limited to the food served by each restaurant. Patrons can visit the same restaurant multiple times at a food festival, while they can only visit each restaurant once on a food tour. And while a food festival might take place once a year, food tours can take place virtually anytime.
You should book a food festival over a food tour if…
- You want to experience more restaurants all in one location
- You enjoy large crowds and a festival environment
You should book a food tour over a food festival if…
- A food festival isn’t taking place near you anytime soon
- You don’t want to pay the price for a food festival ticket
- You want a greater selection of items from each restaurant
Food tours vs. walking tours
Walking tours are guided events that focus on a city’s history and culture. They rarely involve food. On a walking tour, a guide will lead a small group of people through several sites, attractions and thoroughfares while explaining the significance of each location.
Food tours, especially walking food tours, can incorporate elements of a walking tour, but the focus remains on restaurants. Guided food tours will often pass by famous sites en route to the next stop, where a brief history lesson will be shared. Self-guided food tours can also be made to pass through cultural points of interest.
You should book a walking tour over a food tour if…
- Your focus is on history, sites and attractions rather than food and drink
You should book a food tour over a walking tour if…
- You’re more interested in food and drink than history and cultural points of interest
Food tours vs. pub crawls
Pub crawls, as their name states, focus exclusively on drinks. Often taking place late at night, pub crawls allow guests to visit multiple bars, lounges and nightclubs, one after the other, and consume one (or several) drinks at each place. Pub crawls go hand-in-hand with large groups and a party vibe, and typically end at a large venue for patrons to spend the remainder of the night.
Food tours can include drinks as part of the experience, but food remains the priority. Some food tours may also visit bars and other drinks-only establishments, but will do so in conjunction with visits to multiple restaurants. Self-guided food tours, however, can become pub crawls if the people booking them choose to only visit drinking establishments.
You should book a pub crawl over a food tour if…
- You enjoy drinking and nightlife
- You want to party
You should book a food tour over a pub crawl if…
- Your focus is on food over drinks
- You prefer the event to take place earlier in the day or evening
Food tours vs. restaurant hopping
Restaurant hopping is essentially a do-it-yourself progressive meal, where small groups will visit multiple restaurants in one sitting. Restaurant hopping is often done during slower periods, such as happy hour, in walkable food districts that make it easy to visit multiple eateries. Restaurant hopping can be as simple as enjoying a meal at one restaurant and then dessert at an ice cream shop, or more elaborate, such as enjoying small plates at 3 – 4 eateries and then finishing the day with drinks at a bar.
Food tours, while structured similarly to restaurant hopping, are more organized and often provide greater value. Restaurant hopping can quickly break down when prices, menu items, or other factors cause people to argue over which place to visit next. Self-guided food tours allow groups the same level of flexibility as restaurant hopping while making for a smooth, transparent experience.
Then comes the age-old issue of splitting checks. Restaurant hopping groups may find themselves battling over who ordered what, whether to charge extra to one person who ate more food or got an extra drink, and how to split up the tip, all with the hope that the place takes multiple credit cards. On a self-guided food tour, none of these issues exist because everything is booked and paid for in advance, tip included. If anyone orders extra food or drink, it’s easy for them to cover that cost on their own.
You should go restaurant hopping instead of booking a food tour if…
- You’ve already dined at all the restaurants you’re visiting and are familiar with their menus
- You don’t want to make plans ahead of time
You should book a food tour instead of go restaurant hopping if…
- You want to find and try new restaurants
- You don’t want to take the time to plan out an entire dining itinerary
- You don’t want to worry about payment at each place
Book a Walkable, Self-Guided Food Tour with TastePro
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Whether you're visiting a new place or exploring your own backyard, TastePro is The Best Way to Try New Restaurants. Book your walkable, self-guided food tour today at GoTastePro.com