You know the expression “be a tourist in your own city”, have you ever done that? I haven’t and am just now realizing all that I am missing by not taking advantage of the awesome services, tours and events that go on in my own town.
I recently had the pleasure of learning about an experience that any one interested in the culinary scene must investigate: food tours. No matter where you live, your town has a food personality and history all its own. Living in major cities where dining out is a big part of our entertainment, it never occurred to me to learn the history of restaurants, chefs, and products sold in my backyard. When I think about it, what do you hear people talking about on vacation? The restaurants they want to go too. The restaurants they went too. And looking for restaurants to go too! We want to dine like the locals do, even on vacation.
So, whether you are in your hometown or on vacation, it’s time to go on a culinary adventure. The really intriguing part is how many options you may just have in your own town. In Chicago, there is a company called Chicago Food Planet Food Tours (CFPFT) that is celebrating its 10 year anniversary. Shane Kost, the founder of CFPFT, has created a highly respected and celebrated brand (more than 2,200 reviews on Trip Advisor!) that welcomes locals and tourists to learn about Chicago’s food communities. Chicago Food Planet Food Tours offers 12 types of tours ranging from neighborhood to category focused. For example, the tour you choose to go on may be focused on learning about any of the following: pizza, beer, chocolate, ethnic foods, food trucks and of course, hot dogs.
In the city of Chicago, neighborhoods truly define the community in which the locals live. You can pick walking tours that take you through a locale that will give you the chance to visit restaurants, bakeries, and breweries while getting a brief history lesson on the origin of the food or business relative to the neighborhood. You may also choose to visit Chicago’s Chinatown, learning about the culture, food and history of the area from your knowledgeable tour guide.
In October, the Global Food Tourism Conference was held in Chicago at The Second City, hosted by Food Tour Pros President, Shane Kost. I was fortunate to be able to attend this seminar as it introduced me to the food tour industry from a social as well as business standpoint.
At this conference, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting people from across the world that are so passionate about their communities that they have created tours that help you to see their town through their eyes. You could be in sunny California on Catalina Island, shopping Seattle’s Pike Place Market, exploring Roanoke, dining in Montreal, beaching it in Nassau, drinking rum in Puerto Rico, beer tasting in Chicago or exploring Europe from a culinary perspective. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
During your food adventure, you may be learning how rum is made, trying a unique specialty cocktail or favorite local dish or sampling tasty bites from one of many categories (pizza, chocolate). Most are walking tours where you spend 15-30 minutes in each location enjoying the specialties of the house and learning about the chef, dish or restaurant’s history. What you will leave the experience with is an understanding of the theme of the tour from those who understand it best.
Some statistics that were shared at the conference really had me looking at the food tourism industry from a new perspective. Did you know that $201 billion* was spent by tourists in 2012 in the U.S. on food tourism and services? Or that $100,000** per minute is spent on food and drink in the U.S.? With the rise of celebrity chefs, cooking shows, channels and networks, a multi-cultural consumer, the desire to experience dining out, food bloggers and influencers, and overall interest in the foods we are eating, the fascination with culinary tours makes total sense.
Throughout the conference, we had the opportunity to listen to food tour company owners describe their stories, markets, and opportunities to show locals another side to their hometown and to welcome tourists to their community.
We even heard from James Beard winner, Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate Restaurant in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, talk about the effects of culinary tourism on local establishments. From a restaurant’s perspective, she sees food tours as a way to “celebrate the community we are in”.
The beauty of this conference was how supportive everyone was to each other sharing their tips, tricks, contacts and suggestions. There were experienced food tour company leaders who shared how they launched their business, determined what types of tours to offer, how to find the best candidates for roles as tour guides, how to deal with competition, marketing and business development efforts, challenges when potential partners (ie. restaurants) aren’t quite able to see the benefit of participating in food tours, thoughts on the future of the industry, how food is seen around the world and creative ways to get your brand out to the marketplace using mobile technology.
For anyone interested in starting their own culinary tour business or looking for support, the best place to begin is Food Tour Pros. Their expertise is extensive and well-designed courses offer guidance to assist you in building the foundation for your company. They can be reached here. In the end, anyone who enjoys the culinary space whether local or while on vacation, should be signing up to take food tours. It is an experience that is not only educational and delicious, but fun! To learn more about the wealth of food tour companies that participated in the Global Food Tourism Conference, you will find contact information and food tour websites here. You can also check the local tourism bureau or Trip Advisor website for more information on locations of interest to you. The very first statement I heard at the conference is the one I will end with: “Food tours feed your mind as much as your bellies”. So true.
Have you ever taken a food tour? I would love to hear all about it.
Thanks for stopping by!
*Source: Skift and Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance
**Source: World Food Travel Association