Skip the Chain Restaurants When You Travel

July 25, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Years ago, when I worked for a software company, my boss and I made the drive from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a conference. I had never been to Minneapolis, and I was looking forward to the trip and visiting a new city. It was my first business travel trip for this new company.

We stayed in a hotel which was situated right near a Chili’s restaurant. I’ve never been a great fan of chain restaurants, but when I lived in a small town in northern Indiana, those were often our best options available to us.

Still, whenever I visited a big city, I went on the prowl to find some of the better local restaurants, which were always going to be better than the boil-in-a-bag fare at the big-name chains.

Not for my boss, though. Our first night, he made a beeline straight for the TGI Fridays, dragging me along with him. It was fine, if mediocre, but I figured I could put up with it for one night. The next night, I got to choose, and we tried something a little more exotic — tapas, I think.

The next night? Back to Fridays. My boss’ reason? Because it was predictable, and it tasted the same as the Fridays back home.

“That’s exactly my point,” I said. “If I want Fridays back home, I’ll get Fridays when I’m back home. We’re in a city filled with people from a whole different part of the world, and this is our chance to eat something we’ve never tried before.”

If anything, this was exactly what he did not want. My boss didn’t want new, he wanted reliable. He wanted predictable. He wanted to eat the very same thing that he had at home.

To me, this was a boring way to live, so I took the rental car and found a new place, leaving him to his decidedly un-fun food. (He even took an industry colleague to dinner, although I think that guy may have wanted to go with me.)

Leave the Tourist Areas When You Travel

Paris on Ponce & La Maison Rouge restaurant. Go to a place like this when you travel.This has always been the rule in my family whenever we travel: When we go somewhere new, we eat somewhere new. You’ll never find us in a national chain restaurant, and we won’t eat the same things we can get at home.

I used to tell my kids the same thing my dad told me when I was a kid: “I didn’t travel all this way to eat food from home.” I never understood what the big deal was until I realized what I had been missing. That’s more or less when I stopped eating in chains in general, and especially when I travel.

In Orlando, near the tourist part of town, are all kinds of restaurants geared toward the tourists. Sure, there are some chains for the less adventurous, but there are some unique and adventurous restaurants and a fun and interesting place to visit. Sure, they’re huge, designed to seat a few hundred people all at once, but they’re there for the tourists who want something new.

But if you really want good food, if you really want to find the best the city has to offer, ditch the tourist areas and find out where the locals go. Where are the trendy parts of town? Where are the cool neighborhoods? Check out Yelp and see which neighborhoods they list in their filters. Look for the best restaurants in the area, or do a search for the best restaurants that serve the food you’re interested in. Make it a rule that if you recognize the name of the restaurant, you avoid it.

Another option is, if you’re traveling in a large city, pick up their local alt-weekly — the weekly entertainment and dining newspaper that’s geared toward locals, not tourists — and read their restaurant reviews. (Most of these papers also have a website, if you can’t find a paper.)

And of course, you can do all this research online before you ever leave home. Do a Google Maps search and look for restaurants in a certain part of town, near your hotel or Airbnb, or even just a certain type of food.

If you’re traveling with a group, take turns deciding what restaurants you’re going to visit. Make sure you take any allergies and other dietary restrictions into account too (Yelp has some great filters to help you find what you need). And then avoid all the tourist traps and tourist-attracting restaurants and eat where the locals eat.

What kinds of restaurants do you like to visit when you travel? Do you prefer your favorite standbys or do you like to explore and find something new. Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Marilyn Chen (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

About 

Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

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