THE FOOD TOUR PHENOMENON
The concept of the Food Tour is a recent phenomenon that is spreading all over the world. From lesser known villages to famous large metropolises, Food Tours are one of most popular activities to do when visiting a new city or country, and London is no exception to this Food Tour craze.
With all of the choice out there – how can you find the Best London food tours? As a Tour Guide, who has been working in the Food Tourism industry since 2008, I will try to give you some of my own insider tips to finding good tours versus the fake ones, because whether you’re a foodie or not… there’s nothing worse than paying for a bad Food experience!
FINDING THE BEST LONDON FOOD TOURS
As a massive foodie, I love the idea of doing food tours when I visit new cities. I can’t think of a better way to learn about a local culture than through their local foods. However, just like trying to choose a restaurant, sometimes it’s not easy to tell which company has a heart and which one is just in it to take advantage of you. Having worked as a tour guide for many years, and I have worked with companies that truly had passion for their clients and their business and other companies that didn’t.
I’ve put together a list of things I recommend to take into consideration when choosing a tour. Hopefully they will help you find the BEST London food tours and anywhere else you may go:
The best-quality London Food Tours are run by locals – not a company that has tours in 10 other cities around the world. Small is everything with culinary tours. I always like to read the profiles of how people got started. This makes a big difference when it comes to their local knowledge and personal touch, as opposed to running it like a mechanical, rehearsed script. Many people would be really surprised to know that some of the more popular and “professional-looking” food tour companies may not be the BEST option. Quite a few of them aren’t even run by people that live in the city where they are running the tour. I know it might not seem like there’s a big difference between doing tours with big companies or local, small businesses, but it really comes down to the authenticity of your tour. A big company isn’t going to do the work to find out what local culture is all about. They will pick cliché foods that they think tourists will want to try in that city – and even if they seem super authentic, that makes a huge difference. It’s like choosing between a corporate food chain that has pre-packaged portions and set menus and no creativity and that little, family-run restaurant on the corner that will take care of you in their own special way. I’ve witnessed this first-hand, when used to work for a food tour company that made me memorise a 4-hour script in order to do their tours. I had to recite it to the clients during the tour instead of allowing me to be myself. I made it look extremely natural, so most clients didn’t know, but this is what goes on behind the scenes with companies that don’t have heart behind what they do.
2. DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER:
The best London Food Tours aren’t necessarily always going to be found with the most aesthetically pleasing website. Remember that most small businesses don’t have the same kind of budget that big companies have. This means that there websites might not be the best in the world and they might still be learning a thing or two about social media and user-friendly websites, but that doesn’t always reflect how good their tour is. Websites are a work in progress and cost a great deal of money and time for these companies.. and if they spend more time doing tours and making their tours amazing, then their website might not be as good. So don’t always judge a tour by the website.
3. TOP RANKINGS IN GOOGLE DON’T GUARANTEE TOP QUALITY TOURS:
Being found at the top of the list on Google doesn’t have much to do with the quality of the tour – it just means that the Food Tour company had more money to invest in their advertising. More times than not, the companies that can afford these kinds of services are not the authentic, local companies – run by people that created a tour because of their passion to teach people about their local food and culture. It means it is run by a larger organisation that is more focused on getting a higher return for their investment. The same goes for TripAdvisor… I can’t deny that they do have some useful information, but when I look for authentic restaurants with a heart, it’s not always easy to rely on their content. For as much as you hate to hear it, many companies find ways to get people to write reviews. I used to work for one company that paid the tour guide a nice bonus if they had 15 5-star reviews a month. So the tour guides would get their friends and family members and anyone they knew, to write reviews so they could get a bonus… And even though TripAdvisor says they have strict controls for this, I can look at that company’s profile and see more than 1000 reviews – and they were definitely not from real clients.
4. NEW FOODS = NEW FRONTIERS:
When I used to work in Italy as a Food Tour Guide, I used to get a lot of people on the tours that had come to Italy just to eat Pizza or just to eat Pasta.. those are great options, but they aren’t the only thing Italy has to offer. I’ve found the same thing in London. Many people don’t even know what London has to offer, so they just play it safe and stick to things like Fish & Chips or Steak pies. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with either one of those dishes, but there is so much more out there. Many of the commercial food tours will give you what they think you want…I personally think that they best tours are tours that push the boundaries a little bit.. and they don’t give you what YOU THINK you want.. they give you what the LOCALS think is the best. Be open when choosing a food tour and not only will you taste interesting foods, but you will also learn something!
5. “HOW” TO TASTE IS FUNDAMENTAL:
Ok, I have to admit that I have a slight advantage in creating a menu for food. As a certified sommelier, I have studied that importance of putting together flavours and not making the mistake to put things out of order. HOW you taste things makes a HUGE difference when it comes to what you can get out of those flavours. I designed the Soho International Food Tour as I would have designed a wine tasting… lighter flavours first, then medium, and finishing with bold flavours and finally dessert. It might not seem very significant, but I have a great example of just how important it is. A commercial food tour company decided to copy the majority of the stops for one of the tours I designed and since they have no experience in putting together flavours, they don’t know how much it impacts the experience of the taster. On one occasion, while I was doing a tour, I had a woman tell me that she had actually gone on this commercial company’s tour the evening before and had already sampled the tasting we were about to have – but didn’t really like it, so she was ok to skip that tasting. I told her that she should try it again – just to try it. And she did, and was completely blown away that it tasted completely different than when she had had it the previous night on the other tour. She couldn’t figure it out – but I knew straight away. She was tasting it with us while her pallet was still relatively untouched (as it was our second tasting) so she got to really taste it for what it was. It just proved to me once again how experience in flavours goes a lot farther than just throwing together flavours and tastes like many of the larger, commercial companies do.
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM A TOUR GUIDE
The amount of food tours will continue increasing alongside our massive interest in food-culture and travel. I actually know three people that have opened Food Tours after going on tours with me and have written me to ask how to do it and get tips on what makes it run more smoothly, so I think that Food Tours will increasingly be a way of the future – which means that you will have to learn how to be a savvy chooser if you want to make sure to have an authentic experience.
I hope the above tips help you to find the BEST London Food Tours. There are quite a few choices out there – and of course I am impartial to London Food Lovers Tours – because it’s run by Tour Guides who LOVE food and LOVE what they do, but I’m sure we aren’t the only ones. Whether it’s small or large company, as long as you keep in mind some of the above points, you will be able to find the BEST Food Tours – wherever you go.