Food, Restaurants, Travel, Travel Tips

Avoiding Tourist Traps

It’s not. I promise.

I mean, we didn’t eat there, so I guess we don’t really know for sure that it’s not the best restaurant in Rome…

But this place screams tourist-trap.

It can be easy to get sucked in to these places when you’re traveling in a new country and you don’t know the language. We know, because even though we are fairly seasoned travelers, we ended up at a touristy-place.

Let’s set the scene: it’s our second day in Rome, and it has been raining all morning, causing us to completely miss the first part of our planned day.

“What time is our Borghese Gallery reservation?” I asked Michael, who had made the reservations a few weeks prior [side note – reservations are essential].

“The time slot is from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m.” he replied.

“Wait – but what about lunch?”

“We’ll eat beforehand!”

“No we won’t! I’m not eating at noon, and I’m definitely not eating a rushed lunch. We’ll just have to find something to eat afterward,” I insisted, the Italian way of life already starting to settle in.

We visited the gallery, which was incredibly beautiful. We concluded our visit around 2:20 p.m., and used the wifi to find a decent-looking restaurant. In Italy, most lunch places are open until 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. at the latest. We knew we needed to find someplace quick. A quick search pointed us toward two possibilities, and we mapped a route between them in case one didn’t pan out.

The first restaurant looked amazing. But the chairs were already stacked; clearly lunch had ended.

Okay, on to the next one!

We walked toward the second restaurant, the three o’clock hour approaching.

“Wait, I think that’s it there on the right,” I said, slowing my pace.

“Table for two?!” a woman shrieked at us from the doorway.

“We’re just looking at the menu,” I tried to say, knowing that I would rather eat a grab-and-go meal from the nearest supermarket than eat at a restaurant where they were so desperate for diners they had to resort to luring tourists off of the street.

But before I could get the words out, Michael had already said “Yes, please!” and followed her inside. We’d passed the point of no-return. This was it. One of our limited opportunities for meals in Italy, wasted.

I glared at him after we were seated. “We weren’t going to eat here,” I said, arms folded.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “Isn’t this the place you found online?”

“Yes, but I wasn’t really sure about it. We were going to look at the menu outside, remember? We always look at the menu posted outside.”

“I’m sorry, do you want to go?”

“How can we go? No, we’re just going to eat here. And order only one course. And don’t take anything extra that you didn’t order – they are just going to charge you for it.” I warned, gritting my teeth for what was to come.

How bad was it? Honestly, not awful, but about as good as the boxed pasta and sauce from a jar that we ate through poorer college years. Items we didn’t order kept trying to make their way onto our table, but we declined each with a “non, grazie,” except for the bread which came out lightning-fast and added €4 on to the bill. We overheard the only other patrons in the restaurant talking about the additions to their bill as they determined the length of time they needed to make it back to their tour bus.

We paid and left, no longer hungry, though unsatisfied.

“We should write a blog post about restaurant red flags,” I said, footsteps out the door.

So here we are.

In addition to desperate-servers, restaurant red flags include:

Menus with pictures (unless you need one, of course)
Any buffet. Period.
Places with the stickers (some of these are nine years old!)
Menus translated into lots of languages

Think about the atmosphere of your favorite restaurants in your hometown; a lot of the time these favorite haunts don’t need special advertising or gimmicks to draw you in. These are the types of places you should be seeking out when you travel.

Have you ever experience a bad, tourist-trap meal? What warning signs were there?