It’s Not a Meal, It’s a Memory

It’s Not a Meal, It’s a Memory

Think about any “tourist trap” restaurant. Now that you’ve got that image in your mind’s eye, it’s probably not far from a major monument or attraction, right? The menu is in multiple languages, possibly even with photos, high prices, rude waiters and mediocre food? We’ve all had that experience, and it’s not exactly something to write home about. As hospitality industry professionals, perhaps we tend to notice more these kinds of subpar experiences. While some hospitality professionals have superhuman powers that enable them to see around corners and intuit which culinary experiences will be fantastic or poor, most of us are not so lucky. It’s the same with visitors to your destination or business. Unfortunately, when visitors choose a restaurant, a destination, or a culinary activity, their knowledge of their proposed experience is limited to what they have heard or read.

Standardizing the high quality of the experience, whether it be a restaurant meal, a cooking class, a visit to a gourmet retail store, a food tour or anything else, should be the goal, but it is not always easy for a small business to deliver that kind of consistency. That is something at which chain businesses excel. Smaller food and drink businesses tend to be the lure that gets visitors to a destination in the first place. They have the charm, the quality and the experience that get visitors talking. Unfortunately however, one off night or one unhappy tour guide and the experience is tainted, often irreparably.

Literally all visitors to a destination eat, no matter if they come as tourists, to visit friends and relatives, or for a meeting/convention. Eating and drinking involve all five human senses and because of that, tend to make a longer lasting impression on visitors and customers than any other experience they might have. We appreciate beautiful stained glass in a cathedral and we add our voices to the roar of football fans as the winning goal is made, but those memories eventually fade for the most part. Memories of food and drink stay with us literally forever, and as an added bonus, foster strong word-of-mouth promotion. Destination marketers and business owners alike can let visitors return home with memories of chain hamburgers and coffee, or they can make a powerful impression with local food and drink specialties. Food and drink tourism is a powerful tool for economic development that can surge visitor numbers, create jobs and increase tax revenue.

If not for consistency, then striving for excellence is something most food and drink tourism businesses should be doing, and many are. A visit to the London Borough Market is a fantastic experience, with sights, sounds and smells, which create memories that the visitors will take home with them. Adding to the lure of the Borough Market experience is the fact that it is in a historic venue, operating in the same place, in some form or another, since the 13th century. The market is run by a board of volunteer trustees, who understand the historic and cultural significance of the Market, and ensure that visitors there continue to have an outstanding experience year after year. Signage is ample and if £7 cupcakes are not in your budget this visit, something equally as interesting surely will be.

Another example of an excellent visitor experience can be found in Gwanju, South Korea, which is known as the home of kimchi. There you will find countless venues that do a great job of teaching foreigners (and locals too) how to make various kinds of kimchi. To add to the experience, there is also Kimchi Town, as well as the Gwanju Kimchi Museum. True kimchi aficionados should be sure to attend the Gwanju World Kimchi Festival in late October every year. From start to finish, the city of Gwanju really knows how to put is best foot – or perhaps fork – forward. The experience is first class. If kimchi is your thing, Gwanju is a must.

Assessing your visitors’ or customers’ experiences is vital to knowing where you stand, and whether any changes might be indicated about the visitor or customer experience. That could include the usability of your website, what you say (or don’t say) on your menu, your booking process, how easy it is to find parking, and so on. If someone has a bad experience, even if they liked the food, they will share it with everyone they know. Their opinion could be posted on social media outlets literally around the world before they even leave your establishment. That could be great for your destination or business, or a disaster.

It has been said by many that tourism professionals are in the business of selling memories. Those memories come from experiences – either positive or negative. Review websites have their own pros and cons, and consumers can get lost in them for hours, often without being able to make any clear decision. It really boils down to, would you go back? Do you feel good enough about the experience you had at a business or in a destination, that you would want to go back? Would you recommend it to friends? Or perhaps you would answer “maybe” if one crucial part of the experience was improved?

Many business owners or destinations should strive for repeat business. Would a visitor go back, and bring a fresh injection of cash with him on his return? That is the goal in economic development, viz. to infuse cash from outside into the community in order to grow the economy. There is a lot of competition among destinations for food travelers, and within destinations, there is often a lot of competition of things to do and places to eat. There is no place for mediocrity in a foodie’s world. Every encounter with a visitor is an opportunity to boast about your destination or business by putting your best foot (or fork) forward. So what are you doing to ensure a great experience for, and encourage repeat by business by, food and drink lovers?

Learn more how to leverage food and drink as drivers for economic development. World Food Travel Association Executive Director Erik Wolf will be delivering two sessions about food and drink tourism on November 3 at ExCel. Details at

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Erik Wolf is the visionary founder of the world’s food tourism industry and of the World Food Travel Association. He is a highly-sought speaker, thought leader, strategist and consultant, in the US and abroad, on food and drink tourism issues, and is considered the go-to food tourism industry resource for media outlets that include CNN, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, NBC, Forbes,, Huffington Post, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and many more. Erik has consulted to leading global brands that have included American Express, Disney, Marriott and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. He also regularly advises cities, regions and countries, and organizations such as UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network gastronomy program and the UNWTO’s Gastronomy Network. His articles, research and books have been translated into dozens of languages.

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