Establishing a successful food tour is like preparing Thanksgiving dinner: There’s thousands of ways to put your own unique twist on every dish, but skip the fundamental ingredients, and things might not come together the way you envisioned. Whether launching a new business or looking for more ways to improve the customer experience, sink your teeth into these eight best practices for running a successful epicurean excursion.
1. Work With The Visitor's Bureau And/Or Local Community Organizations
Partnering with a local community organization can help accelerate growth, build beneficial connections, inspire new offerings and amplify visibility for your business.
Walks of New York is one example of a company directly benefitting from its membership with NYC & Company—the official destination marketing organization for New York’s five boroughs. Stephen Oddo, Walks of New York co-founder, says his business is promoted through NYC & Company’s online and offline publications that reach millions annually, along with the organization’s website, visitor guides, maps and materials distributed directly to travel and meeting planners.
Over on the West Coast, no one could agree more than President Donald Contursi of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours in Las Vegas. To say Contursi understands the value of partnerships would be an understatement: He's on the Board of Directors for the Las Vegas Hospitality Association; a corporate sponsor for the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association; and an affiliate member of the National Concierge Association.
“Las Vegas has a lot of really amazing restaurants and most people don’t realize they can experience four or five of those restaurants all in one night,” he explains. “It’s about getting the word out there, and there’s a lot of different organizations that will help you do so. I try to get involved with all of them.”
Jumpstart your own success story: Research membership requirements with local groups such as the visitor’s bureau, economic development corporation, chamber of commerce, cultural society or downtown business association. Start by visiting your city’s website to get a feel for what types of resources are available to local business owners.
2. Mind Your Marketing
Dining is as much a visual experience as it is savory: You wouldn’t put a beautiful batch of mocha cupcakes with espresso buttercream frosting in a dark cupboard where no one will be tempted to buy them. Tractor beam potential customers like kids to a bakery case by allocating a portion of your operating budget for Internet marketing.
Along with online sales distribution channels, Walk of New York focuses most of its marketing efforts on Social Media Marketing (SMM), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and YouTube. Offline, their primary focus is on word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM), attending conventions for hospitality professionals and travel agents. Working with a digital marketing firm to design a strategy that includes the aforementioned solutions will help create a digital footprint that boosts your search rank and bottom line.
Being proactive with outreach and attending industry events is also key. In addition to inviting hotel concierges, members of the media and event planners on complimentary tours, Contursi stays connected with organizations that promote the city, such as the Las Vegas Convention & Visitor’s Authority.
3. Create An Authentic Experience
A generic corndog isn’t going to whet the appetite of a gourmand, and neither will a culinary tour that feels cookie-cutter. Designing an authentic experience will delight foodies seeking something truly unique, and also generate word-of-mouth marketing as satisfied customers happily recommend you to their foodie friends.
When Walks of New York was designing its Authentic Italian Greenwich Village Food Tour & Tastings, the company set its sights on securing a partnership with celebrity chef Mario Batali because they liked his philosophies and felt he was well-connected to the community. The tour features two of Batali’s restaurants in Greenwich Village, a district rooted in Italian-American history and a staple of New York's food industry. Teaming up with a local chef connected to the city, its culture and its food was important, Oddo tells us.
For Contursi, it’s a matter of balance. People want to try something different and learn new things, but that doesn’t mean the experience needs to be too out-of-the-box.
“We don’t want to have a food challenge or be too extreme, but we don’t want to provide pizza that anyone could have found on their own, either,” he explains. “It needs to be well-rounded."
It’s also important to “elevate” the experience at each venue by treating guests to something special and exclusive—whether it’s a VIP dining experience or a private audience with the chef.
“We want to have something that’s unique and provide an experience the guests wouldn’t be able to put together on their own, so that means elevating the experience at each venue they visit,” Contursi says.
4. From Parties Of Two, To Groups Of 20—Be Consistent
Delivering a stellar experience that exceeds expectations should be the benchmark for every single tour, no matter the number of guests. Business doesn’t get off the ground in large groups, Contursi reminds. Starting small and “delivering the product the same way it should be each and every time” is how you grow.
“Even if it’s only two people you have booked for the tour, don’t cancel,” he advises. “Show those two people an amazing time, and they’ll go and tell 10 more people about it.”
5. What To Look For In A Guide
When exploring a new area, no statement is more compelling to out-of-towners than “this is where the locals go.” At Walks of New York, local guides are handpicked for their expertise and passion, guaranteeing guests an insider's view of the Big Apple.
Leverage the power of firsthand knowledge by hiring guides with (1) strong ties to the neighborhoods and cultures featured on different tours, (2) a palpable enthusiasm for celebrating the city and it's culinary scene, and (3) a talent for articulating the story, context and history behind every dish.
Having a background in the food and beverage industry is just one component for Contursi. The ideal guide can provide guests with a healthy helping of local insight on other tours, activities, an additional restaurants to try while visiting the area.
6. Hit The Sweet Spot For Duration: 2.5-3 Hours
The typical duration for most food tours is 2.5-3 hours long. This leaves enough time for customers to enjoy two to four experiences, whether walking to multiple venues or experiencing a series of pairings and tastings.
“We don’t want it to be too short where they feel like they’re longing for more, but not stretched out for too long where they’re exhausted,” Contursi notes.
7. Pay Attention To Customer Reviews
We can’t stress it enough: Paying attention to online reviews is worth your time. It shows you're an engaged business. It's an opportunity to build one-on-one relationships with guests. It presents ideas for how to improve or adapt based on popular demand. And perhaps most importantly, it helps customers feel like they've been heard and understood.
8. Use An Online Booking System
Having an online booking system like ZOZI Advance can significantly streamline the reservation process and save you from being glued to the phone all day. Some benefits for food tour operators include...
* Customize questions for the checkout flow: Improve and personalize the overall experience by having your customers answer a few questions during the booking process. Ask about meal preferences, allergies, favorite flavors, etc.
* Automate emails: Build and customize emails to contain essential tour details, such as when and where to meet, how to get there, what to wear, etc. This helps make expectations clear and increase overall customer satisfaction and retention.
* Ask for a review: Customize automated review emails sent after the tour. Make it easy for customers to provide feedback by embedding links to Yelp or Trip Advisor directly in the email.
* Sell and manage gift cards: Increase revenue during the holidays and throughout the year.
* Easily manage and redeem vouchers: Allow customers to redeem vouchers (like Groupon or Living Social) through the checkout flow. This saves staff’s time while providing an improved checkout process for first-time and returning customers.
* Save time & maximize revenue with group discounting: Easily create and manage group discounting.
* Share manifest reports: Help your tour guides stay prepared with rosters containing all the important booking details and key information (add-ons, preferences, contact info, etc.) to tailor the customer experience. Tour guides can access these rosters anytime, anywhere from their mobile phones.
Whether you specialize in rustic food & farm tours that educate guests on sustainable agriculture and artisan food production, or operate hundreds of eclectic culinary events and experiences across the country, these basic ingredients can help your tour rise to the top of the food chain. Bon Appétit!
Learn how food and culinary tour operators can leverage an online booking system to personalize and improve the overall customer experience: