​12 Signs You’ve Stepped Smack Dab Into a Tourist-Trap Restaurant

iStock/Anna Bryukhanova
iStock/Anna Bryukhanova

Everyone thinks they’re a “pro” at successfully identifying a tourist-trap restaurant, and they have the Hard Rock Cafe shirts/battle scars to prove it. Don't try to slip something by them, dammit!

But tourist traps aren’t as easy to spot as you think -- that is why they’re called traps, after all. They entice you with their flashy signs, giant fruity cocktails, and bubbly waiters dressed as some sort of character. It’s all just so... alluring! And even though you know you shouldn't go in, you can't resist -- did you see the size of those frozen cocktails!?!?

Stop. Don’t take the bait, because what will result is an unsatisfying meal at a substantial markup... excluding the tip they "forgot" to tell you was already included. No, next time you’re perusing eateries in uncharted territory, look out for these 12 surefire signs you’re about to enter [cue evil music] a tourist-trap restaurant.

They're borderline begging you to eat there 

Stage-five clinger isn’t just a hilarious term from Wedding Crashers. When you’re walking by a restaurant, and a host or hostess tries to not-so-subtly coax you into the joint, it’s more than just suspect. It’s a turn-off. Not to mention, a giant red flag. There’s a reason they’re begging; neediness never makes something look appealing, and this includes your food.

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Illuminated signage and menu in the front

Anything lit up, really. But when that menu is front and center and has some sort of backlight/podium thing going on, it’s particularly telling. In other words, if the menu appears as if it’s about to be part of a commencement speech, you may not want to read/hear it.

And that menu is translated into English 

When traveling overseas, most true local eateries will maintain their authenticity, and this includes their native dialect. Don’t worry, waiters can help you with the translation... sometimes. 

Oh, and speaking of those waiters, beware of any “themed” ensemble

If you see any member of the waitstaff donning a beret of any kind, run. RUN. AWAY.

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Actual tourists are dining there 

Lots of fanny packs, visors, and camera straps? Must be a local spot, then.

It’s larger than your average restaurant 

Size often matters when spotting a food-related tourist trap. If it looks like a warehouse, and has a TON of outdoor seating with ashtrays donning some sort of beer logo, we have one acronym for you: BOLO (be on the lookout)!

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Any sort of fake plated food on display 

You know when you go to a “nice” restaurant at Disney World, and you see those plates of food on display that have been sprayed with whatever it is they spray on a Whopper to get it to look like that on TV? If the answer is yes, then we’ve made our point.

Your hotel recommended it

We’re not knocking those helpful concierges, but they often tend to steer guests towards the “popular” restaurant in the area that doubles as a tourist trap. Not their fault, really -- if you’re at a hotel, you are, in fact, a tourist.

The menu is as thick as War and Peace

Extra run-for-the-hills points if it’s laminated and is spiral-bound like your Five Star notebook from middle school. Also, food that doesn’t just hit one genre in particular, but rather covers a wide spectrum, from breakfast burritos, to deep-dish pizza, to wonton soup and beef with broccoli -- that's a telling sign. Unless this is a Cheesecake Factory, of course. Then still eat there.


Pretty much anywhere near a major landmark

Is the restaurant on Ocean Drive, steps from the Duomo, or in any piazza whatsoever? Then it probably sucks.

The restaurant is in a row with a lot of other restaurants

This goes back to the first point: the luring. These touristy restaurants tend to stick together and are often lined up in one long chain (often near a landmark), hence the begging you to choose their spot.

It doesn’t smell like heaven on Earth

There’s just something about those local haunts that double as homey kitchens; they have the ability to waft the sweet aroma of deliciousness right into the streets. A phenomenon those tourist spots cannot emulate no matter how hard they try. Likely because of, well, everything on this list.

Liz Newman is a freelance writer for Thrillist, and has been known to willingly enter a tourist trap solely for the oversized frozen drinks. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.