With food tours becoming more and more popular these days in tourist cities around the world, many people are beginning to wonder how to start a food tour business and whether or not it’s possible to make money from one.
Personally, I’ve done a few food tours in cities like Prague and Budapest, and I’ve always had a really good time on them because they offer a valuable insight into local culture while combining a typical walking tour with a more unique and memorable gastronomic experience.
Instead of just walking around between different attractions and run of the mill tourist sites, many food tours take you to restaurants, cafes, and eateries that you would have otherwise never had a chance to check out.
In this post I want to share with you a helpful guide on starting your own food for business and offer any support you might need for getting your business up and running as quickly and as affordably as possible.
What’s a Food Tour?
Maybe you stumbled onto this page by accident and you’re not quite sure what a food tour really is.
In any case, a food tour is where a tour guide brings travellers and tourists to some of the best places to eat and drink in a specific city.
Usually these tours run between 3 and 5 hours in length, although I have come across full day tours as well.
There can also be a specific focus on the tour where the group will visit specific types of restaurants (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc) rather than a more general itinerary.
There is even a market for things like beer tours, cafe tours, and bakery tours, so ultimately it’s up to your imagination to the style of food to her that you can provide.
Should You Start a Food Tour?
Anybody looking to break into the travel industry or make some extra money in the local area should definitely consider starting a food tour business.
It helps to be passionate about food as well as the city where the tour is being offered because passion and excitement plays an important role in getting good reviews and ensuring that your clients are having the time of their lives.
These days, there are actually so many different walking tours or excursions available, and food tours are still quite unique so it’s easier to stand out and attract customers that are very interested in local cuisine and gastronomy.
Running a food tour is also very unique and with so many restaurants in just about every popular tourist city, the options are seemingly endless with how you can customize tours.
Some of the reasons why starting a food tour might be a good idea are that they have a low barrier of entry, meaning you don’t need much cash to start up, and they offer a lot of flexibility, so if you already have a full time job you can still run one as a side hustle.
Finally, offering food tours will enable you to help out local restaurants and small businesses and this really helps to give back to the community, which continues to promote tourism in the long run.
How to Start a Food Tour Business
Before I dive right into the guide, I want to share with you an interesting statistic on food tourism to give you a better idea of whether or not this is a profitable venture.
Surprisingly, tourists spend more than one-third of their travel budget on food related purchases.
Not only does this include your average cafe or restaurant visit, but it also includes things like food tours.
Tourists also spend a significant amount of money on local excursions, so this goes to show visitors to new places are definitely willing to spend money on a food tour, as long as it offers a great and insightful experience.
You should also keep in mind that tourism is steadily rising all around the world and the competition for food for businesses is still very low, so it’s a great time to break into the market and start running your own business in your local area.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at how you can start your own food tour company.
Choose Your Niche
Just like when you start blogging or start any other business, the first thing you need to focus on is choosing a specific niche that you want to provide tours in.
What this means is you want to pick a certain style of restaurants or eateries that you can offer related tours for where tourists are actually going to want to visit.
There’s no point in running a food tour and bringing your guests to McDonald’s, so instead it’s a good idea to pick a few different restaurants that fall into a certain style and bring your tour group to each of them.
For this, you can also take a look at any other food tours in your area to see what they’re doing and try to differentiate yourself with a unique selling point, rather than offering the exact same service.
As your company grows, you can start to offer a wide range of tours, but when you’re first starting out it’s a good idea to stay as specific and focused as possible.
Here are some different food tour niche examples that you can consider:
- Specific neighborhood
- Local only
- Specific cuisine
It’s not a bad idea to offer a generalized tour, and this might be your best bet if you live in a small area without as many options, but for larger cities and popular tourist destinations it’s a good idea to niche down and offer something as unique as possible.
Look for a Neighborhood
The next thing you want to do, after settling on a specific niche, is to decide on a neighborhood where you will provide tours in.
When it comes to choosing the right neighborhood, try to find ones that aren’t as centrally located so that the people on your tour get a more unique experience of the city they’re visiting.
It’s important to make sure that the neighborhood that you settle on is very walkable, no one is going to want to walk miles at a time and up and down hills just to visit a few different restaurants.
The neighborhood should be enjoyable to explore and there should be other tourist attractions nearby, but you don’t want to take your guests to cheesy tourist restaurants where they could have otherwise gone to on their own.
It’s also important to find neighbourhoods that have a good selection of quality restaurants while still providing some insight into the local atmosphere and lifestyle.
Create Your Food Tour Business Plan
Rather than just setting up a website and hoping for the best, it’s a good idea to come up with a business plan so that you know exactly what you need to do to move forward.
Having a detailed business plan will lay everything out that you need to do and is the most effective way of getting your food tour business started with the least amount of problems along the way.
Make sure to check out this guide on how to write out a business plan.
Otherwise, here are some of the different questions you need to consider:
- What type of business are you planning to start?
- What services do you plan on selling?
- What is the growth potential?
- How is the business different from your competitors?
- How much money is required to start?
- Who are your potential clients or customers?
- Is the market large enough to grow your business?
- How will you price your service?
- How do you plan to compete against your competitors?
- Who is the specific audience that you’re targeting?
- What is your marketing strategy?
Get in Touch with Local Restaurants
Once you have come up with a list of the restaurants that you want to bring your guests to, after settling on a niche, you’re going to want to visit the restaurants that you want to include on your tour and speak with any managers or owners (decision makers) about your plan.
Start by introducing yourself, sharing with them what your food to a business is all about, and why you want to include their restaurant.
Restaurants will definitely benefit from being featured on a food tour so explain to the owner or manager why this is the case.
If you’re not aware, you can provide the restaurant with more online exposure through review platforms and blogs, open them up to new clients, and they also make some money because you’ll be paying for the food at their restaurant as well.
As for choosing a restaurant, you’ll have to know the local area to get a better idea of which specific restaurants and other eateries are worth visiting.
Try to avoid any tourist traps and anything that’s too generic so that your guests aren’t let down or wondering why you brought them to an Olive Garden.
Some of the metrics that you might choose a restaurant from include things like:
- Food quality
- Price point
- Ambience and vibe
- Service quality
- The specific niche/neighborhood that you’re targeting
Prepare the Tour (Staff + Equipment)
By now you should have a good idea of the different restaurants that you’re going to take your guests to as well as what your costs might be for visiting these different locations.
Preparing the tour and getting your company up and running is actually quite affordable because you really don’t need much to start a food tour business.
Basically, you probably already have a computer, and apart from that you just need to set up your website.
Setting up your website is really easy and the domain and hosting should only cost you about $5 to $15 upfront with a small recurring monthly cost.
You should also consider picking up a website theme, these usually run about $30 to $60, or you could just use a free theme if you’re on a budget.
The last thing you need to do is decide whether or not you need to hire a tour guide, although you might want to start off offering the tours on your own and expanding once you start earning some income.
Getting Your First Clients
It’s really easy to start a food tour business, but it’s a lot harder to start getting clients and begin making money.
Thankfully, this type of tour hasn’t really started to take off yet outside of popular tourist destinations, so if you’re in a small town then the marketing aspect is going to be a lot easier.
On the other hand, it’s still possible to compete against well-established competitors, even in a popular tourist city, as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
Make sure to set up your food tour business on all of the different online review websites as well as setting up your social media platforms right from the start.
One great way to get a few clients and generate some buzz about your tours is to reach out to local bloggers and offer them a tour for free.
In exchange, make sure to ask for some in-depth blog posts and social media promotion on their own channels as well as having them leave reviews for you online.
You can also use social media to reach out to people that are visiting your city in the near future and provide them with a free tour, or generous discounts, in exchange for some more exposure and reviews.
It’s also a good idea to spend time blogging regularly about your local area and this will definitely help to set you apart from the competition while allowing you to get some more interested food tour leads.
Launch Your Food Tour
Having made it this far, you should be just about ready to launch your food tour to the public.
Hopefully you’ve been able to work with some bloggers and influencers to get some reviews and online promotion, but if not then don’t worry!
The hardest part is simply getting started, and as long as you keep at it then I’m sure you’ll become successful with your tours.
Some things to keep in mind once you go live:
Your Food Tours Should be Easy to Book
Make sure that you have a booking platform setup on your website so that any potential guests can book a tour online.
It’s really easy to lose a potential customer if you have to spend all this time going back and forth with dozens of emails, so it’s a lot easier if they can book and pay online.
Have an Online Info Packet Ready
Create a quick information pack it that you can email to your customers that let’s them know some things that they should bring with them on the tour.
This can include things like:
- Cash (for tipping or public transportation)
- Walking shoes
- Bottle of water
All of Your Platforms are Set Up
This is one of the most important things that you should remember when you launch.
You definitely want to make sure that all of your social media platforms are up and running and that you are set up on the different review websites.
After each tour, send out a thank you email and gently remind your guests to leave a review for you online.
Build Relationships with Business Owners
While the majority of your food tour business is going to be focused on getting clients and offering amazing tours, you also need to spend time focusing on the relationships that you have with local restaurant owners, the local tourism board, and anyone else that you interact with on a business level.
These relationships can do a lot for your business in the long run such as providing you with future clients and giving you feedback on how you’re running your tours.
You could ask some of the individuals that you have business relationships with for advice.
Some of the questions you can ask them include things like:
- Is there any way that you can improve the food tour?
- Are you happy with our relationship so far?
- Is there anything that you think our tours could be doing differently?
- Are your staff comfortable participating with our tour groups?
Continue to Grow and Expand
Like I mentioned up above, many of the biggest tourist cities are going to have a lot of competition when it comes to food tours.
This means it’s important to always focus on growing your business and expanding into new markets so that you don’t have to rely on a single avenue for your income.
Take a look at your competition to see what they’re doing right and try to improve on what they’re offering.
Also, try to find any areas of theirs that need improvement and focus on improving your own food tour business in these areas.
To avoid getting overrun by new competition you need to always be promoting and advertising your tours, working with influencers and local bloggers, and constantly updating your blog and website with relevant information and content.
One more thing you need to be doing is getting your business included in as many tourist and tourism directories, guide books, and websites that you’re able.
That just about covers it and by now you should definitely know how to start a food tour business.
Here are a few extra things you can consider doing to grow your business and to continue to stay relevant in the future.
Try Including some Food Workshops
Something that I noticed food tour companies in cities like Budapest and Rome doing were offering food workshops as well as dedicated tours.
These workshops can include things like how to make a proper Italian pizza, how to properly bake French bread, how to brew up your own batch of beer, etc.
This is a unique selling point that you should consider adding so has its own product and as an additional experience that your guests can participate in during their trip.
Keep the Meals Small
When you’re taking your guests to different restaurants and eateries, it’s important to remember that they are going to be sharing food from just one or two plates rather than each of them getting their own meal.
This way they aren’t going to get filled up after just the first start and this allows them to try a wider range of different options rather than just one or two things.
Not only should you be bringing your guests to different restaurants to try exciting local foods, but you should also be teaching them about local history as well as the stories behind the places that you’re visiting.
It’s a good idea to go on a few practice tours by yourself to get a good feel for the distances and to also come up with somewhat of a script so that you know what to say and how to keep your guests entertained.
Make sure to brush up on local history and spend some time talking with the restaurant owners so that you can provide your guests with a little bit more insight into the places that they’re visiting.
Try Out New Things
One of my last tips is that you should always be on the lookout for new things that you can mix in with your tours to make them even more unique and memorable.
For example, I was just reading reviews about a company in my local area and one of the people said that they wished that they integrated the local bike sharing company into the tour self.
This would make it somewhat of a bike tour/food tour blend and really helps to put a unique spin on what otherwise would have been a normal walking tour.