I realise that most people think of themselves as appreciators of culinary art: but food is my first love. It’s why, in all likelihood, my coffin will have to be bespoke. I collect favoured dishes in favoured restaurants with ruthless exploration and diligent checklists. And when that rare moment of gastronomic perfection sweeps across my palate, I appropriately weep.
The last time this happened, there were layers of hazelnut praline, kumquat creme brulée, coffee bean mousse, and tempered chocolate with a side of tangerine-yellow clementine sherbet. Oh Vienna – you won my heart that dessert.
But this is never the norm.
What normally happens to tourists is that we end up in restaurants that serve the worst food imaginable. And I mean really bad and really expensive. Like the Plaka in Athens. Or the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Or the tea shops near the Museum Quarter in Vienna.
Why is that? Why is it so hard to find a good restaurant in a buzzing area? I mean – you have to think to yourself at some point “Surely we’ll find a reasonable one”.
I have news: you probably won’t.
And here is why.
The Market For Restaurants Near Tourist Attractions
Here are the key players:
The hungry, in a tourist attraction area, are mostly going to be tourists. And because tourists are on holiday, when they have to choose a restaurant, you get this:
Because a tourist has no idea whether a restaurant is good or bad beforehand, it means that they’ll be a bit more discriminatory about price (as in: “Can I look at the menu? Why is your tzatziki more expensive than that restaurant’s tzatziki? Don’t be absurd – it’s all just yogurt, cucumber, and what definitely smells like too much garlic.”)
Meaning that generally, you’ll find most places in a touristy area will be in the same price bracket. But there is a trade-off here. While good and bad restaurants will face the same pricing and rents, bad restaurants generally get to their bad food by being cheap: cheap staff, cheap ingredients, cheap decorations… So you get this sort of thing happening:
Which is not very surprising: the bad food costs less, so the bad restauranteur makes more money. This results in two things:
- Other bad restauranteurs might want to move in; but also
- (and more importantly), the landlord will start to pay attention to all this extra profit.
So the landlord does what every landlord does: he puts up the rent. And at some point, this happens:
At which point, the good restauranteur decides that all tourists are foolish, and he either starts serving cheaper, bad food – or he moves to the side-streets to cater for local repeat business. Leaving nothing but bad restaurants to fight over prime positioning.
Where Did All Of This Start?
The cycle started with the ignorant tourist. Or, in fancier terms, “asymmetric information”. On one hand, you have a customer that can’t tell the difference between good and bad restaurants; and on the other, you have suppliers that don’t really need repeat business.
Perhaps it’s why local residents dislike tourists – they arrive and suddenly, bad restaurants serving worse food proliferate.
Is There A Solution?
If you’re travelling, don’t just try a restaurant. Use an app, google for a review, try NOTHING without Zomato. Just make the asymmetry stop.
The world does not need bad restaurants.
And then everyone can find somewhere in Vienna that will win their heart with sherbet.