Avoiding the “tourist trap” stigma


Last week, I got a flyer in the mail from a new pizza place. The flyer was fairly well-designed, and tried to convey that the restaurant was authentic, locally-owned, and not touristy. That last point seemed especially important, since virtually every Chicago pizza place is a big time tourist trap, and a restaurant catering to locals would be attractive to those of us who do our best to avoid touristy venues.

However, there was one problem with the new restaurant’s proclamation that they aren’t a tourist trap. In particular, they’re located in a tourist-heavy part of town, just north of the Chicago river and west of Michigan Avenue. While the neighborhood might not be the number one zipcode for tourist action, it’s definitely top five in the area. And that attribute puts their location at odds with their marketing communications.

What’s the problem here? In short, it’s nearly impossible to put a restaurant in a location that’s thick with tourists and have it turn into anything but a tourist trap. Especially during the warmer months, tourists are all over the city, and they’re naturally going to wander into places that are near hotels and stores. And when those tourists make up a significant portion of your customers, you’ve basically become a tourist trap, whether you intended to be one or not.

The moral of the story is simple: while it’s great to have a clear idea of what your business is (or isn’t) about, be sure you keep those core principles in mind during the early going. Otherwise, you may find that your physical location, business name, or other decisions that are virtually impossible to undo will end up working against you from the moment that you open your doors.