No fast food on road trips. This was the rule my husband swore by during his college adventures. It is a novel concept which is easily thrown to the wind when traveling with children. I admit, McDonald’s pancakes can feel like an absolute godsend when dealing with the other pressures of a family getaway.
Below are five tips for making dinner a rewarding part of your travels. So, sit back and enjoy that Starbucks morning coffee. Don’t feel guilty about stopping at Subway for a quick cheap lunch and make a commitment to eat local for dinner each night.
This year I was blessed with two awesome traveling opportunities. I was able to visit New York City and Sevierville Tennessee. Both yielded amazing culinary experiences. You can get a lot more than good food out of your dining experience by following a few simple tips. Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Do the old fashion thing, ask real people.
Get restaurant recommendations. You can do your research online before you travel, but keep your list open.
The best recommendations come from one-to-one conversations. Start by talking with the hotel concierge, ask the Starbucks barista, get a suggestion from the local employee as you check out at the gift shop…
Simply say, “We are visiting from out of town and are looking for the best local place for dinner. What do you recommend?”
My parents used to say, “Never judge a restaurant by it’s décor, but rather by the number of cars in the parking lot.” Keep this in mind as you follow through with your local recommendations.
2. Get an experimental entree.
We always tell our children, “Try it, you might like it.” Yet, as adults I think we often stay within our comfort zone when it comes to food. Take this opportunity to show your children you too are open minded to trying new things.
Ask your waitress, “What is the most popular thing on the menu? Then (take a deep breath) order the recommendation.
If it is something truly outside of comfort zone consider getting the meal as an appetizer for the family so everyone can try it. Another option is to strike a deal with your spouse. Agree to share the risky entree, but also share something very safe you know you’ll both enjoy.
3. Ask for the story.
The best part about eating at a local joint is there is always a story. You can learn a lot about an area, the culture and the community by listening first hand to their stories.
A few questions to get you started:
- How long has this place been around?
- Was it always been [insert name]?
- What’s the deal with [insert point of interest]?
4. Ask if the owner is around.
If you truly enjoyed your meal take it to the next level and ask if the owner happens to be there.
People often have a tendency to only ask for a manager or owner to complain. Sharing a compliment will, I guarantee, bring a smile to their faces.
This allows you to open the door to learn more about the area. Start the exchange by saying, “The waitress mentioned that…” and let them carry the conversation. This is an awesome way for your kids to learn about being a gracious guest.
5. Take the adventure home with you.
Learn from your experiences. If you try an amazing entree don’t hesitate to ask, “What is in this?” and attempt to look up a recipe or technique online. If you love one of the local customs or traditions, bring it back to your dinner table! Or simply bring a bottle of local wine home (photo above).
I’d love to pull together a list of your local favorites. Please take a moment to share your favorite local restaurant in the comments below. Please share your state and the nearest metropolitan area as well.
Photo Credits: Thank you to Jill Krause for the two images of The Diner, as well as, the group lunch photograph.
The good folk of Sevierville, Tennessee invite me and a few other bloggers down to check out their city. They were gracious host, all travel and activities expenses were covered by the Chamber of Commerce. As always, I am honored to share my adventures with you.
Stay tuned for more updates!