Want to give your attendees a real taste of the city they're visitng? Skip the banquet halls and book a culinary tour.
“The beauty of a food tour is you have to eat anyway,” says Bonnie Todd, owner of Off the Eaten Track food tours in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. “With a food tour, you also get a walking tour, with history and a glimpse of the city’s story. You don’t have to be a foodie to like a food tour.”
Eating Your Way through Portland
Angie Johnson and her husband started Eat Adventures food tours in Portland six years ago. They now offer four regular tours: two walking and two driving. “We’re the only company in Portland offering driving tours,” Johnson says. They are also happy to work with planners on a hybrid tour that includes elements of each.
The driving tours take guests to Portland’s famed food carts, as well as to some of the city’s finest restaurants, wineries, breweries and distilleries. The tour will also take you out of the typical tourist areas and expose you to Portland’s art scene.
You can even venture well out of Portland with custom group tours to Mount Hood, the Willamette Valley or the Oregon coast. With a little advance notice, Eat Adventures can customize just about any experience you want to provide.
Johnson says Eat Adventures can accommodate groups ranging from four to more than 100. “Anything 30 and above we split up and have buses going simultaneously, but not to the same stops at the same time,” she says. The groups can then meet up at a larger venue—such as a food truck pod—at the end of the tour. Eat Adventures can also reserve one of the larger food truck pods exclusively for your group.
Every tour includes a knowledgeable guide and a chance to meet the chefs.
Eating Your Way through Alaska
Alaska Farm Tours, just outside of Anchorage, offers guests a chance to not only sample local cuisine, but to see where it’s grown. “Touch an Alaskan pea out in the field, then eat it in a delicious salad,” says founder Margaret Adsit. “Visit beet fields, then have the chance to experience [the beets] in a local brew.”
Adsit founded Alaska Farm Tours three years ago after working with the Alaska Farmland Trust. “While working there, I interfaced with a lot of people outside of the state,” she says. “I quickly realized that folks didn’t have a firm grasp on how the food system worked in Alaska, from field to fork.”
Giving guests an insight into the local food system “will deepen their understanding of being Alaskan,” Adsit says.
Alaska Farm Tours can typically accommodate groups from three to 53 people, but can go up to 75 with a month’s notice. The tours, which offer food and/or brew components, run from four to five hours.
Eating Your Way through Vancouver
In Vancouver, Off the Eaten Track will get your guests out of the tourist areas and into neighborhoods favored by locals. Owner Bonnie Todd says she learned from her own travel experience that sometimes you have to get out of the major tourist hubs to find the best meals. “Some of the most exciting and interesting food isn’t in the tourist center,” she says. “A young chef can’t afford that.” By visiting the more authentic neighborhoods, says Todd, “You get to see a side [of a city] most tourists never see.”
Off the Eaten Track’s historic Railtown tour has been awarded a “Signature Experience” designation by the Canadian Tourism Commission. The tour starts in Railtown and offers a glimpse of some of the oldest homes in Vancouver.
Off the Eaten Track guides are fluent in multiple languages, and tour organizers can accommodate a variety of health or allergy concerns. What you won’t find is a tour guide with a microphone. “Our tours are very personal, very small,” Todd says. Larger groups are split up so as not to overwhelm the restaurants.
The company also offers a summer-season gourmet pizza and ice cream tour, and, out of Victoria, a tour called “Eat Like a Canadian,” which includes maple syrup sampling along with poutine and beavertails. (Don’t worry, they aren’t the slapping ends of cute, furry animals. They are deep-fried pastries.)
Eating Your Way through Seattle
Founded 11 years ago, Savor Seattle is one of the oldest culinary tours in North America. “We use food as the vehicle to share the story of our community and why this place right now is such a unique culinary experience,” says Terry Rice, managing director.
Rice says Savor Seattle can accommodate groups of up to 300 guests, but staggers start times or locations for that size. “We go to some of the most iconic and oldest food purveyors in the city,” he says. “We always try to be conscious of our footprint.”
One of Savor Seattle’s most popular tours is the Pike Place Market Tour, which gives guests not just a sampling of the food prepared there, but an insider’s look at the community that makes up the market.
Pike Place Market hosts millions of visitors annually, but most of them never see beyond the main walkway. “Underneath that hustle and bustle is a very vibrant community,” Rice says. “We do our very best to bring that to life.”
Savor Seattle also offers self-guided “passport” tours online. The winery passport, Rice notes, comes with a Lyft credit, so you needn’t worry about getting yourself home after sampling.
Eating Your Way through Boise
If Savor Seattle is one of the most established food tours, Indulge Boise is one of the newest. It’s only 2 years old. “Culinary tourism is exploding around the world,” says founder Angela Taylor. As a native Idahoan, Taylor started Indulge Boise to help expose guests to all that her home state has to offer. “I wanted to tell the story that we’re not Iowa,” she says. “Not all of us who live here live on farms.”
Taylor says Indulge Boise can handle groups of 100 or more. “We have the capability of curating experiences regardless of size.” For a larger group, “we break them into groups, then have one final destination where they can all get back together.”
Basque cuisine is a significant part of most Indulge Boise tours, given the city’s sizable Basque population. “But we also have everything from Asian fusion to bacon. In fact, we have a restaurant called ‘Bacon,’” Taylor says. “You can guess what it serves.” And of course, the Idaho potato, in all its glory, can be as big a part of your tour as you’d like. “Boise has an eclectic food scene,” she says. “There is a lot of variety.”