When I tell people I work as a food tour guide, they think that I just walk around eating at some of the best restaurants in the city with a bunch of tourists. That’s not entirely true.
While I do walk around between some of the best restaurants in the city, I’m not eating there. I’m guiding a group of people — some tourists, some locals — around, explaining the history of the neighborhood and city through the lens of food.
Being a food tour guide is a great way to interact with visitors and locals all while showing off your city. Here are some things to know before jumping in:
1. Be prepared to work nights, weekends, and summers.
Tours happen all week long, but the most popular times are on the weekend or weekday evenings — when people are free. If you’re looking to have all of your weekends off, this might not be the best fit for you. There is, however, a silver lining to working weekends. Because the fullest tours are on Saturday and Sunday, these days will also get you the biggest tips.
Summertime is a busy time for tourists to visit the Bay, so it might be hard to get away if you have big summer plans yourself. Private tours (that companies or big groups take for outings) sometimes run at odd hours during the week.
2. Familiarize yourself with the Bay Area food scene.
If you love eating out in the Bay, you already have a great place to start from. Familiarize yourself with lists like Eater’s Essential 38 Restaurants in San Francisco, Thrillist’s choice of best places to eat, and 7 x 7’s yearly roundup of the best places to eat in Oakland. It’s good to have these places on your radar because tourists may ask about them.
Even if you haven’t gotten around to the full list of the best 100 restaurants of the year, familiarizing yourself with the list will definitely give you a competitive edge in the hiring process.
3. Go on a tour (and do some research)
A lot of companies will have you shadow a tour during your interviewing process, but it’s helpful to have been on a food tour (or any tour) beforehand so you have some idea of what to expect.
Take note of what the tour guide does: how he or she delivers information, the length, the story that carries the tour, and what kinds of stops are made. Also, notice how the tour guide responds to information (and feel free to ask lots of questions!).
4. Memorize scripts and navigate sticky situations.
The company will have a pre-chosen route, restaurant partners, and facts for you to share. You will definitely put your own spin on the tour, but it’s important to be able to memorize a script so that you appear knowledgeable (because you will be!).
Off script, you’ll have to deal with earliness or lateness of guests, allergies, food preferences, restaurants closing without warning, and a slew of other issues you won’t be able to predict. Before diving into this work, it’s important to be honest with yourself about how you handle curveballs, because there will be a lot of them.
Edible Excursions | Photo Credit: Edible Baja Arizona
5. Find a job!
You could start your own company, but there are a lot of great established ones in the Bay to start. Here are some places to find food tour guide jobs:
Avital Tours seeks quirky tour guides who love food in San Francisco. The company has all prospective guides make a video of themselves giving a tour of their fridge.
Edible Excursions takes foodies through San Francisco’s famous Ferry Building Marketplace, culturally diverse Mission District, historic Japantown, and downtown's craft cocktail bar scene.
Local Food Adventures has five different tours, including a 3 hour Grand Lake Cultural Cuisine Food Tour, which was just named the "How to Go" activity in Oakland by National Geographic Magazine!
- Green Dream Tours gives wine tours from San Francisco to Sonoma & Napa.