Starting a Food Tour Side Business

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So-called lifestyle businesses are often the path to unparalleled profits and return on income if you’re smart about how you structure them.  Food tours have become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the burgeoning “foodie” movement. If you like the idea of introducing discerning customers to unique restaurants, vineyards and breweries for a fee, a food tour business might be right for you. Here’s a simple road map for building a thriving food tour company.

Figure Out a Solid Niche

The first thing to do is settle on a specific niche that’s worth targeting. For instance, you might focus on bringing clients to specific types of establishments in your area like Mexican restaurants or street carts. You’ll also need to decide on how you’ll transport clients. Walking tours are easy and inexpensive to organize and are also quite popular with customers. You could also drive them around in a van, which gives you more options as far as the specific establishments that can be included on any given tour.

Flesh Out a Business Plan

Do a little research to see what other food tours are charging and what price level the local market will support. Think about how long your tour should be as well as how you’ll market it to potential customers. The great thing about food tours is that it’s an inherently flexible business. If your initial plans fall through, you can easily revise the formula rather quickly.

Sign Paperwork & Secure Funding

One of the biggest advantages of food tours is that you don’t have to jump through the regulatory hoops that most restaurants have to deal with. Naturally, you’ll need a business license and an EIN to establish business accounts etc. You’ll definitely need liability insurance if you’re going to be driving people around. As for funding, most food tour businesses can be launched on a shoestring budget. Just look at the example of Food Tour Corporation, which was started for just $110.

Lock In Initial Collaborators

It goes without saying that a food tour operator will need to work closely with area restaurants to ensure success. Approaching restaurant owners and pitching them your unique proposition is in many ways the toughest part of the process. You’ll need to sell them on why your food tour will increase their profits. Select restaurants that work with your food tour theme that are willing to take a chance on your plan. Brainstorm with them to come up with off-menu meal and tasting options that are worth the effort on their part.

Assemble Your Equipment & Staff

For the most part, a food tour doesn’t require the owner to buy much more than some standard office gear that they probably already have. A PC and a printer should be fine at the outset. Buying or leasing a decent van will be necessary if your tours aren’t pedestrian-based. You’ll probably need to hire tour guides as well at some point. However, you can guide your own tours during the first few months until the business starts to bring in consistent revenue.

Launch the Outfit Intelligently

Besides lining up an all-star selection of eateries to visit, making an impression right out of the gate is incredibly important for new food tours. Traditional advertising typically doesn’t achieve the results you’d expect for a business like a food tour that relies on a “cool factor” to attract clients. Make contacts with influential local food journalists and bloggers that can further your agenda via word-of-mouth promotion. Run a debut tour for free and invite any local foodies whose opinions are widely revered.

Work on Boosting B2B Synergy

As you slowly build your food tour business from the ground up, it’s important to actively work towards forging fruitful relationships. If you put together good tours, you should have local restaurant owners and producers like wineries, breweries, orchards and apiaries pursuing you. Carefully analyzing the success of your tours by hosting after-parties where you casually elicit feedback from clients is a good place to start. Keeping a close eye on local and national foodie trends will be critical to your success in this department.

Market the Business Aggressively

Eventually, you’ll need to pursue a traditional marketing campaign if you’d like to run a real business rather than pursuing a hobby. While general social media sites like Google+, Facebook and Twitter never hurt, food-focused portals like Yelp and Urban Spoon are more effective. Use viral marketing sites like YouTube and Instagram to reach a wide audience in a hurry. At the same time, use guest blogging to publicize your tours on sites that are known for reviewing local food scenes around the country.

Take It to the Next Level

The only problem with the food tour industry is that the barrier to entry is fairly low. Consequently, it’s important to remain on the lookout for new tactics that will set your food tour business apart from potential rivals. For instance, you could branch out by getting a liquor license, renting a bus and running “booze cruise” tours for connoisseurs. Staying one step ahead of the competition is tough but ultimately the only sure way to survive in the food tour game.

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