12 Tips For Eating Out Abroad And Not Being Ripped Off

In what is surely every traveller’s nightmare, four students were reportedly charged an eye-watering £965 (€1,100) for a meal in Venice consisting of steaks, mixed fried fish, mineral water and service.

The diners were so shocked that they reported the restaurant to police.

Unfortunately the ‘traveller gets ripped off’ story is not uncommon. Of course, cases where people are grossly exploited are less frequent, but it’s still not unheard of for tourists to be charged almost double for below-par food just because it’s near a major attraction.

We want your wallet to remain healthy and you to stay happy during your holiday, so here are our top tips for steering clear of expensive eateries.

Do your research before travelling

If you’re on holiday and you can’t access wifi for whatever reason, you’ll kick yourself for not preparing an itinerary beforehand. It doesn’t matter where you’re travelling to, a bit of preparation before you go will save a lot of dithering in the long-run. After all, you don’t want to spend half your holiday deciding where to eat. 

To plan an itinerary, think about the amount of days you’ll be spending away and consider where you’re going to eat your three main meals. Breakfast is often ticked off by the hotel, but lunch and evening meals should be planned – or at least give yourself a vague idea of where’s good to go.

If you’re planning on visiting certain tourist attractions on certain days, make sure your food choices reflect the areas you’ll be visiting. It’s always good to start at the busiest attraction and work away from them, so by the time you’re ready for lunch you’ll be away from the hustle and bustle, and hopefully in a part of town where you won’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy a sandwich.

Download Google Translate

If you’re going to a country where it’s likely the menu will be completely illegible to you, it’s definitely worth downloading the Google Translate app. In fact, download it even if you’re confident in your ability – you never know when it might come in handy.

Travel blogger Gilbert Ott, from God Save The Points, tells HuffPost UK: “The app translates any language in real time, even just by taking a picture of a menu. This can save a lot of hassle and hopefully, money.”

What’s more, you can download the app and use it offline (without wifi), which is every tourist’s dream.

Check sites like Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet

A lot of travellers rely on sites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet to tell them which restaurants to head to – and those to avoid like the plague.

The handy thing about Trip Advisor is that you can filter your searches, so you can see the best rated restaurants that offer the cheapest food. Keep an eye out for the ‘£’ symbol to guide you to cheaper eats. Three to four £ signs could mean wallet-emptying territory.

Look up menus online

Ott says it’s important to look up restaurant menus online before booking. “Or at the very least check the menus outside of the door,” he adds.

Checking the menu beforehand will not only save you time deliberating dishes on the night, but it will alert you to the price range of the meals you’ll be eating and any hidden charges (more on that below).

Check for hidden extras

Gary Caffell, deals and social editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, advises travellers to look hard at the menu before ordering in the restaurant.

“Look for any extra charges or taxes,” he says. “And don’t think restaurants are being kind by putting bread on the table, quite often there will be a charge for this – so make sure you tell the waiter to send it back if you don’t want to pay.”

Ask hotel staff for recommendations

Yes, having an itinerary is handy but sometimes you just can’t beat veering away from your guide. Instead, ask hotel staff or locals for their recommendations.

Fabio Passalacqua, CEO of jetcost.co.uk, says: “They are the ones who’ll know the area best and, often, they will be keen to help you see the very best their city or spot has to offer, so they can be the ideal guides. Hotel staff are often multi-lingual, if language is a problem, and will be full of knowledge that you can put to good use.”

Avoid tourist hotspots

Ott hails from New York and, as such, he knows all about being ripped off in the areas which tourists flock to. “Places such as Times Square have long been predatory to tourists, with tempting signs like ‘best pizza in New York’, but the thing people must realise is that locals do not ever go to these places and the prices are double or worse,” he says.

“There’s nothing wrong with seeing the bright lights and sights of a city’s iconic areas, but as a frequent traveller – I never eat in them. 

“In all the best cities, walking is extremely safe and wandering into local residential neighbourhoods, away from high-rise hotels is a great first step.”

Book restaurants ahead of time

To save a last-minute kerfuffle (and possibly fist fight) to get into the best and most popular restaurants in the city or town where you’re staying, it’s always worth booking yourself a table beforehand. That way you won’t end up sitting in a bog-standard albeit extortionately-priced restaurant near to your hotel because that’s the only place that has tables left.

Stick to your roots

One of Ott’s top tips is to “find where you’d fit into the city” – in other words, track down where people like you would be eating and living.

“So for example, a lot of the 20-40 year-old professional crowd now live in the East Village or Meat Packing districts of New York,” he explains. “If that’s your scene, venture down there and see what kind of cafés and restaurants exist.”

Always pay in local currency

If you are asked to pay in pounds or euros, Caffell advises always choosing euros.

“If you choose pounds then the retailer does the currency conversion and rates are often poor compared to letting your card do it by choosing the local currency,” he explains.

Pay on credit card

Paying on credit card will not only help you navigate the tumultuous world of exchange rates, but it can offer protection against dodgy retailers.

Caffell recommends the the Barclaycard Platinum Visa travel card “with near-perfect exchange rates and no interest on ATM withdrawals” and the Halifax Clarity*, “which also offers no fees on overseas spending, but ATM withdrawals incur interest, even if you pay off the card in full”.

He adds: “Paying on a credit card also means you’ll get the Section 75 protection on anything over £100 (about €117). This important law means your credit provider must take the same responsibility as a retailer if anything goes wrong.”

Make the most of meal deals

If there are meal deals to be had then fill your boots. Sites like Open Table let you reserve restaurants in the local area while keeping you in the loop about any specials (deals) that may be on at these restaurants.

If you’re visiting cities where the theatre trade is booming, opt for pre-theatre meals (even if you’re not going to the theatre) so you can get a cheaper dinner. The only downfall is that you have to eat earlier, but it’s not the end of the world: it just means you can do more exploring in the evening.