I am teaching a travel writing workshop to kids.
About three minutes in, I discovered I am woefully out-of-touch with young travellers.
I started the workshop with things to look for in a restaurant. Maybe it’s a Seattle thing, but these junior foodies were super smart, super opinionated, and super aware of allergies. I was underprepared for Seattle kids and thought they would be younger versions of me, pint-sized pizza enthusiasts who could easily digest cheese and bread.
They’re awesome, that’s for sure. Respectful, fun, and hilarious. But way different than me.
When I was a kid, when we ate out it was at McDonald’s or Beggar’s Pizza, a pizzeria in my old neighborhood. Sometimes my dad would bring me to real Mexican restaurants. By real I mean, the menu included brains and tongue. Not in the same taco because then one might as well just put a cow’s head into a tortilla and call it a day.
I wasn’t really concerned with authenticity or local food or even bad service. Just as long as I didn’t have to eat brains.
Waiter, I have a question:
Are there gluten-free options on the menu?
An excellent question, but I am amazed that middle-schoolers schooled me on celiacs’s disease.
Is your food organic or local?
Whoa. Kids think about organic food too. Don’t get me wrong. I think parents should be concerned with diets and organic food and eating chickens so hopped up on steroids, they could build their own chicken coops.
But kids? Should kids worry about organic? I guess so. They will one day need to make their own healthy decisions. I hope they don’t become food-obsessed monsters.
Lastly one of my favorite remarks of the day.
We went to a taco truck. Well, it said it was authentic Mexican but I could tell it wasn’t really because it was owned by some white guys. And the food just wasn’t … authentic. ~ Child of a hipster
I wanted to ask him if he knows where to get authentic Mexican food in Seattle. Because I have yet to find any.
Where do you want to go more than anywhere in the world?
Denmark. Germany. France.
No Disney World? No California? Some of these kids probably have been to more countries than me. *Hangs head in shame*
The Denmark answered wow’d me because Denmark is a country I never thought about visiting when I was in middle school. In fact, I knew little about Denmark until just before I visited last year.
Ignore the roaches. Look at the red carpet!
If the restaurant is bad and the people are nice, you still have to say the restaurant is bad. Look at that guy, ‘what’s his name?’ – if your restaurant is bad, he’s going to tell you it’s bad. ~ An admirer of Bourdain
I am not sure if he was talking about Gordon Ramsey, who shouts expletives at restaurant owners or Anthony Bourdain, host of a show where there’s an animal slaughtered every episode. Regardless if he’s watching appropriate TV or not, the kid highlighted one of the premiere rules of travel writing: don’t review based on complimentary.
If a restaurant or hotel owner knows you’re a travel writer, they will give you a convincing VIP treatment: chocolates on the pillows with little notes. Servers or housekeeping mysteriously coming by every 5 minutes. Beef that’s been marinated in liquid gold.
Sneak attacks are best, but only if your publication pays you to do them. If you’re in a comp situation, really focus on what you’re eating or what you’re seeing and whether you’d pay for it or not.
I start by listing what I don’t like. If it is an easy list to make, the restaurant won’t make the cut. I also look at other patrons and see if they’re enjoying themselves and listen in on their conversations. I told the kids to think of themselves as detectives – check out the bathrooms, be aware of all the details, and write them all down while in the restaurant because there’s no going on.
Lookout world, there’s a brand-new crop of precocious travel writers on the horizon!