Annie Taylor was the first person to climb inside of a specially constructed barrel and plunge over Niagara Falls in 1901. Since then, approximately 14 others have attempted the feat. Having recently observed the Falls in person, I can state categorically that I will not add to that number.
What was most surprising about my visit, however, had nothing to do with the Falls per se, but rather, with the business practices surrounding the accommodation of tourists. For most people, visiting Niagara Falls is a once in a lifetime event. Consequently, local businesses–and I’m particularly venting at restaurants–have little incentive to provide quality food at reasonable prices. I would have thought that the proliferation of online rating sites would have led to a little shame-based improvement, but, alas, I was wrong. We did manage to find decent places to eat, but it was waaaay to much effort and accompanied by waaay too much aggravation.
If you build a business, differentiating yourself from competitors is usually quite difficult. (see Porter). It seems to me that many of the restaurants in the area choose to differentiate themselves via gimmicks, such as themes (ala Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe), while matching their competitors on food quality, variety or price. In short, the food sucked, the restaurants all served the same things (with minor variation), and they all charged extortionist prices. The exceptions seemed to be ethnic restaurants–a Korean restaurant right in front of you after you cross the Rainbow Bridge and pass through Canadian customs was reasonably priced and the food was quite tasty.
To be sure, sourcing quality food ingredients and preparing them in compelling ways is difficult, and, in the case of restaurants at Niagara Falls, apparently unnecessary. Then again, since I very rarely dine out, and don’t patronize any of the establishments I encountered on this trip, perhaps I stumbled upon a phenomenon that is fairly widespread, and not something unique to this location or tourist traps in general. Since these restaurants remain in business, it seems to indicate that people are willing to put up with substandard food at high prices as long as the “atmospherics” meet some criteria. Apparently, we as a society are more interested in being “entertained” than the actual food.
From a consumer perspective, I’ll simply point out the Weston A Price Foundation, and Sally Fallon’s book: Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, and leave it at that.