Tourist Street Food Lesson #1: Never Take a Bite Before Paying!

Yesterday a tipster sent over a link to this great thread posted by a pretty pissed off Yelper whose friend was charged $20 for a kebab and Italian sausage sandwich near the Rock Center X-Mas tree. Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise to Midtown Lunchers. Last year a vendor admitted that often they’ll charge different prices to different people depending on how they look. As much as it makes us laugh to see tourists get ripped (sorry, but you people make every Midtown worker’s life miserable this time of year) we do feel kind of bad. So in the spirit of the holidays, and with New Year’s Eve just a few days away, we thought we’d post a mini guide to not getting ripped off by generic Midtown street food vendors.

1. Ask out how much things cost before ordering. I know this seems stupid, but there are tons of food carts in Midtown, and a lot of them look the same. It’s cold. There’s snow every where. Maybe you’re just not thinking about it (clearly these people weren’t), but you should. Technically it’s illegal for carts to operate in New York City without posted prices, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

2. You can bargain. Especially with carts that don’t post prices. Do you know how cheap a hot dog is? They’re going to want to make the sale. I found that laughing at the initial price and saying “I’m not a tourist… I know what this stuff is supposed to cost” works pretty well. There is ton of competition in Midtown, and they know you have other options.

3. Ok, so you forgot to ask the price. You already ordered.  But whatever you do, don’t take a bite before paying! It might seem obvious in retrospect, but if you’re a married couple in from out of town and you get handed a sausage hoagie, it’s natural to want to take a bite while he finishes your wife’s order. You’re fat and hungry, yet must resist the temptation. It’s a lot harder to hand that hoagie back if it already has a bite in it.

4. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. I know this sounds terrible, but even if you’ve taken a bite you don’t actually have to pay for it. Give the food back. Keep your money. Walk away. What’s the vendor going to do? Leave his cart? Chase after you? Go to the cops? I am a staunch advocate for street vendors, and will fight tirelessly to protect what they do, but if a vendor is trying to rip you off because you were too stupid to ask for the price before ordering I think you’re well within your right to walk away- even if you’ve taken a bite. At that point he’ll probably be more willing to bargain over the price.

5. Of course you can avoid all this by only eating at carts recommended by Midtown Lunch! Or… just look for lines of people, and carts that have their prices clearly posted. You’ll never hear a story like this about Kwik Meal or the Biriyani Cart. Sometimes lines are not a bad thing…

Then again if you have enough money to travel to New York City for New Year’s Eve, maybe you have enough money get ripped off by a street vendor? It is super cold out, and do you know how early they had to wake up and how much snow they had to dig out of to get their cart into Midtown?  It wouldn’t be that hard to feel good about overpaying would it?  (Especially considering you’ll pay twice that amount to take an elevator to the top of a building!)


  • If you buy in bulk (more than one), they will be more inclined to bargain with you.

    Also, I hate to admit this but girls definitely have gotten cheaper and even free stuff just because they’re female (from vendors who were male).

    Oh and being nice always helps too.

  • I have no sympathy. Anyone stupid enough to pay one of those hotdog jackasses what they ask (when they are asking exorbitant prices) deserves what they get. If a hotdog vendor tries to charge a bullshit price, either throw the food back in his face or just walk away with it, regardless of whether you bit the hot dog. He obviously can’t chase you and leave his cart unattended. In those cases where it is clear the vendor is ripping you off, leave 10 bucks and ditch. They have no recourse. A lot of those dudes are scum anyway. Don’t feel sorry for them.

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    *(sorry, but you people make every Midtown worker’s life miserable this time of year)

    Wait- Aren’t these people bringing money to these vendors? I have to imagine the traffic at xmas time helps some of these vendors buy xmas presents, no? Yes tourists are annoying as hell, but they come and spend money. Isn’t that a good thing?

  • That’s BS. I was taking the Subway home and overheard a family getting charged $5 each for a gatorade. Tough break being ripped off in the City. If you don’t see a sign, definitely always ask for pricing upfront before taking the food. It is Sage advice.

    No more dirty water hot dogs for me anyway. I don’t wouldn’t eat them unless I was starving and nowhere else to go. I rather eat them boiled at home or grab Gray’s Papaya.

  • Zach just hasn’t been the same since that hot pretzel vendor gave him an atomic wedgie

  • If you’re stupid enough to think you have to pay $20 for a street cart sandwich just because the vendor says it’s $20, you deserve to get ripped off. Grow a pair and refuse to pay that. Hell, sit there and don’t pay until the next person comes up for a sandwich, and pay what he charges that person.

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