An empty restaurant, hotel, or club might be a sign of its quality, or it could be a victim of the “Lonely Planet Effect.” To summarize, an establishment that scores a mention in the popular guidebook can coast on that for several years, at the same time increasing prices and reducing quality or service. Travelers might still come to that specific place, especially if they buy older versions of the book to save money (doesn’t matter if that place was left out of the current edition). The neighboring places will suffer, even if they step up their game to compete for the overflow or try to make it into the next edition. Is this restaurant empty because that one three doors down is listed in a guidebook and is getting all the attention? Sometimes you’ll just have to make a judgement call:
1. the busy restaurant might actually be good, might have gotten lazy over the last two years (and is coasting on reputation), or be more expensive than others in the vicinity (where you’ll also now have to judge if they just jacked up prices because they’re in a guidebook or if it means they have better quality food or service), but you’ll still have to wait 30 minutes for a table; or
2. the less busy restaurant where you’ll get served immediately, with possibly very attentive and appreciative staff, and perhaps lower prices to entice customers, but might be empty because the locals prefer to avoid it?
Go to a place where everyone seems to be having a good time or the one that could be an undiscovered gem? I guess it depends on how hungry you are and/or how adventurous you’re feeling at the moment. Sometimes you get a vibe, sometimes you don’t care, and sometimes you realize that they’re probably all about the same.
It isn’t restricted strictly to LP, but could be attributed to any other brand of guidebook (or even website). However, Lonely Planet is one of the most popular guides and has a certain cachet among the younger crowd, who are often adventurous and in search of excitement. Having a guidebook that your peers use will likely allow you to encounter those same type of folk in your travels. I’ve never been a fan of guidebooks in general, and especially LP as I felt they were looking to help you find the cheapest way to sight-see, sleep, and eat.
Here are some articles discussing this phenomenon.