The Shifting Trends in Airport Food & Hospitality Standards

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Hundreds of millions of people take flights in the U.S. each year. These travelers come from vastly different backgrounds with individual tastes. As airports look to cater to this broad range of passengers, meeting consumer demands when it comes to airport food has taken top priority.

While the trend toward offering more sophisticated food options in airports started twenty-five years ago, over the past 10 years I’ve noticed a dramatic shift and improvement of airport food offerings. And now, in 2018, the food and hospitality standards at airports are morphing once again. From an email invite-only fine dining restaurant at Newark airport to Priority Pass’ partnership with Bobby Van’s Steakhouse at JFK, airports are aiming to delight travelers with memorable dining experiences that focus on localized food and beverage experiences, reflect customer generated trends, and invite new specialists into the airport food scene.

Localizing the food experience.
Airports are becoming extensions of a visitor’s destination, enabling vacationers to extend their trip just a tiny bit more with one last local experience or allowing busy business travelers an opportunity to sample local culture while on a quick business trip. That’s why The Club group of lounges offers local craft beer and seasonal, local food. A recent example is the corn beef sandwiches and green beer that was provided this year to travelers at The Club at Boston Logan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Airports are starting to aggressively expand to capitalize on the benefits of localization because these experiences add pleasure to the travel experience and make those travelers more likely to choose that airport in the future. In San Francisco, for example, SFO is adding 3,200+ square feet of foodie experience space with a full bar focused on Bay Area products, including local favorite Tartine Bakery, by the summer of 2018. While eating a local specialty like Oprah’s favorite crab cakes in Maryland’s BWI aiport is especially unique, even eating at a regional-specific chain like Chick-fil-A in the South or the popular D.C. pizza chain &pizza at Ronald Reagan International can be a special treat.

Meeting consumer expectations
Local options help to extend the trip, airports also must be prepared to accommodate the huge spike in food intolerances and the increasing preferences in some regions for vegetarian and vegan options. The millennial generation has also led the way in establishing new dining habits and ushering in a wave of technology as speed is another key expectation of eating at the airport. That’s why Newark Airport spent $120 million to overhaul its Terminal C, adding more than 55 dining options and deploying nearly 6,000 iPads to service them. The iPads don’t replace traditional servers, but instead the technology is used to speed up service, cut down on human error, and allow travelers to browse the internet on their table’s iPad while they wait for their food.

Emerging players
Another new trend in the airport food space is the emergence of restaurateurs dedicating their craft to the airport space. From sommelier-level service at Dallas Love Field’s Crú wine bar to a restaurant by “Top Chef” winner Michael Voltaggio at LAX, travelers can now experience full-service five-star dining in a quick turnaround before a flight takes off. Those fancier fine dining options open the opportunity to transform the airport from a pre-or post-trip pit stop into a part of the celebration.

Ultimately, food not living up to passenger expectations can affect an airport’s bottom line. For example, a corporate recruiter and Chicagoan Tyler Byrd said last year that he was deterred from flying out of Midway because of the closing of his favorite eateries. Airports that are dedicating themselves to the new wave of localization, broader choices, tech savviness, and fine dining will see the pay off in reputation and, as a result, increased revenue in the long term.

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