Cooking up Something Good
- by Alan Gluck
Gone should be the days of wolfing down candy bars from gift shops or fighting with vending machines for bags of chips at airports—unless that’s what you want. Airport food has improved significantly in many U.S. airports. With the new push for local, fresh, healthy, seasonal, sustainable and ethnically interesting food, airport food is undergoing a metamorphosis.
A number of factors have contributed to driving these improvements. First is the competition. Many U.S. airports have installed concession management methodologies that foster competition between operators. Vendors have become aware that competition almost always leads to improved products, prices and customer service.
Next, Americans are now far more passionate about food and are interested in where it comes from, how it is prepared and served, and what its nutritional value is. The Food Network and Cooking Channel have exposed virtually everyone in the U.S. to great chefs and great food, and diners expect top notch cooking anywhere. With the growth of social media, no bad meal or lousy service goes undiscussed on Twitter, Yelp, Facebook or Instagram.
Third, food service operators have realized that roller dogs and warm beer are not the way to make the most money.
Airports are now incorporating local dining options. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is leading the way with 95 percent of its food service options locally owned and operated. At Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), more than 50 percent of concessions are either local brands or operated by local franchisees. The Miami International Airport is home to a Cuban cuisine restaurant that is among the highest grossing airport restaurants in the U.S. And both Houston airports feature versions of the local favorite for Tex-Mex food. This truly is a wonderful way to introduce travelers to what a city or region has to offer and to cultivate “a sense of place.” It’s also a great way to bring fresh and healthy food to an airport.
Airports and their food service vendors are also becoming more conscious of travelers with food allergies, vegetarian or organic interests, or dietary restrictions. Menus now point out vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and other options to make eating on the go safer and more pleasant.
Airports and airport concessionaires, like all businesses, want your money, but they want you to be satisfied when you have finished your meal.