Concessions 101: Cashing in on Airports, Campuses

Nontraditional venues, much like airport security itself, may come with a menu of hassles and constraints. For vendors who master the process, however, airports and universities, flooded with hungry, on-the-go patrons, are a dominant opportunity.

Three executives whose companies successfully manage nontraditional venues talk about the process, drawbacks, and solutions of working concessions. Panelists at this year’s Dine America conference, they are Bill Casey, vice president of the food and beverage concept portfolio at HMSHost, an airport foodservice company; Chris Cheek, vice president of franchise development at Bruegger’s Bagels; and Brian Boycan, director of strategic development at Auntie Anne’s.

The first step in operating a nontraditional venue is to find the proper location.

“Not all locations are created equally, though they may all be in a given airport that’s high volume,” Cheek says. “Are you located where people can access your brand with the least amount of changing of their routine while they’re on the go?”

A pre-security airport setting, for example, may not be the best fit, because Transportation Security Administration (TSA) generally does not allow food and drink through the security checkpoint.

Boycan explains that the process of getting Auntie Anne’s into a nontraditional venue may begin via one of three routes:

  • The brand, or a master concessionaire such as HMSHost, receives a request for proposal (RFP).
  • An offer is made outside a traditional RFP, from an existing operator, developer, airport concessions director, or master concessionaire.
  • The brand individually identifies an opportunity, such as the converstion of an existing space or creation of a new one, and propses the idea to a master concessionaire. Auntie Anne’s generally looks for concourses with more than one million emplanements.

HMSHost then maintains a portfolio of more than 17 categories of restaurants, broken down into quick-serve, quick casual, and casual.

Casey is on the team with restaurant portfolio directors that travel into cities conduct research.

“We have arguably the greatest jobs in the industry,” Casey says. “We travel into cities where an RFP is expected and get to eat and drink our way through the city. We visit with the best brands that represent the market to form partnerships.”

Once the location is set, Cheek, Boycan, and Casey say that a brand still faces a number of potential hazards: parking far away from an airport adds up to an hour to an associate’s workday; the FBI and TSA require vigorous background checks; wages are usually higher in airports, because the market demands it; call-offs and no-shows create a more difficult problem because of how long it takes to get someone into the store to fill in; and high demands, high traffic, and time sensitivities may create a stressful work environment.

For these reasons, Cheek says it is most important to find hospitable team members.

“From my perspective, that’s probably one of the bigger challenges,” he says. “We’re all in a rush, we’re on the go. Rarely is the food stop a destination. So, what we want is a team member who is hospitable and welcoming, which is not something we often see in these types of units.”

If operators expect to begin reaping rewards immediately, Boycan says, they will be disappointed. “This is a complex business, and it is not for the faint of heart,” he explains.

Casey and Cheek agree that, at the end of the day, the success of a nontraditional unit trickles down to flexibility.

“We have small kitchens, so we need to understand and utilize emerging technologies,” Casey says. “We have to operate Gallagher’s Steakhouse using plastic knives! Understand that non-traditional is just that, non-traditional.”

Food News Media hosts the executive leadership conference Dine America from October 9–11. To register, visit the Dine America website.

By Sonya Chudgar

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by WTWH Media LLC.