Restaurateurs elevate the dining experience for consumers who want more than fast food on the fly.
Eating at a U.S. airport used to mean one of two choices: fast food or full-service chain. However, the same trends impacting the broader restaurant marketplace have made their way past airport security into food courts and terminals across the country. Diners on the go can now find locally sourced, freshly prepared, chef-inspired dishes at just about any major domestic airport. And, at some locations, they can even find chefs in the back of the house.
From James Beard–nominated One Flew South at Atlanta’s Hartsfield- Jackson to Nancy Silverton–helmed Campanile at LAX, the quality of full-service dining at airports has been elevated. In less than 45 minutes on average, a traveler can dine on a meal on par with the finest restaurants in the country, complete with craft cocktails and five-star service.
We view ourselves as restaurateurs who have a location in the airport versus airport operators,” says Rob Cernack, owner of Obrycki’s, a Chesapeake seafood concept inside Baltimore-Washington International (bwi). “We’re a restaurant first.”
Driving the shift are demands of travelers. Since the early 2000s, airport visitors have increasingly sought options that reflect their diverse needs and wants. Ignoring those wishes puts the airport industry at risk of seeing one of its significant sources of non-aeronautical revenue decline. Food and beverage sales accounted for $588 million in revenue for domestic airports in 2013, according to Airports Council International–North America (aci-na).
“All airports want to give their travelers what they want,” says Jay Kruisselbrink, vice president of development for Airmall, a developer and manager of retail stores and food and beverage concessions. “With the increased security, people are getting to airports earlier than ever. These are high-value customers. You have to cater to them with different levels of service, different levels of value, and different kinds of food.”
Another factor is that many airlines consider an airport’s mix of food and retail offerings when choosing hubs; an airport that travelers like connecting through is good for business, and restaurant concepts that provide passengers with a heightened experience are often in demand.
“Regardless of where we’re operating,” says Michael Coury, concept chef and partner at OTG Management, an airport food and beverage operator with more than 200 restaurants and retail boutiques in 10 airports across North America, “I want people to be able to experience what the dining scene there has to offer.”