Mark Bergsrud was a longtime Continental Airlines employee responsible for e-commerce. During his many travels, he noticed that trying to navigate unfamiliar airports, often with very firm time constraints, led to limited choices when it came to dining. He founded Cursus Technologies in March 2014 with Michael Natale, Mark Pearson, and Jeff Livney, to address that concern by creating an app called Grab. The platform helps travelers locate food and order their choices while traveling via airline.
Bergsrud noticed that mobile ordering had become commonplace throughout the country, especially with travel, but it was lagging at airports. Grab’s goal was to change that. Launched in October 2015, the app allows consumers to locate dining choices in whatever airport they are in or heading to, select and order fare from participating vendors, and pick up their order in a separate line, essentially skipping the wait times. A user can order food from the tarmac or while they’re standing in line at security. Retail, services, and duty-free are also in the works for the app.
The Grab team wants to “build great technology that allows you to have comprehensive directories that can filter and find everything, and have good mapping technology that can route you between [places],” says Bergsrud, now the CEO of Grab. “We decided we had to build what we call the ubiquitous network. Our goal is [to include] every major restaurant and retailer at every major airport. … And, if we make enough customers happy, then our business partners at the airports will have access to millions of customers instead of just thousands.”
Mary Ventura, IT director, travel hospitality—Airports at Delaware North Companies, says that Grab debuted in Austin, Texas, last year, and took off. “So far we have it in 14 airports and almost 115 restaurants, and it’s working wonderfully,” she says, citing high customer satisfaction. “We plan to expand Grab where we feel there is the right fit. “ Ventura explains that before being implemented at an airport, Grab maps the whole site and includes all restaurants, even those that do not participate.
“You don’t have to roll it out to every restaurant to be successful,” Ventura says. “If we had one restaurant up and we’re looking to open another restaurant in a month, it wasn’t like we had to hold off launching Grab until that last restaurant was open. It’s very dynamic and we can change the menu on the fly. It’s fully integrated with our point-of-sale, which is what makes the whole experience seamless. As soon as a customer places the order and pays for it, it automatically hits the point-of-sale within the restaurant.”
“To be frank, we’ve had many people approach us about wanting to do mobile ordering apps in the airport environment,” says Alice Cheung, director, brand innovation for airport concessionaires Paradies Lagardère, which handles 98 airports with food and beverage in 13 of them. “What set Grab apart was a mission to not just be a stand-alone app. They wanted it to be used in airline apps and traveling apps, so that was really compelling to us. We rolled out Grab in June, and it’s been successful in the [three] locations where we’ve done it.” She says the company plans to add Grab to all of its current and future airport restaurants.
Cheung praises Grab’s feature that allows customers to place an order for a restaurant at their destination before leaving their departure airport. The food will be kept on hold until arrival. Grab can also map out someone’s footpath for a connecting flight to locate the best dining options along the way.
“Our customers are really ecstatic about the quick service,” Cheung says. “When they pull up the app, they can pick what they want, and they know that it will be there ready for them.” She notes that airport employees, often constrained to 30-minute lunch breaks, can order food through the app and make the most of their short meal time.
Beyond its associations with Delaware North and Paradies Lagardère, Grab has started a new partnership with HMSHost, the largest operator of airport restaurants. “They have at least 800 in North America,” Bergsrud notes.
Grab has also developed a partnership with American Airlines to allow integration within that carrier’s mobile apps, first with food ordering then retail, services, and duty-free. The company hopes to build partnerships with other airlines and expand its reach. As Bergsrud explains,the company hopes integration within other travel apps will allow it to leverage itinerary information from business partners, making the Grab experience even more intuitive. “We will know what gate you’re coming into and leaving from, or what security zone you’re coming into and leaving from, so we can do a better job putting the most logical restaurants and retailers in front of you,” Bergsrud says. “Delivery may come into the marketplace as well, and we can facilitate that, although we don’t want to hire employees and put them in airports. We want to focus on software and customer experiences.”