I recently had a lot of time to kill at the Chicago O’Hare restaurant and while I would normally sit at a bar near my gate and enjoy one (ok fine, probably two) martinis, I instead decided check out the new Publican Tavern by One Off Hospitality in Terminal 3. As I looked around the restaurant with it’s dark wood tables and dim lighting while enjoying my Little Gem salad with buttermilk vinaigrette on a vintage-printed plate, I actually forgot for a moment that I was sitting in an airport.
With the rise in U.S. domestic travel, up 3.3 percent from 2014 to nearly 2.2 billion trips in 2015, there are more people than ever traveling through airports. And these guests are a captive audience with people spending an average of 75 minutes at large airports (sometimes even more if their flight is delayed). So airports are answering travelers’ desire for great food with fresh, new restaurants, some with a celebrity chef attached. Gone are the days of plastic-wrapped sandwiches and salads. For example, Newark airport has been rolling out upgrades their Terminal C restaurants including concepts by Chefs Dale Talde, Alex Stupak, and Maria Carbone. So far, it appears that the elevated food & beverage programs in airports have certainly paid off. In 2013, U.S. airports generated $587 million from food and beverage sales alone. For airports, putting more focus on culinary is a smart strategy. There’s the obvious overall increased revenue but also, since the airport is the first and last experience of a traveler’s trip, it’s the best place to make a lasting, positive impression.
Airports aren’t the only ones in the travel industry working with celebrity chefs. The reputation of the food on board flights in the past has never been very high with rubbery chicken, soggy pasta, or grey-colored beef. In order to overcome this stereotype, a lot of major airlines created menu consulting partnerships with chefs like Michelle Bernstein for Delta or Alfred Portale for Singapore Airlines. Even though their food is mostly reserved for business or first class, airlines are paying more attention to their on board menus because it brings more value to their brand and increases the overall customer experience.