Done right, airport restaurants can be great stages to illustrate what a city has to offer on a culinary level.
For that reason, airport authorities are seeking more local, independent restaurants as they try to better represent the city’s culinary scene and local culture. For locals, these places provide comfort and recognition. For out-of-town travelers, it’s a way to sample local cuisine.
In general, airports are catching up to the importance of leveraging the movement of providing more local, authentic products … and that includes food.
Anthony Joseph, president of Concessions International, says airport authorities are requiring either a mix of local and national brands, or are specifying locations for local brands. Concessions International, for example, is developing Atlanta-based Fresh to Order and Lotta Frutta in the city's Hartsfield airport. In the two Washington DC airports, the company is developing Chef Geoff’s, American Tap Room and Be Right Burger, all locally based companies.
“The goal is to showcase the best of the region and to create a sense of place for visitors,” Joseph says.
Also in DC, Concessions International recently opened a Bar Symon in Dulles International Airport. Although the brainchild of Iron Chef Michael Symon isn’t local, Concessions International sees the bistro-style restaurant as a unique identifier. Menu items include a Pulled Pork Breakfast Burrito (scrambled eggs with pulled pork, cheddar cheese, cilantro, scallions, red hot sauce and rosemary home fries) and Symon’s flagship Lola Burger (fried egg, pickled onions, thick-cut bacon, cheddar cheese served on a challah bun), as well as an assortment of local and regional craft beers.
“Bar Symon is a great American bistro for airport guests looking for something different than your typical bar and grill,” says Concessions International c.e.o. Donata Russell Major. “Chef Symon has become a household name across the country and many diners will jump at the chance to try his unique menu items.”
Frank Sickelsmith, v.p. of adult beverage and restaurant development at HMSHost, says the genesis of this trend is partially the emergence of chefs and restaurateurs achieving celebrity status through Food Network shows and other programs dedicated to food.
Tips and tricks
Joseph and Sickelsmith each provided tips for restaurants to leverage the demand and use airport locations most effectively.
It’s important for the marketing and design to incorporate the brand’s story, because travelers may not know it, Joseph says. “Menus, menu inserts, digital merchandising boards and iPads are examples that are used to introduce brand history and information,” he says.
Sickelsmith says HMSHost is beginning to highlight their local efforts in menus.
“Another good way to represent the local area on a menu is to use seasonal items that are representative to that area or region,” he says. “While it’s not prudent to do this 100 percent—people still want produce and vegetables that can't be grown locally in the winter—a good representation of this makes the menu more dynamic and interesting.”