Austin’s airport is known for only local food offerings, well except for Schlotzsky’s Deli
& Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s pretzels. I don’t love Austin Java coffee. Salt Lick barbecue isn’t great barbecue and it doesn’t translate well to the airport (the DFW airport location is worse). Options should get better, though.
We’re getting a Second Bar & Kitchen (downtown location is very good upscale bar food). Now comes news of tacodeli and Peached Tortilla (very good Asian fusion) outposts, both local stars, and Jo’s Coffee well-known for the “I love you so much” wall at its South Congress location.
In Austin you’re either a Tacodeli or a Torchy’s fan. I’m somewhere in between. Torchy’s has better guacamole and queso, but Tacodeli uses much better ingredients for its tacos.
We have a United Club and an American club, American’s is set for remodel though that’s been delayed for many months. The putting green will be removed with check-in moved forward. The current large check-in space will then become part of the lounge for more seating. It gets super busy on peak travel days and before the British Airways flight in the evening.
My wish would be for an in-airport dry cleaner, barber shop (DFW is kicking out theirs) and drug store/grocery store. New York JFK of course has a dentist who helps patients join the ‘Smile High Club’.
There’s a brand new terminal at the airport, the ‘you can’t get there from here’ South Terminal, which so far serves only Allegiant but offers rotating food trucks.
Food trucks can deliver close to the same experience parked at the airport as off site, although there are restrictions even there for anything that’s going to be past security.
In general though the very best restaurant concepts fall flat inside airports.
- There are limits on when things can be brought in, they can’t generally bring supplies down the concourse at peak travel times. So you don’t get the freshest just-in-time delivery.
- And space limitations are huge. Not only can’t you bring things in whenever you want, you often don’t have a lot of space for storage at least compared to a standard retail location. And you may not have room for specialized equipment.
- The airport may not permit gas ovens, so everything has to get re-created using electric.
- Security constrains your chefs, their knives frequently have to be tethered to a wall to prevent being taken (and inventoried every day).
- When you run a restaurant inside an airport you have a large number of people who need to be served quickly — you need to prepare for quick service even trumping quality because of the pressures of flight departures.
- Your customers have varying tastes, they didn’t travel to your location to eat your food they are at your location in order to travel. But you need to cater to their varied preferences.
Airport rents are astronomical, it’s a volume and turnover business. You’re space and ingredients constrained. So menus are limited and accessible to the largest number of people. Restaurants known for lunch and dinner need to and are often required to do breakfast too.
And never underestimate the ability of Delaware North (in Austin’s case, but there are other companies like OTG) to hire the worst people. These are restaurant concepts and partnerships, not the restaurants themselves coming in and managing an airport location. Like CBGB’s at Newark.
Of course a handful of places manage to transcend this, arguably Cat Cora’s Kitchen, One Flew South, or Tortas Frontera.
It’s not that it can’t be done, just don’t set your expectations high and don’t bet on success.