When you eat at an airport restaurant it may be a familiar brand you’re buying from but it’s usually not that restaurant’s company that’s making the food or serving it to you. Instead the ‘concept’ gets picked up by one of the big airport retailers like Delaware North or OTG.
You know OTG as the company that puts iPads everywhere. Ordering by iPad, having food brought to you, is faster and increases sales. Passengers often stay anchored to their gate even on a long layover, so the iPad concept at the gate means orders they wouldn’t otherwise get. And putting iPads in restaurants may mean they can get by with fewer servers, but more importantly gets food to customers faster and gets them out the door more quickly, making room for other passengers to order.
Airport restaurants usually aren’t very good.
- They may not be able to cook with gas, settling for electric.
- Knives are often tethered to a wall or equipment and inventoried after each shift
- There’s very little storage space for ingredients
- Just-in-time delivery isn’t really a thing in airports, restaurants can’t bring food through security whenever they wish and roll it down the middle of the terminal
- Dinner-only restaurants are often required to offer breakfast, because restaurant space needs to serve passengers transiting the terminal and because airports are usually taking a percentage of gross sales (this revenue may be split with the airlines, too)
- Restaurants need to serve the widest variety of tastes — passengers happen by a restaurant because it’s inside the terminal rather than seeking out the cuisine.
There are exceptions, the only airport restaurant in the U.S. I look forward to is Tortas Frontera at Chicago O’Hare. Is there anything more sad than CBGB’s at Newark?
When a chef puts their name on an airport restaurant, given the limitations on how they can deliver a quality product, that tells me that the chef’s priority isn’t their reputation. I may upgrade my view of the food in the airport and downgrade my estimation of the chef outside the airport.
So how much does a chef get for putting their name on an airport restaurant’s dishes? Houston chef Monica Pope likes the OTG money,
“It was a lot of money upfront and not that many work hours—I can write menus quickly, and it didn’t affect my brand or principles at all.” Pope was paid $2,500 a recipe for about 30-35 recipes to outfit the menu of Olio, a panini bar featuring locally inspired sandwiches and salads located in terminal C-North.
OTG iPads at Newark Airport ‘Classified’
When you order by iPad you don’t tip the iPad, you still tip the staff who are bringing out food. OTG says “we always encourage passengers to leave a tip that is commensurate to the service” though I’m generally asked to tip when placing the order before actually receiving any service at all.
For the customer it’s faster to order from a person, once you get their attention, because you’re having to navigate the menus of the iPad to find what you want and try to customize it. And then you have to hope you can get the card swipe to work. Of course the iPads aren’t about the customer they’re about turnover and volume, which supports paying $85,000 to a chef to write recipes.