During the oneworld MegaDO in Dallas I had the opportunity to talk with the food and beverage manager for the American Airlines Admirals Clubs.
Now, American clubs are generally nicer (better furnished, in better condition) than United and US Airways lounges. But they have almost no complimentary snacks. Instead they offer paid food options. And the quality of those options vary widely across clubs — even across different clubs in the same airport.
The D30 club in Miami, for instance, has a kitchen and a room with food display where you can purchase meals and snacks. Everything is nicely plated on dishware rather than pre-arranged in disposable plastic containers. The D15 club does not.
My suggestion to American was, why does it make sense for them to be in the food preparation and storage business? I get that the food options they’re providing are an alternative to free snacks, and if the food is good I’d prefer to pay for it than have mediocre snacks. But too often I’m paying for mediocre when there are perfectly good options in the terminal. Granted, I’ve never gotten pushback from an Admirals Club for bringing food into the lounge (the way I’ve often seen from the folks in a United Club). Why not offer some sort of delivery service arrangement with the food options in the terminal?
Apparently, according to Heels First Travel, my suggestion is exactly what US Airways has done for its lounge at Washington National airport.
The last couple of times I’ve been in the US Airways lounge I’ve seen little signs everywhere announcing that you could order food from the Sam & Harry’s downstairs that would be delivered to you in the lounge. Things like Crab Cakes, sandwiches, and wings.
Sam & Harry’s is an upscale DC-based Steakhouse chain, or at least it was until its flagship downtown location closed last year. It even rated a reference in The American President,
All right George, can I tell you something? We’re gonna win this thing. We’re gonna get the votes we need and we’re gonna win this thing. And you know what I’m gonna do after that, I mean that very night, I’m gonna go to Sam & Harry’s, I’m gonna order a big steak, and I’m gonna make a list of everybody who tried to F…
Similar, perhaps, to the story about Rahm Emanuel naming one by one each of the enemies of the Clinton campaign, slamming a knife down into a table and declaring “Dead! Dead! Dead!”
The storied steakhouse has an outpost in the airport. Sadly the airport location isn’t what one expects from a DC steakhouse. And when you couple that with an ostensible delivery service to a US Airways club lounge, well, you get a shrink-wrapped plastic chicken sandwich from a refrigerator behind the bar.
I still think my idea is a good one, but it’s all in the execution…
This is a fantastic idea. Hard to execute and probably harder to appropriately monetize though. Good for US for trying, but that’s clearly the wrong execution. Once it’s sitting behind the bar shrink-wrapped, it might as well be from the Sysco truck or club kitchen.
There is a surcharge I’d gladly pay to have Lark Creek delivered at SFO, Tortas Frontera at ORD, or Pappadeaux at DFW A, for instance, but I’m not sure its high enough for both the restaurant and the AC to make enough on the transaction for it to be worthwhile to either.
I could see ACs trying out a hub-only arrangement with a handful of good restaurants, located near clubs, that have excess kitchen capacity — leverage that by only offering delivery during non-peak times to keep costs down (or surcharging peak times).
It does make me wonder whether the food at ACs is profitable… I’d expect yes at the few clubs that are turning out the expanded menu (and sushi), but not elsewhere.
Delta’s four JFK SkyClubs offered food and premium cocktails for sale over several months in late 2010/early 2011. Since the cafés have since been dismantled, I assume that the pilot program—save for the “Luxury Bar” cocktails that are now widely available throughout the SkyClub system—was unsuccessful.
Delta posted a YouTube video highlighting the expanded service back in October 2010:
The food wasn’t cheap, but I didn’t think the prices ($6-$15) were outrageous for an airport in NYC. The menu was simple enough (e.g., crostini, charcuterie, soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.) and somewhat similar to that currently offered at the bar in LGA’s Delta Shuttle terminal. The SkyClub cafés were operated by OTG Management, the vendor behind Delta’s revamped concourse dining facilities at LGA, JFK, and MSP.
Delta tends to be pretty strict about not allowing outside food into its lounges, so it’s unfortunate the expanded dining option didn’t work out. It will be interesting to see how AA and US fare moving forward.
Nearly every time I fly out of DC, I get Potbelly’s and bring it in to the Admirals Club at IAD. (Too bad it closed – now I’ll have to eat my Potbelly’s in the terminal)
The US club at DCA used to have a similar arrangement with the Legal Seafood that once occupied the space that Sam & Harry’s does now. I never tried it, so I can’t comment on the quality, but I remember the signs offering it pretty clearly.
The US Club in CLT has a sandwich and salad for purchase program as well. Not sure whether it was branded – may have to confirm next week when I fly through CLT.
Also, not so sure whether AA clubs are “nicer” per se – they are all in some sort of random state of shamble. Alas, AA club complimentary snacks are paltry at best, probably to boost sales of paid snacks at the bar.