It’s clear at this stage of COVID-19 that paradigm shifts catalyzed by the crisis have become permanent fixtures that will continue long after the pandemic subsides. Nowhere is this clearer than in the digital transformation of food service. Restaurants that hadn’t already adopted delivery – enabled by digital technology such as mobile apps and online ordering – at the outset of the pandemic were forced to do so quickly to have the best possible chance for survival. And while business has recently improved for many due to the return of indoor dining and removal of capacity limits, the challenges of labor shortages and continued demand for off-premise convenience continue to make delivery an essential part of the equation.
This is especially true of airport concessionaires, which face critical staffing shortages and reduced hours of operation amid ongoing travel uncertainty. More than ever, concessionaires must look at every option available so they can continue to drive revenue and serve hungry airport employees and passengers. In-airport food and retail delivery has helped some concessionaires achieve this, and many more should explore opportunities to incorporate it into their service model. Because what started as a nice-to-have option pre-pandemic has become an essential way to meet demand and maintain revenue levels.
Meeting Needs for Convenience
Pre-pandemic, online ordering and third-party delivery for restaurants were growing rapidly outside of airports as it became clear that customers wanted and were willing to pay for the convenience, while restaurants recognized the opportunity to drive incremental sales. When the pandemic hit, people of all ages—including and especially those not accustomed to ordering online previously—became power users of these online or app-enabled services to order all manner of products, including groceries, for pickup or delivery.
Airports lagged behind “street” restaurants in this regard prior to the pandemic but were starting to catch on. When AtYourGate launched in its first airport with its app and delivery service starting in 2018, delivery solved many concessionaire challenges and became an attractive offering for airport and airline employees, who didn’t want to spend their short breaks walking through the terminals and standing in long lines. At the same time, concessionaires didn’t want to lose occasions from customers who passed by because of the lines while some travelers, affectionately called gate-huggers, didn’t want to leave their seat to find food or a forgotten retail item. The concept of in-airport food and retail delivery clearly demonstrated strong potential.
Safety for Employees and Customers
Then COVID hit and transformed travel. Concessionaries who lost both customers and labor amid the crisis were still needed to feed essential airport workers. Although the flying public wasn’t at the airport, employees were still unloading cargo. Airlines needed to feed their crews. Online ordering and delivery became a good way to meet the need for food service within the airport while concessionaires operated with reduced staff. It may seem counterintuitive as so many businesses struggled to drive revenue, but AtYourGate’s delivery business and airport footprint tripled during the pandemic.
When social distancing and mask-wearing became an expectation at airports, so did safety and contactless delivery. Travelers tried to avoid contact and didn’t want to stand in lines. Airline employees and crews needed to minimize their risk of exposure while still serving customers. Getting food delivered went from a convenient option to essential for both flyers and concessionaires just as it did for food service outside the airport.
Make no mistake: while convenience and safety were instrumental in driving the growth of in-airport delivery, the opportunity for concessionaires to help recoup lost revenue from the pandemic was a key driver as well. Just as it did for restaurants outside the airport, delivery opened up options to customers who might never have considered digital ordering or others who wanted food options that weren’t close to their gate. Many concessionaires responded to the opportunity to expand their reach to greater numbers of customers.
Delivery also helped concessionaires address critical labor shortages both in the kitchen and in the front of the restaurant. This proved valuable as it enabled some restaurants to operate with minimal staff while continuing to serve customers’ needs.
Preparing for the Future
Online ordering and delivery were beginning to take hold in airports pre-COVID, but the pandemic accelerated that growth exponentially. Now, as concessionaires and their customers increasingly view delivery as an essential part of the airport food and retail equation, it’s clear that providing customers more options and convenience is here to stay.
As airport concessionaires continue to face a volatile marketplace and travel uncertainty, more customers will expect safer and convenient options. Airports and concessionaires have an opportunity to meet this challenge while driving incremental revenue amid ongoing labor shortages. It’s an opportunity many should seize.
PJ Mastracchio is founder and CEO of AtYourGate , a leader in the on-demand airport food and retail delivery space.