Flight to quality

The food offered at Munich Airport has helped make it one of Europe’s most popular. Jim Banks spoke to Gerhard Halamoda, manager of Allresto Flughafen München which operates all the airport’s restaurants, about what gives it an edge

The 2013 Airport of the Year Awards, run by London-based aviation consultancy Skytrax, surveyed 12 million passengers about their experience of airports. The European airports that came highest in the overall rankings were Amsterdam and Munich. In the opinion of those passengers surveyed, however, Munich Airport has the best airport restaurants anywhere in the world.

In providing a vast range of cuisine from around the world, and dining experiences to suit all types of passengers – from the high-end Il Mondo restaurant in Terminal 1 to a flagship branch of fast food outlet McDonald’s – it is clear the airport considered dining to be a high priority for its passengers and a major contributor to their overall experience.

“Dining is very important, that is basic logic,” says Gerhard Halamoda, manager of the Allresto Flughafen München GmbH. “Many passengers travel often, so if you fail on quality or service then you lose them. They may go to the airline lounges for coffee or beer or meals, so there is a challenge for the restaurant entrepreneur. Also, centre managers try to commercialise more space within terminals, so there is more competition for restaurant owners, which puts pressure on them to perform.”

Allresto runs all the public restaurants and other dining facilities in both public and non-public areas of the airport, as well as the staff restaurants and the airport hotel, which is managed by the Kempinski group. Its operating model is unique among major airports in that it is a catering management company that exclusively serves one client – Munich Airport. It is this tight focus that gives the airport an advantage over competitors when it comes to the quality of the dining experience.

“It starts with the issue of ownership. Allresto is a subsidiary of Munich Airport, so we focus exclusively on that one airport. There are international brands like McDonald’s, but the range of restaurants is also focused on the needs of passengers who come to Munich, so there is a lot of local flavour,” says Halamoda.

“We invest in the airport in a different way to companies that provide catering management for more than one airport. We are essentially investing in our own assets – the assets of our parent company – so we bring more money into the airport,” he adds.

Local foods feature strongly

One of the advantages of this model is that it allows both to take a long-term view of the provision of food and beverage services within the airport. This enables it to take a different approach to the ownership and operation of every aspect of its food and beverage offering. “For instance, we have a brewery in the airport, which costs a lot. Other airports would perhaps take a seven-year rent for such an investment, which would not make as much money. We can invest in it over a much long period and get a better return,” says Halamoda.

The diversity of the restaurants at Munich Airport is part of a deliberate strategy at Allresto to cater for the many different types of traveller that pass through the airport, who all have different priorities in terms of budget and preferred cuisine.

“It is important to have a wide range of restaurants and international brands. We have a flagship McDonald’s outlet, for instance, but it is operated as a franchise, which is unusual as the company usually operates its own outlets. As a result it is very high class and has many things you would not normally find in McDonald’s,” remarks Halamoda.

“We also have special local sausages, Italian fine foods, and well-known gourmet restaurants from around Germany also have outlets here. There is a variety of ethnic food, too. Our Asia team has made sushi, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese available. Our Mediterranean team has brought in Spanish and Italian cuisine. There is a strong local team specialising in Bavarian food, and we also have a team looking at trend cuisine, bringing in concepts such as surf and turf.”

Global awareness

The offering of local food is a big win for the airport, not only because it capitalises on the global awareness of Bavarian food to pique the interest of international travellers or to welcome local passengers home, but also because it serves to attract local people to the airport even when they are not taking a flight.

“The area around Munich is one of the few areas in Germany that has its own specific cuisine. Passengers will know Bavarian foods such as sausages and pork knuckles, and the local beer, so they will expect to see it here. Our local passengers like to have a taste of home when they come back from a trip abroad. And we are one of the airports with a high level of business from non-passengers – local people come here to see bands, eat in restaurants and attend the events we stage in the evenings,” explains Halamoda.

Forecasting the future

The way that Allresto works as a part of Munich Airport’s organisational structure enables Halamoda and his teams to stay one step ahead of the challenges that arise in planning the airport’s dining experience.

“There has been a shift in passenger behaviour in recent years, particularly with online check-in, which means that passengers spend less time in the public areas. They may go straight through security to the non-public areas. That means that in the public areas you have to compete strongly and be noticeable,” he explains.

“We work on standards and training every day to ensure high grade customer care. We have mystery customers and we use a lot of external evaluation. We also link salaries and bonuses to quality and performance. There is a continuous review of dining opportunities and we look at different restaurant
outlets as passenger groups change, so if more Chinese, American or local passengers are at a certain gate then we change the dining opportunities accordingly,” he adds.

The airport also offers a more international flavour

One of the challenges that lies ahead will certainly require the long-term planning that Allresto engages in. It is the issue of finding qualified staff, which is increasingly difficult, not least because of the high rate of employment in the local economy. Typically, Allresto is looking at this problem over a timespan of up to 30 years and is working on the problem now to ensure that the operation has the right people to deliver the new dining concepts it is developing.

Allresto’s close focus on the needs of a single airport – a model that replicates that airport’s approach to the provision of duty free retail outlets – could be the key to the recognition given to Munich Airport for the quality of its dining, and could hold a lesson for other airports around the world.

“We are very proud of things like the Skytrax report,” says Halamoda. “We are a very small company, although we have 40 outlets, while most airport catering companies are global. Most airports give space to concessionaires, but they don’t have our competence in operating restaurants. Also, because we are a subsidiary of the airport itself, we give it our profits. That is a very good model with good economics.”

Jim Banks

Sky’s the limit

The 2013 World Airport Awards ceremony was held earlier this year at Passenger Terminal EXPO in Geneva, the world’s leading airport terminal conference and exhibition. London-based aviation consultancy Skytrax surveyed over 12 million air travellers from 108 nationalities to find the world’s best airports.

Munich Airport came out on top in the airport dining category. In the overall passenger ratings, Munich was voted Europe’s second-best airport, just behind Amsterdam, and achieved a number six ranking in the global table. Singapore Changi Airport was voted the world’s best airport overall.

World’s best airport dining

1  Munich Airport
2  Hong Kong International Airport
3  Incheon International Airport
4  Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
5  Singapore Changi Airport
Source: worldairportawards.com/index.htm

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