Visitors at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) might not leave the McNamara Terminal if it's up to their taste buds. Earlier this year, the airport launched an entirely new lineup of food and beverage offerings that includes farm-to-table freshness and an updated combination of local and national options. In addition, the terminal also features delivery service in two gatehold areas, Motown-flavored live music and a lush green wall.
DTW officials project that the changes will generate $63 million in sales during the first full year of operation. Annual revenue to the airport authority is projected to increase 57% to $10 million. Early figures show sales are on-track, if not exceeding, estimates.
"We brought a lot of innovative thinking and a willingness to step outside the box with this new program," explains Interim Chief Executive Officer Joseph Nardone. "We wanted our travelers to remember that their airport experience was uniquely Detroit, and we worked to infuse our own local culture and people into the experience."
Project: New Food & Beverage Program
Location: Detroit Metropolitan Airport -
Packages Offered: 8
Sales Projections: $63 million in first full year; airport revenue expected to increase by 57%, to $10 million
Food & Beverage Concessionaires: Midfield Concession Enterprises; HBF APU Joint Venture; Areas USA
Architects/Designers: Studio H2G; JGA; NORR
General Contractors: Seerco; Micco Construction; MiG Construction; The Petersen Companies
Vertical Plant Wall: GSky Plant Systems
Seating: Arcadia Seating; Interra Designs; W.E. Gingell Associates; Office Furniture Solutions
Of Note: 2 new gatehold dining areas with
The terminal, which originally opened in 2002 and is home to a Delta Air Lines hub, was due for a concessions overhaul. "Things change in 10 years, and there was a lot of new activity in the market," explains Nardone. "It was just the right time for us to have a new program."
Recent changes to the terminal's food and beverage program complement a 2014 overhaul of retail offerings. New shops added two years ago include PANDORA, Porsche Design, Hugo Boss, Estee Lauder, Dylan's Candy Bar, CNBC Smartshop, Time newsstand, Be Relax Spa and The Wall Street Journal newsstand and travel store.
When it came time to update food and beverages offerings, airport officials knew the task would be trickier. Because DTW is an international gateway serving 33 million passengers per year, airport officials focused on balance between sit down and "to go" food, local and national brands, and snacks and full meals. "The airport serves travelers with a wide variety of preferences, tastes, experiences and needs," says Nardone. "It was important that we tried to offer something that appeals to everyone moving through our facility."
Local Flavors & Natural Decor
Two entities reigned supreme when DTW issued eight separate request for proposal packages: Midfield Concession Enterprises, a local firm that got its start at DTW, and HBF APU, a joint venture between Atlanta-based Hojeij Branded Foods and Detroit-based AP United.
Midfield, which operates 13 restaurants in the terminal, brought in strong national brands such as Chili's and Max & Erma's, but also concentrated on local flavor and upscale dining. "We find that's the trend in the airports," reflects Samir W. Mashni, vice president of business development. "That's what airport landlords want, and that's what the travelers want."
The company developed one area of the terminal into the Eastern Market, with offerings patterned after a 125-year-old local farmers' market that has become a popular year-round destination. Except for one national coffee shop, all the food and beverage vendors in DTW's Eastern Market are local brands. "We took Detroit's Eastern Market-the oldest farmers' market in the country-and themed an entire market setting behind it, utilizing our award-winning corporate chef to create the menus for some of the vendors," says Mashni.
A large, vertical wall filled with live green plants was added to reinforce the farmers' market theme and provide soothing aesthetics for travelers. GSky Plant Systems created and installed the green wall.
Another local brand that gained a spot inside McNamara is Andiamo Restaurant, a renowned Detroit tradition that offers northern Italian cuisine. Operators tweaked the menu, however, to suit the fast-paced airport environment. "If you go to a non-airport Andiamo Restaurant, you have time to dine," Mashni relates. "In an airport setting, you have a half-hour or 45 minutes maximum. We selected menu items that represented the brand but can be delivered to the customer in five to seven minutes. We limited the menu in order to do that, but at the same time gave the customer the real taste of Andiamo."
An accent wall made of live plants adds a verdant touch to the Eastern Market.
The restaurant, which proved to be very popular at the airport, has also attracted national attention. It recently won Airport Revenue News' 2016 Best New Food and Beverage Concept.
A combination of self-service ordering and gatehold delivery provides passengers with a new level of convenience. Two gateside seating areas, located on opposite ends of the nearly mile-long Concourse A, allow customers to order selections from the Eastern Market via wireless tablets and have food and beverages delivered-without ever leaving their gate area. Guests can order alcohol from the tablets but must provide proof that they are at least 21 years old to be served. A collection of 100 iPads attached to the community tables facilitates ordering and credit card payments.
Designing the new dining areas proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the project. "It was trickier doing the gatehold configuration because we had to move airline seating and adjust traffic flow," Nardone explains.
Sales, however, are 25% higher than when the area was arranged as a traditional food court, notes Mashni. "People are getting more and more accustomed to it," he reports. "It is slowly coming around." Airport visitors are finding they prefer having snacks and meals delivered to them instead of waiting in lines, he explains.
Working closely with Delta, the terminal's primary tenant, was critical to ensure that the airline retained enough seating to accommodate passengers waiting for flights. "I cannot underestimate the value of Delta's participation," Nardone emphasizes. "They were a critical partner, and we communicated with them through every step of the process."
Customers can use airport-supplied iPads to order food for delivery near their gates.
While mixing wireless technology with food service has presented some challenges for some customers, most travelers have welcomed the new option. "People always feel more comfortable psychologically to be at their gate and be brought a beverage and sandwich," Nardone explains.
Executives at Studio H2G, one of the design firms involved in the HBF APU project, say gatehold dining is doing exactly what airports had hoped: improving the passenger experience and increasing revenue. "That's why we are seeing a lot of seating areas being changed into venues [where] people can order food while waiting," reasons Creative Principal Nick Giammarco.
The HBF APU joint venture is a new food and beverage operator at DTW. Among its 11 offerings in the McNamara Terminal is Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina, which features a $40,000 domed oven that cooks pizza in 90 seconds. "We actually have people that come into the restaurant to take pictures of the oven," notes Tanya R. Allen, partner and vice president of HBF APU.
Nearby, the new Espressamente Illy Café and Fountain Bar is positioned beside the airport's famous "leap frog" water fountains. In addition to providing an authentic Italian coffee bar experience, DTW wanted the new option to be "iconic and memorable, with international style and appeal." Designed by Studio H2G and prefabricated offsite, the Illy structure is apparently living up to expectations. Giammarco describes the structure as modern in style, sleek and reminiscent of speed and airflow.
Designing the freestanding facility included two pragmatic challenges: the venue could not be anchored to a wall, and nothing could be anchored to the ceiling. "So we don't think of this as a building, but more as a permanent exhibit," explains Giammarco. "We designed it in a way where the sculptural elements could be prefabricated and then installed on site. There is really no visible structure; there's just freestanding or floating ribbons [that] had to be engineered and fabricated."
DTW's objectives with the Illy design reflect an emerging national trend, he adds. "It is indicative of how airports and operators these days are committed to providing unique experiences and thus better experiences for passengers."
The terminal's top-grossing food and beverage venue thus far has been a surprise: Plum Market, a gourmet concept that features fresh, organic, unprocessed and other healthy foods from providers throughout Michigan as well as selections from Zingerman's food stores in Ann Arbor.
"We all are pleasantly surprised Plum Market is the top revenue generator in the airport and of all our restaurants," Allen excitedly notes. The market operates like a deli, but has seating as well as counter service. Popular selections include salmon, vegetables and soups. "People love it," Allen reports. "And I think that's the trend because passengers really want to buy healthy foods."
Motown Music Fills the Air
Allen's team also added something she feels is important for airports: live music. DTW purchased a pair of baby grand pianos from a local vendor for $50,000 and placed one near the water feature, at the large intersection of the terminal, and the other near the gatehold dining area at the opposite end of the concourse. Live acoustic guitar music is also featured at the water fountains.
Recent changes to the food and beverage program are expected generate $63 million in sales during the first full year of operation.
Local musician Keith Ferguson, musical director for the Spinners, is a fixture at one of the pianos, playing Motown favorites. "People sit in the area to enjoy the music," Allen says. "In fact, during a snowstorm last year, I was sitting there when a pianist was playing and a couple started ballroom dancing right in the middle the airport."
Allen credits the success of HFB APU's new concessions program to the organization's philosophy. "We view ourselves as restaurateurs and not concessionaries, and have a strong working relationship with the airport," she explains. "We truly think of them as a partner. We share ideas that can help enhance the overall experience of passengers."
On a similar note, Nardone credits much of the overall program's success to the airport team and concessionaires, but he also acknowledges Delta's importance. "Delta is an outstanding partner and served as an advisory member when the bids came in," he explains. "We are very lucky to have Delta at this airport and we are continually working with them to deliver the best product. We want to make sure our storefronts are snappy and attractive so when people walk by them, they are enticed to come in, spend money, and enjoy the experience."