Salt Lake City Int'l Overhauls Concessions with Local Faves & National Brands

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Maureen Riley, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, rarely totes a brown bag to work these days. "There are a lot of lunch options we never had before," she notes.

That's because Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) recently contracted 35 new food/beverage options and 32 additional retail, news and gift outlets. Other than modest upgrades in 2000 to help prepare for visitors during Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympics, the airport had not made major renovations in years, notes Riley.


Project: Concessions Overhaul

Location: Salt Lake City Int'l Airport

Governing Body: Salt Lake City Dept. of Airports

Contract Packages: 7 Food & Beverage; 7 Retail, News & Gift

Food & Beverage Contract Holders: HMSHost (43%); Hojeij Branded Foods/Air Terminal Gifts (43%); Salt Lake Brewing Co. (11%); McDonald's (3%) Retail, News & Gift Contract Holders: Duty Free Americas; HMSHost; The Paradies Shops; Sweet Ventures

With plans on the drawing board to build an entirely new terminal, SLC faced a fork in the road about three years ago, when many of its concessions began approaching their lease expiration dates. Officials could either initiate a comprehensive overhaul of the existing program or put temporary offerings in place until the new terminal was ready.

The decision to execute a comprehensive program overhaul will allow the timeline for the debut of the new terminal to largely coincide with the terms of new food and beverage agreements, Riley explains. While retail agreements are typically five to seven years, food and beverage agreements are often 10 years, to allow for the amortization of higher investments in the kitchen equipment.

Airport officials report that the new food and beverage concepts are faring well in the short time they have been open. In December 2011, under the previous program, the average food and beverage sale per enplaned passenger was $4.26. In December 2012, with nearly everything re-opened, the average sale increased nearly 20%, to $5.10 per enplaned passenger.

The Spice of Life

The airport's new blend of local restaurants and national brands was assembled to provide options for every palate, and Riley is apparently not the only one sampling the offerings. Food and beverage providers report that they are serving a lot more employees than before. "We usually open our staff meetings (by discussing) what has been discovered at our variety of restaurants," says Riley. "I like to rotate and try everything, and it is hard to pick out one favorite because we have so many options."

With staggered openings beginning in summer 2012, staffers have had a lot to talk about.

"We are really pleased with the outcome of our program," she reports. "As a hub airport, 45% of our passengers are just changing planes and looking for a nationally recognized brand. Since 55% of our passengers are O&D (origination and destination), we wanted to introduce local providers into the market. We wanted a blended program that would accommodate both the connecting passengers as well as the local and destination passengers, and we have achieved that with our program."

Local Flavor

Concessions with local ties include Squatters Pub Brewery, a renovated version of Salt Lake Brewing Company's existing airport brewhouse, and Vino Volo Ale House, a joint venture between the same company and boutique vintner Vino Volo. While one side of the restaurant is beer-oriented, the other is wine-centric; a seating area in between the two bars allows customers to order from both menus with table service.

With two locations, Salt Lake Brewing Company operates 11% of SLC's concessions.

Also from the local scene are High West Distillery and Saloon, a Park City restaurant and watering hole; Market Street Grill, an iconic local seafood restaurant; and Vivace Cucina Toscana, the speedier cousin of Cucina Toscana, an Italian restaurant in downtown Salt Lake. The three local-flavor restaurants are part of a larger HMSHost contract that encompasses 43% of the new food and beverage offerings at SLC.

"What you are seeing in Salt Lake is consistent with a broader trend in the industry to promote local restaurateurs and local chefs," reports Joe Waller, vice president of business development at HMSHost. "For us, it is right in our wheelhouse."

HMSHost has found that design is an important factor in attracting customers to local restaurants - especially out-of-towners who may not be familiar with the brands.

"The look and the design of the space is very important to draw people in," Waller explains. He considers SLC's Vivace Cucina Toscana one of the most beautiful restaurants anywhere, much less in an airport. "It's absolutely gorgeous," he raves. The restaurant's design allows customers to see the chefs working. Waller likens the "display cooking" to dinner and a show.

With less than 90 days of operations underway, Waller described the new HMSHost concepts as "absolute babies." Accordingly, he spoke like an adoring proud papa: "These are beautiful restaurants, and it is a really nice statement for the people of Salt Lake City. I am personally very proud to be on the team that made this all possible."

National Notoriety

The airport's revamped concessions lineup includes a variety of national and specialty brands, including 15 new offerings from Hojeij Branded Foods, which partnered with locally based Air Terminal Gifts.

After securing contracts for 43% of the food and beverage locations at SLC, Hojeij began its transition last January by shutting down various concessions on a rolling basis and running temporary facilities while renovations and changes were made. "I am very proud to say that by the end of December 2012, we had all 15 new facilities constructed, up and operating successfully," notes Regynald Washington, the company's chief operating officer.

SLC can now claim to the second Popeye's location in Utah. It's also the proud home of Cat Cora's Kitchen, the celebrity chef's newest airport restaurant, cocktail and tapas lounge. San Francisco International and Bush Intercontinental in Houston have sister locations, but SLC also has a takeout version of the brand: Cat Cora's Gourmet Market, which features health-oriented selections such as salads and sandwiches.

Other quick-service concepts include Manchu Wok, Seattle's Best Coffee, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Pei Wei, Boar's Head Deli and UFood Grill, an all-natural concept. On the sit-down side, Gordon Biersch Brewery is an upscale restaurant with 230 seats.

"These are great, great concepts," emphasizes Washington. "And we are seeing the results of our work, because it is being well received. People seem to be extremely pleased with the variety of concepts."

Importantly, Riley and her staff count themselves in that group.


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