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The pros and cons of airport iPad restaurants

A seasoned traveler’s experience with technology, cheese platters, and a surly figure known only as “The Artisan"

By Stanis Smith, Executive Vice President (Vancouver, BC)

In an effort to shake up the generally mediocre food offerings at airports, a company named OTG has introduced a concept that you may have seen popping up in certain North American terminals.

The eye-candies (iCandies?) central to the concept are iPads sitting on work surfaces, irresistibly tempting you to surf for free, but mainly intended to entice you to order food delivered to your seat. (Well, not that irresistibly, if the last person smeared their greasy fingers all over the glass, but I digress.)

         Related Item: More on airport design at The Airports Hub

The concept of ordering food in an airport, with or without iPads, only works if you’re not rushing to catch a flight. The iPad interface has been cleverly designed to minimize stress by asking you for your flight number and then displaying your departure gate and boarding time. It would be even better if it told you how long it will take you to get to your gate (in my case it was a ten-minute sprint; more about that later).

Because I had less than an hour to spare, I ordered food that I assumed wouldn’t require lengthy hot prep: gazpacho and an artisanal cheese platter. (Have you noticed how everything is “Artisanal” these days? But I digress again). I was impressed that these two items showed up on the menu, given that typical airport food consists of a limp, day-old, mystery-meat sandwich sitting in a condensation-fogged plastic container.

The ordering process was smooth and I couldn't help noticing how the software slyly invited me to pair an overpriced glass of wine to go with my overpriced meal. I resisted with difficulty. At the end of the transaction, I swiped my credit card, and the program offered to email me a receipt. A crafty trick, maybe even an artisanal one. I reluctantly gave it my email address, knowing that for the rest of my life I will be receiving targeted junk mail about package tours to Spain (gazpacho) and defibrillators (artisanal cheese).

And then I waited. They now had both my money and my email address while I had no food and a flight to catch, so the balance of power was definitely in their direction. I pushed the Attendant button on the iPad. A surly individual approached me wearing something that looked like a heart rate monitor strapped to his arm. Was he The Artisan, I wondered? He assured me that my order was on its way.

Twenty-five minutes later, The Artisan delivered my meal, by which stage I was the one needing the heart rate monitor, particularly because the soup arrived without a spoon. No way to get an iPad to solve that problem… yet. Wireless 3D printers?

I have to concede that the iPad restaurant’s food quality was well above normal airport fare. The gazpacho was fresh and tasty, the interesting cheeses were creatively paired with condiments such as honeycomb, walnuts in maple syrup, and chutney, all nicely presented. Unfortunately, by this stage my main preoccupation was getting to my gate in time, so I wolfed down the expensive meal (US$27.09 without wine) and sprinted to catch my flight.

For innovative use of technology that aims to deliver food to your seat, OTG’s iPad restaurant definitely gets high marks. Likewise, the quality and creativity of the food is better than most airport offerings. Just make sure you have plenty of time, a thick wallet, and don’t expect much in the way of service from The Artisan. 

Also by Stanis

Stanis is Stantec’s Airports sector leader and executive vice-president of Creativity and Innovation. He is a former Associate Board Member of ACI-NA and ACI-World and is an acknowledged expert and frequent speaker on the subject of airport design. 

They now had both my money and my email address while I had no food and a flight to catch, so the balance of power was definitely in their direction.

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