As travelers look to airlines to provide more food options in their premium lounges, we look at how three global carriers are meeting those needs. The challenge for these airlines is to offer myriad food options to adapt to different nutrition needs, time zones, eating habits and cultures.
Excellence at Qatar Lounges worldwide
Doha-based Qatar Airways prides itself on being a five-star airline, both in the skies and on the ground. The airline owns and operates the Al Safwa First Lounge and Al Mourjan Business Lounge at its hub and home at Hamad International Airport (HIA). It also operates 10 other lounges in Doha, including the First Class Lounge; Business Class Lounge; Premium Arrivals Lounge Landside; Premium Arrivals Lounge Airside; VIP Lounge; Oryx Lounge; and four Al Maha Lounges (in the departures, arrivals and transit areas of HIA).
Outside of Doha, Qatar Airways operates its own lounges at London Heathrow, Dubai, and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports, and is creating its own lounges in Bangkok and Beirut. “In addition, Qatar Airways’ customers have over 140 lounges worldwide available to our Premium Class, Privilege Club Platinum, Gold and Silver members, as well as oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members, although we do not own or operate those lounge experiences,” said Rossen Dimitrov, the airline’s senior vice president of customer experience. (Flying with Qatar? Use our handy Lounge Finder to find the lounges that you have access to.)
The airline’s dedicated catering subsidiary, Qatar Aircraft Catering Company (QACC), based in Doha, supplies all 17 lounges with food and beverage on a 24-hour basis, said Dimitrov. “We have a full production kitchen located in our Al Safwa First Lounge and finishing facilities in our other Doha lounges. The menu is designed by a cross-functional team representing customer experience, product and QACC,” he said. “Qatar Airways connects people from more than 150 destinations all over the world. When our guests are enjoying their Doha lounge experience, they are on their own time zone, with their own regional cuisine preferences. We design menus that have something for everyone—something familiar as well as something interesting that might entice them.”
As Qatar Airways flies passengers from six continents, travelers are as diverse as its destinations, said Dimitrov. “Our food offerings reflect both the traditional meal for the time of the day—breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday, etc., but we include additional food options too, recognizing that every customer may be on a different time zone than their connect point or destination,” he explained. “In our flagship Doha lounges, Qatar Airways aims to take into account dietary requirements, including gluten-free, diabetic, lactose intolerant, Muslim, Jain, Hindu and baby and children.”
Another benefit of dining in Qatar Airways’ Doha lounges is that they offer both full buffet meals and snack and beverage stations throughout the lounges. “However, our signature sit-down service where passengers are able to select their meals from a menu—changed three to four times times daily—is the highlight of the lounge offerings,” he stated. “Customers love the traditional restaurant-style service and see it as the best of both worlds—the ability to sit and have a full meal with their fellow travel companions while enjoying full wait service.”
Food options in the lounges change weekly, said Dimitrov. “Menus are planned one month in advance to highlight the best possible ingredients from around the world, while also taking into account our guests’ feedback and our observations on what is popular.”
The airline also has themed events that it holds in some of its premium lounges, said Dimitrov. “Some examples are a Chinese-Asian theme during the Chinese New Year period, an Arabic menu during Eid, an Italian theme, which is always a favorite, the Al Safwa Anniversary special, and Qatar National day celebration on December 18,” he said.
The current menu has many new delicacies, including: wasabi-coated prawns, blue cheese Arancini, seafood broth with summer vegetables, roasted pumpkin soup, grilled rib eye steak, classic lobster tail, and in-house pasta options.
Desserts include blueberry cheesecake, tiramisu and vanilla bean panna cotta.
Qatar Airways believes that travel is transformative and, just like experiencing new or local cuisine at your destination, enjoying a meal onboard or in one of our lounges should be a part of the experience of travel, said Dimitrov.
“Travel, like food, is extremely personal to each individual and we believe that food can add to a great experience; making memorable moments for all customers,” he said. “Furthermore, across all cultures, food unites people – be it families or friends sharing a meal or the opportunity to meet someone new in one of the hundred plus Qatar Airways lounges worldwide. Great food in our lounges is just another example of Qatar Airways Going Places Together.”
Refreshed menus at the United Club and United Polaris Lounge
United Airlines has been working on a major upgrade of food options in its lounges since 2015. Gone are the foods like pre-packaged cheese and crackers, carrots and trail mix. Those foods have been replaced by healthier and fresher items including fresh salads, meat-and-cheese boards and a variety of soups.
The airline is working with the culinary team at Sodexho and Chicago-based celebrity Chef Art Smith, who served as Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for 10 years.
There are foundational items on the menu that address multiple customer needs, said Jimmy Samartzis, vice president of food services and United Clubs. “We pay attention to food trends and work to adapt them in our clubs. It’s nice to have United Clubs combined with our onboard catering departments, because it gives us the expertise that allows us to tune into customers on a massive scale,” he said. “Our culinary team pays attention and offers foundational items that appeal to anyone with dietary restrictions. And we’re on a cycle where we change the menu every quarter.”
Looking at the current menu options, the clubs are doing wine pairings, said Samartzis. “So you’ll see a Girodanos chopped salad with chicken paired with a riesling wine,” he said. “For lunch you’ll see items like cheddar cheese beer or roasted vegetable soup with stir-ins like fresh chopped herbs and croutons,” he said. “With salads, choices include romaine kale or a signature honey bean barley salad.”
Items on the hot buffet there’s cheese-stuffed shells and desserts ranging from toffee brownie bites to double chocolate chip cookies.
Travelers can enjoy a cheese board that includes an artisanal feature item, said Samartzis. “During one cycle we had a wheel of Parmesan cheese. Then we switched to a smoked gouda,” he said. “We also have salami boards that feature meats including mortadella, capicola and sopressata.”
And United has big plans for its Polaris Lounge, which opened on December 1, 2016 at Chicago O’Hare. During an interview at the roll-out of the lounge concept in June, Chef Bill Kim of the Trotter Project offered his vision on what travelers can expect.
“One of the things you might see is seasonal and regional cuisine from all over the world because we have a lot of Charlie Trotter alumni everywhere,” said Kim. “So you might take a dish from London, Australia, San Francisco or Chicago.”
The Trotter Group did a lot of workshops in collaboration with United, said Kim. “We spent two days cooking, tasting and choosing items for the past year and a half,” he said. “I think you’re going to find some very unusual flavors that are unique, very bold and just bright new changes in the Polaris Lounge.”
Enticing fresh menus at Lufthansa Group lounges worldwide
The German flag carrier has two providers for lounge catering in the U.S. and they have their own scouting and development departments, said Ernst Derenthal, area manager Americas, product design and caterer management, for Lufthansa. “However, they also regularly work with celebrity chefs in order to always be updated on the newest trends in food and service,” he said.
In fact, some of the carrier’s design chefs worked for celebrity chefs before moving to Lufthansa’s lounge providers, said Derenthal. “We conduct regular workshops in which we evaluate the constant changing needs of our guests.”
In creating menus that address myriad needs of its customers, many factors play a role, such as time of departure or arrival, “stomach time” length of travel and ethnic background, to name a few, said Derenthal. “For a while now fresh vegetarian food has been strongly demanded,” he added.
There’s a different schedule when it comes to rotating the menu, said Derenthal. “Some food components change bimonthly while others change monthly,” he said. “In addition to the regular changes, we also modify the menus for the typical harvest seasons, including strawberry season and white asparagus season.”
And during special periods like Oktoberfest, Lufthansa serves food relating to that, like weisswurst and sauerkraut, said Derenthal. “Last but not least, the Lufthansa menu will change for most of the holiday seasons, like the Christmas or Easter seasons.”
Every traveler has different needs, said Derenthal. “For example, one may have come from a meeting, is tired and is just looking for a drink and a snack. Another may be on his way to a late departure flight, but would like to use his time on board to rest or work, and would like a full meal so that he could skip the service on board and just go to sleep,” he explained. “Another one may have some time to kill between two flights and would just like to be entertained by some decent dishes. It is therefore impossible to meet everyone’s personal needs, but we try to find a mix of most requirements to satisfy as many guests as possible.”
Featured photo: United Global First Lounge – London Heathrow (LHR)