The rise of the airport multi-offer food area

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Airport F&B is affected by everything from changing high street shopping habits to the need to generate additional revenue. Roger Odili, director at Studio Duncalf, explains the role that good design has to play in this ever-changing element of airport life.

Not so long ago the main F&B offering at many airports rarely strayed beyond a chicken and mayonnaise baguette or a bland burger from a global chain. Soft drink options tended to be restricted to those from the big brands, and the beer and wine on offer was similarly predictable.

Thankfully things have changed and continue to do so. These days the F&B offering has been transformed to such a degree that eating and drinking at the airport has gone from a necessary evil to an experience to be relished. This is a very welcome change.

The opportunity
As we know, global passenger numbers are set to increase in the next few years, with some analysis predicting that they will double between now and 2037. This means that airport F&B will grow in importance, both from a passenger experience point of view and from that of the airports and their efforts to increase non-aviation-related revenue. This will be a great commercial opportunity for airports. There are a lot of factors involved in getting the right formula and the importance of good design cannot be underestimated.

Outside the airport environment, the retail and the casual dining sectors have undergone a number of changes in recent years. In the UK, for example, the retail sector is currently adapting to accommodate changing shopping habits.

The F&B offer has become an increasingly important part of the mix for customers and a revenue driver for retailers, pulling shoppers in by their bellies! Whether in shopping malls like London’s Westfield, Europe’s largest, or the numerous food markets popping up all over the West End, the capital’s best-known retail district, the F&B experience is increasingly valued by the customer. The multi-offer food market format in particular has become more and more popular with customers.

These changes in the wider F&B sector have influenced many of the developments taking place in the airport F&B environment – not just from a consumer offer perspective but also from a design point of view – with airports becoming increasingly aware of the commercial advantages of this format. Over the past year we have had numerous discussions with airports that are attracted to the fluidity of the food hall/food market format and considering introducing multi-offer food areas of their own.

The multi-offer food area concept
There are variations in the way that the multi-offer food area is operated and laid out. It could be operated by a single concessionaire with a number of different F&B offers across the space, or the space could feature a variety of offers from different independent operators.

The concept’s increasing popularity is down to a number of factors:

Flexibility and variety
One key attraction for customers is that the multi-offer food area format enables more flexibility than a traditional restaurant, making it easy for the visitor to enjoy food and drink from more than one provider.

Innovation and sense of place
Multi-offer areas and pop-up opportunities can be used to encourage emerging F&B concepts. Copenhagen Airport, for example, has been particularly successful in reflecting a sense of place in its F&B offer. This is partly as a result of its active local heroes policy, which encourages Copenhagen restaurants to introduce their concepts into the airport environment.

Great design can make a big difference
The evolution of the F&B landscape has not only led to changes in the consumer offer in the airport environment, but is also contributing to changes in the design and layout of sections of the airports themselves.

In our experience, there are many things to consider when planning and designing multi-offer food areas in airports. Here are a few:

  • The space needs to be designed to make it easy for customers to navigate. This can be through clear lines of sight which help visitors to quickly get a feel for what’s on offer. Clear signage and wayfinding will also help.
  • Flexible seating/dining areas for different types of traveler, including seating for large groups and families to eat together as well as areas where single travelers will feel comfortable.
  • Good planning and design can ensure that F&B spaces are better integrated into the passenger flow and are well coordinated with passenger behavior. This means that stopping off for food becomes an effortless part of the journey through the airport.
  • The space should be planned to ensure that passengers with different needs can feel well catered for. The business traveler short on time should be as well-served as the family with longer dwell time.
  • Floor finishes and lighting can also play a crucial role in demarcating a food area in general, and individual offers within that area, as well as creating mood and ambience.

Having said all of this about the rise of multi-offer food markets, however, there remains a demand from consumers for traditional restaurants in airports and we are still designing them!

Studio Duncalf is a London-based interior design studio that works globally on a diverse range of F&B, retail and hospitality projects. Recently completed airport projects include the award-winning food hall at Copenhagen Airport.

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