Hartsfield-Jackson to refresh concessions

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is planning a makeover to its concessions aimed at adding everything from gourmet markets to more local flavor at the airport.

The major revamp of restaurants and shops could bring to Hartsfield-Jackson some trends that have become popular in airports around the world, while maintaining a distinctly Southern feel.

"Because we're in Atlanta, in the heart of the South, we want to create a sense of place," said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Louis Miller. "When we evaluate the proposals, we will be looking at that." He added the airport will also be looking for national brands.

The airport plans to seek proposals to replace and add concessions throughout the airport and to put concessions in the airport's international terminal, which is to open in spring 2012. In total, the airport plans to issue contracts for about 91 food and beverage outlets and 28 retail locations, making it among the nation's largest round of airport concessions contract awards.

Draft requests for proposals released to the public include solicitations for a variety of restaurants, newsstands and retail outlets. In some cases they specifically ask for proposals for gourmet markets, a trend in European airports that has been expanding in the United States, and for bookstore cafes, like the Café Intermezzo and Buckhead Books location on Concourse B.

"There's a lot of different trends that are happening in the food area," said Pauline Armbrust, chief executive of Airport Revenue News. "Upscale sit-down restaurants are really becoming more of a big trend."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, passengers have been arriving at airports earlier to get through security and often end up with more time on their hands before flights. Some upscale restaurants at airports feature high-end menus and extensive wine selections, Armbrust said.

Another airport trend is restaurants specializing in regionally sourced ingredients, Armbrust said.

"Trends that are happening on the street end up in airports," she said.

The new concessions are also expected to bring more healthy options to the Atlanta airport.

"That's just a natural shift in everybody's life, looking for more choices in the types of food that they're going to get, looking for an opportunity to get healthy foods," Miller said. "We want a wide variety of choices."

Airport management plans to finalize its requests for proposals soon. Meanwhile, some concessionaires are concerned about the turnaround time to open concessions in the international terminal next year, as well as the schedule for building out so many new concessions throughout the airport while continuing to serve passengers.

There is also a potential for displacement among airport regulars. Passengers get used to certain restaurants, "because they have their travel patterns," Armbrust said. "They get there at a certain time because they know they can get their lunch or their dinner before their flight." However, if the airport can bring in a better or newer concept, "the sales can really improve tremendously," he added.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has been introducing new restaurants and bar concepts in its terminal facilities at New York's John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. Those concessions include options for travelers to order meals from Apple iPad kiosks at their departure gate areas, which are then delivered to them within 10 minutes, as well as a gourmet food hall, wine bar, and seafood and raw bar.

Miller said that though the request for proposals does not specifically solicit options such as, say, bars specializing in wine tasting, concessionaires can propose concepts that qualify under particular categories.

Concessions International president Anthony Joseph said the airport's broad descriptions for the concessions it plans to solicit allow for more creativity.

"This is a great chance [for the airport] to say, ‘How do you reinvent yourself?'" Joseph said. "The outcome of this program should be Atlanta having a really forward-looking concessions program that adds some excitement."

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