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Redefining In-Flight Catering

The True Story of Aviation Catering and Concierge Services

True Story of Inflight Caterers

As a flight crew member who also works for a catering company dedicated to serving the business aviation community, I’m in a unique position to see where the two industries are disconnected and how they work in support of each other. Flight crew members, including myself, have thought of caterers as just another company trying to make money from business aviation, instead of viewing them as part of this great community we all work in. Just like any industry, it is true there are companies that pop up that aren’t operating in the best interest of the industry and they are just trying to make a quick dime. However, the majority of companies, and in this case – caterers – are not like that.

I used to wonder how caterers became part of this industry, other than the fact that they make food. I also wanted to know, like many of us, “why is it so expensive?”

Being in business aviation and active within the community, I always wondered about aviation catering and until I actually jumped into it to see what it is all about. Honestly, I was really shocked in what I discovered and I’m going to share those discoveries with you.

Caterers from around the world are very active within our own local business aviation communities, and strive to make each of our flights successful. These caterers are part of the NBAA, EBAA, local aviation groups and much more. They support our groups with donations, scholarships, information, training, support, and part of the community in marketing. As an NBAA Flight Attendant and Flight Technician committee member, I have seen how caterers have gone above and beyond to support the community. Caterers spend thousands of dollars in support of the community by sponsoring events, offering scholarships, or event donating food for certain charitable flights in need.

As part of the aviation community, I feel that we really need to work closer with our caterers to elevate the service we are providing our clients, communicate what we are looking for in catering and support them as much as possible to be a bigger part of our community. We each have a mission and job duty when we fly, but it all comes down to the detail and quality of communication, including not only with the crew, but the caterer, the line workers, FBOs, handlers, schedulers and dispatchers. We are all part of the flight in one way or the other and therefore we are a team. If one fails, we all fail. Each member of this team plays their role to make each flight 100% perfect for our passengers.

Now, I know what you are saying the pricing can be outrageous; that you can go to the grocery store or out to eat for less money. You are right. Just like any aviation business, you can find some other way to do it for less, but why does it cost so much?

Imagine the caterer is your favorite local restaurant that you go to all the time. You always order off the menu and ask for your ribeye to be served medium-rare with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and a diet soft drink. Now, you go back to your favorite restaurant and ask for a filet mignon, which is not on the menu, sweet potato mash, which is not on the menu, and sautéd baby spinach and a different brand of diet soft drink than the ones they have in their fountains. What do you think the restaurant would tell you? Most likely, you would hear a version of, “Sorry that is not on the menu; we only carry what’s on the menu.”

Caterers around the world are given requests like the example above every day. From more standard items to unique specialty items. There is no possible way that a caterer can physically carry everything in stock, so many times they have to buy the items at retail. This is especially true because they are only given a small amount of time to get these items, usually less than 24 hours. Of course, the more time you give the caterer the better quality, presentation and, possibly, pricing you will get on those items.

I know, you are thinking it should not cost that much more since you can pick up these items from the store for less money. But let’s think about the true cost of your trip to the store versus using your time otherwise. How much is your hourly rate? What do you pay monthly for rent to store the food? How much is your car insurance? What about the cost of your health insurance and benefits? How much did your certifications cost?

Now let’s apply this logic to an example of ordering a six-pack of your passenger’s favorite soft drink. It may cost you from a cater $30 or more from the caterer. You think, “Wow! That’s a lot of money for a six pack of drinks when I can buy a 12 pack at the store for $5. They have to be making huge money, right?” Well, that six-pack is usually costing the caterer more than $30 if that’s all you order.

For that six-pack, the caterer has to send a driver out to the store who possibly makes $15-$20 an hour in salary, but in reality that employee is costing the company more like $25-$30 an hour, due to employee insurance, taxes, benefits, workman’s compensation coverage, and other employee-related costs. On top of that, the employee is now pulled out of producing other catering orders since they have to go to the store for up to an hour. Now the caterer has to store the six-pack, which takes rent and electric, until it is time for the delivery. Don’t forget about fuel, maintenance costs, lease payments and insurance for the vehicle, which is used both on the trip to the store and the trip to deliver the order. That six-pack is now costing the caterer much more than $30 to procure and delivery, and that doesn’t even include the cost of the Client Services team member who took the order or the order management system to relay the order to the kitchen. What is the true cost of you procuring those items versus reaching out to a caterer? In various cases, you will find various outcomes for the lower cost option.

Yes, I know in this example we are discussing a fairly a common item, and you would think the caterer should just have it in-house. But, what about all of the other varieties and all of the other brands of soft drinks that come in six packs and other sizes? Does this mean then that all of these varieties should be in stock? Especially nowadays, everything has expiration dates; so the caterer could end up losing money (thus driving up prices) by keeping all of this in stock.

Caterers are here to offer you top-notch service and great food. Of course, if that is not what you are experiencing, then you have all the right to complain. However, when it comes to pricing, think about what it really takes behind-the-scenes to complete what you are ordering. You may go out and buy those drinks on your own in an effort to save money, but don’t forget about the true cost of you doing so and that if you need a caterer for those concierge services they are there for you. Hopefully, this article has helped to illustrate why there will be higher prices so the caterer can cover their operating expenses to meet your request.

I ask all of us to build relationships with flight crews, schedulers, flight attendants, flight technicians, mechanics, line workers, FBOs, handlers and caterers. There is always the good and the bad, just like in any industry, but we are all a team and we are here to help each other.

As always, Stay Safe and Safe Travels!

Questions?

If you have any questions about this article or flight crew culinary training, contact me at jdetloff@airculinaire.com. For questions about in-flight catering, contact weborders@airculinaire.com.

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