The Customer-Centric Airport Cafe

I had a mundane experience recently at Mumbai Airport where I had to while away in excess of 2 hours of my time as I had finished off my work earlier and had reached the airport four hours ahead of my flight schedule.

I decided to go into a Food and Beverage outlet on the first floor as I could not get any available recliners which have been recently placed towards the end of the domestic terminal at ground level. Normally, I would reach the airport just in time for my flight and would pass by this outlet without having any time or need to visit it. Since I had a few hours to spend, I decided I would lounge at this café.

Suffice it to say that the experience was absolutely nothing worth writing about, with surly young wait staff and uncaring supervisors’ one had to wave about for and whose attention one caught only if one waved rather more frantically than the other guests. I watched guests of all shapes, sizes and configurations during my hours here and noticed that all were uniformly served with an apathetic approach.

But my aim on writing this piece is not to dig into the service standards; rather it is to question the service model. When are we really going to get it? What is the customer coming here for? Do we really believe it is for the food or the beverages? Think again!

During my time at this lounge café, I noticed that it was 80-90% full always. However, the focus was not on food or beverages. The users really wanted good old fashioned butt-space… comfortable seating to while away their time until their flight. Yes, there were a few who did come in for the occasional snack or coffee, but the needy hungry of these were not more than 15-20%. Those who ordered food, beer or hot beverages were simply doing it so as to while away their time. The café benefitted from their ‘share of stomach’ simply by default.

So here are my offerings for those who set up these lounges and coffee shops for the proletariat (I do not refer here to the bourgeoisie who flood the airport lounges in their Armani and Louis Vuitton):

  • Why not consider what the modern day frequent flier really wants?
  • Keep the food and beverages – that’s fine… After all it would be nice to have a base revenue provider!
  • Is the seating what the guest would like? Would be possible to have more cushioning, reclining, massaging, etc?
  • Availability of iPad, iPod and what have you. Chargeable by the minute of course.
  • From their table devices, guests should be able to order food, browse the web, hear their choice of music, watch a movie and stay updated with real-time flight information.
  • Would it be possible to do a virtual tour of the airport shops while seated here? Is it logistically possible to purchase and have delivery of purchases done at the table or else at the store itself? An incentive would be required for this, both for the guest as well as for the lounge.
  • Kids play pen in a corner perhaps?
  • Board games, computerized play stations.
  • Reading options… the good old fashioned way with real books (promoted by the airport book stores, to encourage people to sample recent releases and then order & pay for them through their table iPad and have them delivered within minutes to their table)… or else there’s always the iPad offering e-books!
  • Innovative OTC food knick knacks as an impulse purchase take-away, synonymous with the city in which the airport is located.

Many of the above ideas may be chargeable and would be a supplementary revenue stream for the Café apart from the fact that guests will now be offered an experience.

Café owners may argue that not many travelers have the time to spend lounging around at airports, but I would beg to defer. Our fast paced lives today compel us to ‘waste’ our time at airports thanks to airline schedules and force majeure. In fact another way at looking at these innovative cafes could be that travelers may actually be ready to come in earlier knowing that they can truly ‘refresh’ themselves here instead of hanging around in the city with the impending peril of perhaps reaching late for their flight.

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