The Design Solution Airport Planning Director Manjit Dhillon

Manjit Dhillon, Airport Planning Director for The Design Solution, looks at how the power of design can support the F&B offer – from great spaces to exciting menus, F&B can serve up a memorable airport experience.

 “When thou art at Rome, do as they do at Rome.” Cervantes.

Airports have become modern day gateways to diverse cultures, bringing almost every culture within reach of the traveller, but not every gateway leads to a truly authentic or memorable experience.

There are many ways that this can be expressed through the architecture and design of the space, especially by making subtle contemporary references to local history, culture, traditions and art – but I think the best, and actually the simplest, way to engage the traveller is through F&B.

The best way to the traveller’s heart is through their stomach, giving them a truly unique taste of the location. By sharing the local style of cuisine, the skills of the local chefs and expressing the best of the region’s natural ingredients the airport can create an F&B experience that delivers clear standout from other airports.

Homogenised F&B

Having travelled through so many airports, and suffered so many bland meals that offer no clue whatsoever to the location, I often get the impression that many are lacking a discernible identity. This is partly due to the industry’s frequent preference for the instantly recognisable international F&B brands that have become increasingly ubiquitous. Certainly, these formats have a valuable role and give passengers a choice, a trusted ‘safe’ option and (usually) comparable value to the domestic market. However, when we see only the big commercial brands, those airports begin to look homogenised and that leads to a lost opportunity to introduce a local identity.

Rome Fiumicino is one airport that has gone against the tide, strongly showcasing local cuisine to effectively promote a sense of place. With help and planning from our team at The Design Solution it went through a major new renovation constructing a new standalone building providing over 10,000sq m of additional commercial space on two levels.

A local celebration…

The mezzanine level in Avancorpo T3, where the majority of the Food & Beverage offers are located, has not surrendered itself to the big international brands. Instead there is a huge variety of local offers that celebrate Italy’s wonderful Gastro culture – from a perfect Neapolitan coffee to a Michelin-starred chef experience. The meticulous way in which the tenant mix has been curated allows for almost all Italian regions to be represented and AdR should be congratulated for their exciting and ambitious approach.

There are many regional highlights to enjoy but of special interest to me is the informal and characterful Chef Market, where they have a fantastic colourful array of Italian delicacies including wines, cheeses and local Roman foods like Porchetta Panini, all easily washed down with a local Italian beer. It seems the goal was to showcase the best of Italian food from across the regions and create a sense of place for passengers, all of which has been wonderfully executed.

Chef Market shares a wonderful local flavour both in the menus and in the engaging atmosphere of the place, especially in giving good space to the seating areas, beautifully positioned in front of the huge windows that flood the space with natural light and great views across the terminal and apron.

F&B stars…

Across from the informal vibrancy of Chef Market is a stunning upmarket alternative that demonstrates just how highly airport F&B can soar, matching the very best dining locations in the world. Attimi by Heinz Beck (3 Michelin star chef) is a modern, elegantly designed space that offers even better views of the taxiing aircraft.

What I particularly liked about the design (interior by Iosaghini Associati) is the effortless way the materials have been chosen, such as tables made from natural stone (echoing the Roman travertine stone), iconic Italian furniture, and the way the perforated screens allow seated passengers uninterrupted views out onto the rest of the terminal building. The food is beautifully presented and is visually accentuated by the neutral material palette of the Interior design.

Crucially, the attention to detail at Attimi (‘moments’) is not only in the design; the menu is cleverly adapted to the needs of the traveller, including menus of 30, 45 and 60 minutes – giving the discerning travelling gourmet the option of checking in in time to enjoy a 5-course Beck menu (and the man himself is frequently in the kitchen). The giant egg-timers on the table reassure the time-stressed passenger and add a quirky touch of humour too! 

Whether it’s simply a coffee while standing at the bar or a fine dining encounter with Heinz Beck, Fiumicino gives the passenger a true taste of Italy. In their different ways – including supporting a ‘travelised’ offer reaching across the range of price options – Attimi and Chef Market demonstrate that a local approach to satisfying the traveller’s stomach can also be the best way to reach their hearts and souls; and that might also be the best road to maximising an airport’s F&B performance.

More in The Design Solution series:

A Venetian Grand Design – how design has shaped the most beautiful store in the world

The Design Solution: Virtual Reality – Bringing the design experience to life

The Designed Experience: Introducing a new series in partnership with The Design Solution