Best airport restaurants in the US (and what it's like to work there)
Top-rated airport restaurants
Airport dining has come a long way, baby.
Terminal operators have raised their game within this category of culinary experience over the years to serve famished travelers with increasingly cultured and refined palates. This month, RewardExpert.com released its 2017 Airport Dining Scorecard and ranked the top 20 airports in across the US for their dining experiences. Menu and pricing options were considered to select the top restaurants at each airport for satisfaction, price, quality and variety.
Earning the number one spot number on this year’s list – Denver International Airport (DEN), which offers a breadth of excellent choices at low prices, according to the ranking. They survey praised DIA’s Root Down, which offers globally influenced seasonal cuisine with a locally-sourced field-to-fork mentality, as well as Tapas Sky Bar, which offers 16 wine choices and 12 Colorado craft beers, as well as a light-fare menu. CRU’ Food and Wine Bar, a romantic wine bar for grape lovers and foodies, also topped the list of DIA’s best restaurants.
If you’re traveling to Arizona, the Wildflower Bread Company is worth a stop at Phoenix’ Sky Harbor Airport, as it ranked #2 on the coveted list. Breakfast options like the Spicy Chipotle Egg Sandwich and featured Breads of the month are served up in warm, inviting atmosphere.
Staking the #7 position, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport houses the Goose Island Beer Company, which offers an award-winning portfolio of craft beers for those with discerning tastes.
Touching down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport? Don’t pass by #13 on the list –Beecher’s Handmade Cheese – where artisan cheeses, grilled sandwiches and other hot breakfast items are sold.
There were a few low-performers on the list, however… LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport took the bottom three spots due to a combination of poor food options and high prices.
Working in an airport restaurant
How did this year’s winners earn such high marks? Understanding the unique working environment of airport restaurants and guest service expectations are key.
“Our guests are travelers, so helping them to get situated in the restaurant with issues like where to put their luggage while they eat goes a long way towards making them feel comfortable, so we can focus on the service,” says Beatrice Fahrenholtz, a CRU’ server for four years.
On why she chose to work at an airport restaurant, she says, “I liked the idea of serving travelers in a fast-paced environment, so I went ahead and pursued a job posting.”
Working within this type of restaurant setting is distinct from other establishments.
“We actually have a fairly predictable schedule with the advantage of being able to look up flight data to see when the busy times of the day will occur,” says Nicholas Carter, shift supervisor for CRU’. “The rushes in the airport are tighter than at a restaurant on the street. Guests have limited time before their flight departs, making speedy service essential. We don’t get the usual lunch rush, followed by a slowdown and the start of a dinner rush; instead, we are consistently busy at nearly all times of day.”
One challenge is, “Being mindful of travelers who may not be having the best day, so we work extra hard to ensure that these people can become guests,” says Carter.
“Being able to stay cool when guests walk in carrying the stresses of traveling is critical,” Fahrenholtz agreed.
“The pace is the biggest difference,” echoes Fahrenholtz. “The challenges associated with delivering great guest service are much higher when you’re providing a fine dining experience in a window of 20-20 minutes or less.” And, if you don’t live close to your airport employer, “Commuting is another challenge and then having to go through security to get to work.”
There are also unique benefits of working in an airport, too.
“Getting to meet different folks from all walks of life,” says Carter. “There’s also a higher chance of meeting celebrities too, which is always kind of fun.”
To succeed in this category of hospitality, “Social skills are critical and you need to be ready for action each day,” says Carter.
Top 10 rated airports for dining in the US:
1. Denver International Airport
2. Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona
3. Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
4. Philadelphia International Airport
5. Houston George Bush International Airport
6. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
7. Chicago O’Hare Airport
8. San Francisco International Airport
9. Miami International Airport
10. Boston Logan International Airport
11. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
12. Detroit Metropolitan Airport
13. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
14. Orlando International Airport
15. Charlotte Douglas International Airport
16. Los Angeles International Airport
17. McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, NV
18. LaGuardia Airport, New York, NY
19. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, NY
20. Newark Liberty International Airport