Speed and convenience are two essential pillars of a traveler’s experience, especially when it comes to air travel. This has been the case for years, but modern air travel is full of friction points (think long lines, tight connection times, stricter TSA screening) that increasingly press fliers for time and patience. With airline ridership at an all-time high–the U.S. Department of Transportation reported more than 930 million passengers traveling through air in 2016–it has never been more important for service providers in the industry to focus on delivering experiences that are as quick and convenient as possible.

Self-service gives more power to customers to choose the methods with which they order a meal, pick up their food, and pay for their products

For Delaware North’s travel business, which operates more than 300 food, beverage, and retail outlets at airports all over the world, creating a seamless dining and shopping experience for travelers has shifted our focus in recent years to a self-service model. Our goal is to allow customers to eat and shop when they want and how they want. Self-service can be the answer by giving more power to customers to choose the methods with which they order a meal, pick up their food, and pay for their products.

New and emerging technology has allowed Delaware North to employ a variety of different self-service channels at our airport outlets in recent years:

• Mobile: Mobile phones and devices have changed the way people do many of their daily activities, and that includes ordering food while traveling. Using a mobile application–such as Grab, which Delaware North has integrated at locations in most of its airports, customers can order and pay for their food ahead of time from their phone.

• Kiosk: Currently used at quick-service restaurants, customers can place an order and complete payment via a touch screen monitor, instead of verbally ordering at a counter.

• Tablet: Ideal for casual restaurant concepts, where customers prefer to sit and eat, tabletop tablets can be utilized for ordering and payment.

• Self-checkout: Used at retail outlets or concepts with grab-and-go food items, customers scan and pay for desired items at a self-serve POS terminal.

The upside to self-service can be great for both the customer and the service provider.

For the customer, self-serve gives greater flexibility and choice, quicker service turnaround and streamlined payment methods. One or more of the above self-serve methods, combined with services such as Apple Pay, can make for a quick and painless experience. Business travelers who fly often can more easily select food and products from their preferred restaurants and stores without the hassle of waiting in line or even taking out their wallet. Families, traveling with picky eaters, can peruse dining options and order at their own pace, instead of stressing about holding up lines or burdening wait staff.  

For the service provider, self-serve can lead to reduced labor costs, more efficient operations, increased sales and, ideally, happier and more satisfied customers. Increased profitability from airport service providers is always welcomed by airport operators, especially in tight-margined spaces like food and retail. The innovative and forward-thinking approach to service is also very attractive to airport clients in a competitive landscape where customer satisfaction while flying can go a long way.

Self-service is not without its limitations and challenges, however.

User adoption is essential and self-service models won’t become ubiquitous until more consumers begin relying on–and trusting–this technology in their everyday lives. Delaware North has seen greater success in the self-service approach, specifically mobile ordering through Grab, at airports, where there are typically more tech-savvy travelers, such as Los Angeles International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in South Florida.

Technology continues to evolve and Delaware North is continuously testing and improving the integration of self-service methods into our existing operations at airports. Time will tell if self-serve becomes the norm, bypassing traditional “counter service.” This will be determined, as always, by customers’ tastes and preferences. The technology exists; we just have to strike the right balance of how to best harness it for our customers and provide the dining and shopping experience they’re looking for while flying.  

Business process re-engineering to meet customer expectations is key. Enhancing our order fulfillment process to align with servicing all the various self-service channels allowed for us to reorganize staff more effectively and stock products more efficiently to meet customer demands.