Food delivered to your gate at the touch of a screen is coming to Philadelphia International Airport. More than 1,000 Apple iPads will be installed at Terminal B in a collaboration among American Airlines, the airport, concessions-and-retail manager MarketPlace PHL, and the New York-based food and beverage provider OTG Management.
With iPads at seats in 15 gate areas and eight new restaurants, passengers will be able to get flight updates, browse the web, play games, and order food and drinks and have them delivered right to them.
The $30 million redesign over the next 18 months will transform 60,000 square feet inside the security perimeter to include expanded retail offerings, a food hall, and menus designed by nine noted local chefs.
"Every single seat in every restaurant, and 75 percent to 80 percent of seats in gate lounges, will have a 110 outlet and a USB port, along with an iPad," said Rick Blatstein, OTG chief executive officer. "The gate lounges will have wonderful plush seats and a table in front of you."
As air travel has become more stressful, with long security lines, cramped airplane seats, and added fees, the aim is to make the travel experience more pleasant on the ground.
"We look at the entire customer experience from the point they leave home until they get to their destination, and how we can improve that," said Rhett Workman, American's managing director of airport and government affairs. "The airport experience is a very significant part of that."
The concept of catering to passengers at airline gates close to where they board "transforms the way people experience their time at the airport," Workman said.
OTG has built restaurants in seating areas and installed iPads at the gates in eight airports, including New York's LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Toronto, and Reagan National.
Nine Philadelphia chefs will be consultants, creating menus and recipes, sourcing the food, training the staff, and developing the concepts for the new eateries.
The $30 million project will be funded primarily by OTG.
By selling more food and drink within closer reach of customers, sales increase. In airports that have iPads and restaurants in gate areas, revenue per enplanement (that is, for each passenger getting on a plane) is 50 percent higher than the average for the top 50 airports in North America, Blatstein said.
"Passengers often won't stop at a restaurant to eat because they want to be close to their gate, in case there's a gate change, or if the flight is delayed," said Philadelphia airport CEO Chellie Cameron. She and representatives from OTG and American have scheduled a Wednesday afternoon announcement about the project.
"This concept in Terminal B will offer passengers the opportunity to go right to their gate and still get a good meal, or something to drink, or nothing if they don't want to spend money," Cameron said. "But it gives them a more comfortable place to sit and relax, and not have to worry about the uncertainty of what's happening with their flight."
Though iPads will replace the need for servers to take the initial orders, they will not eliminate restaurant jobs. In fact, it is expected that jobs will increase because sales will increase. OTG has boosted hiring 80 percent to 100 percent in airports with the iPad technology, Blatstein said.
For foodies, the new restaurant options will be based on fresh, locally sourced ingredients backed by such names as Kevin Sbraga, a winner of the reality television competition Top Chef and owner of Sbraga on Broad Street and the Fat Ham in University City. Sbraga will open Liberty Prime, a steak house and tavern.
Nicholas Elmi, another Top Chef winner who owns Laurel on East Passyunk Avenue, will open a Mediterranean cafe called BabaBar.
Erin O'Shea, chef and partner at Percy Street Barbecue on South Street, will open LOVE Grille, featuring "comfort food" and Philly favorites.
Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka, owner of Zama on South 19th Street near Rittenhouse Square and coZara in University City, will create a Japanese ramen and sushi restaurant called Noobar.
Boule Cafe will be a bakery-style cafe run by Anne Coll, executive chef at the Whip Tavern in Coatesville.
Joe Cicala, executive chef at Le Virtù on East Passyunk, will upgrade and expand the menu at Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar.
Jon Myerow and Michael McCaulley, who own four Tria restaurants in Philadelphia, will create Germantown Biergarten, a beer garden that "will have a vibe of Germantown," Blatstein said.
Stalin Bedon, who began Nomad Pizza in a food truck and today has three sit-down restaurants, will open Mezzogiorno, featuring fresh Neapolitan pizza and other Italian food.
"All the chefs are locally based here, and it's important for Philadelphia because a huge number of customers who pass through this airport every day never leave the secure area," Workman said. "Hopefully, this will be such a positive experience, the next time they come through the airport they will get off the plane and go downtown and enjoy other things Philadelphia has to offer."