Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dining at the Airport

Sitting in an airport food area often makes one think of what America eats. On a recent trip to Kansas, which took me through Washington D.C., I had a chance to observe the social distinctions of airline dining. Having stepped out of gate 38 with one hour to be at gate 40, I decided to walk down the “mall” and see what the airport offered for food and what it may say about its patrons. The time was 10:30 am and lunch was just about to be served so my task was to see what everyone was eating and then observe why I chose my location to dine. Opportunities abound for food offerings in the airport and I believe each location spoke to part of the American culture that exists with food and lifestyles today.

Cinnabon was an immediate stand-out, mass-marketed chemically raised baked good, each containing enough calories to stop a heart. Stand in line, get your sugar and cholesterol attack and be on your way. Patrons are sure to not forget their orange juice, which surely made them feel a bit better about their food choice. Those in line all wore jeans, t-shirts and a wide girth. Another option included 5 Guys Pizza. This location fulfilled the “ethnic” realm here and without doubt the two most prevalent people standing in line were kids and Italian-Americans. Most again wearing jeans and t-shirts and seemingly of lower-middle class income, with a blue collar sensibility to them. Other fast food places existed which mirrored 5 Guys and Cinnabon in their clientèle.

What really stuck out was the only sit-down location, Gordon Biersh. This location is a large scale chain which features a brew pub atmosphere. Most locations exist in strip malls or in actual large malls with a few stand alone locations. The food on the menu at this location could have been at any of the other “stand-in-line” locations in the airport, burgers, fries, pulled pork, etc. However almost all of the patrons were wearing suits and were obviously of an upper-middle class income or upper-class income. The majority were professionals, a politician whom I spoke to and some business men working on projects and presentations.

The significance of the location was the social appeal however. It seems most travelers care very little about the food itself, but where they can sit amongst those of the same social structure as themselves. Many of the people in Gordon Biersch were not even eating, they were conversing with others dressed in the same manner as themselves or obviously of the same social class. I myself chose to eat at this location thinking, “well it must have good food, it is the only sit-down location.” Alas the truth came out when the food came to me and it was awful, but people around me were eating it without complaint.

The patron’s choice of Gordon Biersch can be attributed to two ideas, they just don’t understand the options presented to them, or it could be that they just don’t care and they would rather be in a place with bad food than in a location with people not in their class structure. There are some who choose for the reasons I did surely but the percentage is probably low. One is sold a sense of “up-scale” by these locations as being brew-pubs which again denotes an upscale clientèle, without realizing the place where the beer was brewed is probably thousands of miles away.

The fact that the shoe-shine location adds to the theory that locations sell themselves to certain clientèle and they in-turn will come to the location if it suits their social needs. Food can actually be seen as such a small part of the sales-pitch of a restaurant. Location, atmosphere and fulfillment of social desires are often more important than the food. As seen, social hierarchy can even be played in the food court of an airport.

1 comment:

Stephanie M. said...

5 Guys Burgers and Fries are a chain that started in Arlington, VA, about 15 years ago. And though it is still a burger and fries, they are really, REALLY good. I wasn't aware of them having a pizza location, but for those times when you just happen to *need* a takeout burger, they were utterly fantastic (I lived in DC in 1991-1993). I can't speak to their airport location, but the original one, when it was just five guys, was excellent, and friends of mine that way are still nuts about them.

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