Information In-Flight Caterers Need to Know about Your Orders, and Their Challenges to Fulfill Them

PT 3 M minute read

This aviation blog post is part of a series on in-flight catering for business aviation and continues from our last post: 6 Common Questions about Ordering In-Flight Catering.

There are so many possibilities in the world of in-flight catering. With sufficient lead time, an understanding of capabilities and limitations at worldwide locations and willingness to practice ‘strategic flexibility’ from time to time will result in the most rewarding in-flight catering results. The aircraft may arrive on time and leave on time, but if the catering doesn’t meet the expectation of the passengers, the entire trip may be considered a failure. Communicating effectively with local catering sources, your ground handler or a 3rd-party provider will help ensure the most successful outcome.

1. What information does an in-flight caterer need to know about an operator’s catering order?

Basic required information includes when, where, tail number, local delivery time, and delivery location (Fixed Based Operator [FBO] or directly to aircraft). The more details you provide, the better, particularly regarding galley specifications and re-heating capabilities. Let your in-flight caterer know the passenger count, purpose of trip (business, leisure or family travel), age of any onboard children, and dietary restrictions. Duration of flight and time of departure, will impact catering choices. For short flights, you might want catering delivered ‘plate-ready,’ whereas you may want catering packaged in bulk for longer flights. After all, the more information you provide, the more customization the caterer can provide.

2. What are some points an in-flight caterer should always advise operators on?

The key point to keep in mind is availability. All items and brands are not always available at all locations. Wines, for example, are produced in limited quantities and may not be available in your particular market. Likewise, specific produce may not always be possible to procure. For example, fiddlehead ferns are commonly grown in the Northeast U.S. and only available in spring. Your caterer should offer a range of available alternatives. Also, there may be sourcing limitations due to short notice or public holidays. Naturally, the more stringent the catering requirements from the requestor, the more challenging it may be to achieve the best output, due to the lack of availability of specific food and other items.

3. What are some of the difficulties in-flight caterers encounter regarding requests?

Short-notice in-flight catering requests may reduce options. Meanwhile, last- minute revisions can be challenging. Within eight hours of delivery, almost any revision is possible. Occasionally, you may encounter airport security issues when having in-flight catering delivered from local hotels and/or restaurants. In larger markets, in-flight caterers can accommodate just about any request or revision with sufficient advance notice. It’s really a function of lead time. The best in-flight catering kitchens offer ‘concierge service’ and go to great lengths to shop specifically for requested items. We know of one case where an operator requested a sweater for a dog that was onboard – with embroidered initials– along with the catering order. This request was met and delivered on time by the in-flight caterer.

4. Should the in-flight caterer recommend specific food selections?

In-flight catering menu selections will depend on the type of flight, length of flight, onboard galley specifications, and flight attendant capabilities. Fried foods do not generally stay crispy, so you may want to consider grilling or searing. Items like sushi will be best if consumed early in the flight. If you’re flying at night, you may want to consider going heavier on starches, such as pastas, as this can be conducive to sleep. It’s best to get recommendations from the caterer that will afford the best outcome for your passengers.

5. What are the difficulties encountered by in-flight caterers with last-minute changes?

Last minute in-flight catering orders and revisions can cause manpower and logistics issues. Confirm that your in-flight caterer has resources available to adequately accomplish last-minute revisions. Not all kitchens are open 24/7 and they may close during holidays. Larger international aviation kitchens may be open from 3 – 4 am to 10 pm. You may be able to contact someone after hours that can, if necessary, wake up local catering talent to fulfill a request.

6. Are in-flight caterers able to solve issues that may come up?

In larger markets, in-flight caterers can accommodate just about any request or revision with sufficient advance notice. Your in-flight catering provider has the capability to work with chefs all around the world to create something out of the norm, particularly when an in-flight catering request is not within the local caterer’s realm of experience. This assistance ranges from getting on the phone stateside, to working with local chefs in the four corners of the world, to providing and shipping catering-packaging supplies appropriate to your galley specifications and re-heating equipment.


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Later, we’ll share recommendations from an in-flight caterer’s perspective.

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