PHCP: We would love to learn about where your passion for the industry started and what your journey to OTG looked like. Can you tell us a little about your background?
Allison: My passion started very early on, probably when I was around the age of 4 or 5 years old. I was always interested in restaurants and hotels, specifically, along with eating and drinking (non-alcoholic at that time, of course). My first job in the industry was working at Dairy Queen during high school. When I started applying to colleges, I discovered that I could major in Hospitality which was sort of my breakthrough with understanding what was available in the real world. I attended NYU and majored in Hospitality and Tourism Management with a concentration in Food & Beverage. During my time in college, I had many jobs and internships (e.g. Hilton and Nobu). I tried to get as much experience as possible, especially being in NYC where people have a huge opportunity for a job market. Immediately upon graduating college, I began working in the corporate office for Starwood Hotels and started at the very bottom with the title of Assistant to the Senior VP of Operations for W Hotels. Every year and a half I moved around and eventually worked my way into the Food & Beverage team. I spent about 5 years on the food and beverage team and managed the beverage program for all of the hotels in North America - which is roughly 500 hotels across all 9 Starwood brands. I also worked on various banquets and catering projects,kids' menu development, in-room dining programs and much more. From there, I moved on to OTG which is where I am today!
PHCP: Once you’ve had the opportunity to experience a terminal with OTG outlets; your expectation for what an airport food and beverage experience can be; is changed forever. Can you share a little bit about the journey that has raised that bar in a significant way; not only in food and beverage but also in hospitality?
Allison: An OTG experience forever changes a person. I dread traveling to an airport where OTG does not have a presence.. Most airports are either top-notch or completely lackluster and you’re surrounded by food court chains. Or even worse…being in a terminal with one coffee shop and one grab-and-go kiosk with a pre-packaged snack that looks questionable. Those are the experiences where we’re left hungry and confused. Knowing we’re in the year 2019, airports need to step up their game. At OTG, we set the bar high not only with our offerings but also with our design spaces, attention to detail, comfort and customer service. I don’t think many of our competitors have jumped on board with all those components. While some may touch on a few of them, I think OTG is unique in the fact that we offer all those amenities and high service points. Our CEO noticed the gap in the industry early on (1990’s) and jumped on it. We disrupted the airport space around 1996 with our first opening in Philadelphia airport. Our next disruption was introducing ipads as our digital menu platform.. OTG is the first company to do that and I think that sets the bar very high for any of our competitors to react to!
PHCP: Technology is a bit part of the OTG experience. Can you talk a little about the importance of this is to your company’s identity?
Allison: I would go as far as to say technology is our identity. While some people may disagree, I believe the iPad is really what put OTG on the map. When I explain to people what I do and who I work for, they’re not familiar with the name OTG but once I describe the “airports with iPads,” everyone nods. I believe that’s our differentiating factor from the competition. What I like about the iPads specifically is it allows us to be nimble with the menu changes and when it comes to the beverage, that is important. I can make product changes instantly. For example, say there’s a vintage change on the menu. Well, I can easily change that in real time instead of reprinting new menus. Additionally, photos of our food & beverage are real – what you see is what you’re going to get. It is guaranteed that your order is going to look identical to what you perceived in the menu. I think that reinforces our commitment to authenticity because a lot of people have a misconception of airport hospitality. We provide decent portions with high-quality ingredients. Once people encounter an OTG establishment they understand that they're getting a higher-end experience!
PHCP: We have all experienced the challenges of traveling through an airport with heightened security, long lines and plenty of restrictions on what you can and can’t bring into the space. Thinking about trying to run lots of busy, high quality restaurants in that environment seems like a logistical nightmare. How have y’all managed challenges of the airport landscape?
Allison: The challenges are…well, they’re challenging! From the staffing standpoint, we manage this upfront because our crew members experience what the process is like to enter an airport from the very moment they start their interview process. As you can imagine, our interview process is different from a standard restaurant because you must go through a lot of background checks, badging, and test-taking. That process alone can take one to three weeks. If a person is willing to go through the whole screening process, that is a clear indication of their understanding of the job requirements.
PHCP: One of the unique things about operating in airport terminals is that the Guests that frequent your restaurants and bars are infinitely diverse. What have you found have been some of the benefits and challenges to this?
Allison: The benefit is that the whole world is our demographic. We have the biggest focus group for testing almost anything, but we do have to accommodate so many different types of travelers. As a New Yorker, I may want to drink a craft beer from Brooklyn, but someone from South America might not want that experience. We have to look outside of the box and create a menu that is diverse enough to accommodate everyone but not too cumbersome where you’re throwing every single type of wine, beer, and liquor to please every single person. We focus on the top items worldwide and then include some of the local/regional items or touches that give a nod to the city where we’re operating in.
PHCP: There are some really unique OTG concepts, so this question is going to be tough—what are some of your favorites?
Allison: That’s a very hard question! I hate to single certain ones out over others, but my #1 favorite would be Abruzzo in the Newark Airport. I have a personal connection to it because it was the first location where I was directly involved with the menu revamping, training, and being a part of seeing the 2.0 version come to life. That location has a special place in my heart and on top of that, the food is outstanding, the ambiance is amazing and the staff is top-notch.
PHCP: I gotta ask, what if your beverage of choice?
Category: Client Love