OTG, the hospitality company that pioneered order-by-tablet technology at a few airports way back in November 2010, now operates 350 tech-leaning restaurants and retail locations at 10 airports in North America. And like most other airport concessionaires, OTG has had to deal with challenges and make pivots in response to the pandemic.
Bad timing or good timing?
“We’ve always prided ourselves on making the customer experience easier, better, and quicker,” OTG CEO Rick Blatstein told RGN. And that meant being the first company to bring Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology into airports. The technology allows customers to enter a store by scanning a credit card and then walking out with purchases without stopping at a checkout counter.
On 11 March 2020, OTG announced it would open a CIBO Express Gourmet Market with Just Walk Out technology in United’s Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Unfortunately, that was the same day the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
“It was surreal. We’d been working with Amazon a long time on rolling out Just Walk Out technology,” said Blatstein, but the focus had been on offering travelers speed and convenience. Until then, the touchless, contactless aspect of Just Walk Out technology — now one of its key selling points — had not really been part of the conversation.
Two CIBO Express Markets with Just Walk Out technology at Newark Terminal C did open. And while over the past year they did close at times when where were no flights, “For the most part they stayed open,” says Blatstein, “And people got it.”
What about all those tablets?
With the emphasis on making the airport experience as touchless as possible, Blatstein says that at first, he expected passengers might be reticent to use all the iPad tablets to order food and drinks or to make purchases in OTG-run restaurants, bars, and shops.
“We kicked up our cleaning protocols” and people seemed comfortable touching and using the tablets,” says Blatstein.
To make ordering more seamless and more touchless, OTG in August 2020 rolled out mobile ordering and delivery technology that also lets travelers use their own mobile devices to place orders.
Now, in an OTG restaurant or gate lounge, travelers are offered the option to scan a unique, location specific QR code. That opens a menu that allows the passenger to make an order, pay for it, and have it delivered to them at their seat.
Soon, Blatstein says, OTG’s mobile ordering platform will be able to offer more options.
“Would we ever put in there a way [for you] to make a Starbucks order, and have it brought to you in a restaurant? The answer is yes,” says Blatstein, an option made possible by the partnership OTG made with Starbucks in February 2020 (a month before the pandemic hit).
“Will we also test letting people be in one restaurant and then placing an order, in mix and match fashion, if you will, from other restaurants? Absolutely,” says Blatstein, “The future is whatever the customer wants.”
For now, OTG is working on reopening all its airport restaurants, bars, and markets. And Blatstein says he expects that by the end of April everything will be back up to speed. “We’re hiring like crazy, we brought back everyone that was available to come back. And we’re moving very quickly.”
And what about the “secret,” invitation-only restaurant OTG operates with United Airlines in Terminal C and Newark Liberty International Airport? Has that reopened? “Not yet,” says Blatstein, “But that will be back too.”
- Free service at Heathrow helps passengers shop and spend
- COVID can’t cancel free cookie campaign at Fort Wayne International
- COVID-19 lounge food precautions improve BA #PaxEx
- Farm-to-terminal trend continues with OTG’s new Newark arrival
- Beyond kangaroos and koalas; hyperlocalized PaxEx at Australian airports
- American Airlines, OTG team up at Philadelphia International Airport
- A tale of two Canadian short-hops and one important inch
- Press Release: MIA2GO puts passengers in the fly-through lane
- Press Release: LocusLabs and Grab support contactless airport ordering
Featured image credited to OTG