Airport dining: Reaching new heights at DIA

The approximately 2,000-square-foot Post Brewing Co. at Denver International Airport will be the largest of the Great Hall’s new dining options. The overall design will give travelers a view through the interior to the signature bar and illuminated keg wall at the rear. Courtesy BCV Architecture + Interiors

Chris von Eckartsberg
Co-founding principal, BCV Architecture + Interiors

Some of Colorado’s favorite eateries will have a home at Denver International Airport’s Great Hall when the ongoing renovation is finished in late 2021. The overall project includes four phases, with the first phase projected to be complete in mid-2019. The first phase includes improvements to passenger check-in areas as well as a new commercial area. With a mix of diverse concepts, including new coffee shops, a food hall, a variety of restaurant concepts and more, the changes taking place at Denver International Airport are indicative of the wider effort from airports around the country to revamp their food and retail options for travelers as they improve the overall passenger experience, creating social hubs rich in quality and authenticity.

Airports, once considered a no man’s land for elevated dining options, are increasingly looking for ways to offer a variety of exciting and diverse options for travelers. An important aspect of this is the focus on bringing the best of the local or regional community to the concourse, whether it’s with an existing brand or a new concept that taps into local or regional dining trends. Our firm, BCV Architecture + Interiors, has experience in designing food hospitality and retail projects within airports, working with operator Tastes on the Fly to bring restaurants, food halls and stores to San Francisco International and Boston’s Logan International. Now we are working with Colorado-based airport hospitality and concessions operator Mission Yogurt on two new restaurants for Denver International Airport – a modern take on the classic roadside diner for The Post Brewing Co. and a standalone, bar-in-the-round location for Jax Fish House.

Denver International Airport is the fifth-busiest airport in the U.S. In 2017, the airport served 61.4 million passengers, according to Metro Denver EDC. Though the barrier to entry for bringing a business to the airport is high and the competition for space is fierce (with competitive requests for proposals and bidding processes for new leases), the upside to placing a brand within the airport environment is often a profitable new market for restaurant groups and retailers due to the heavy foot traffic and captive audience of the concourse. Bidding parties may include partnerships between local restaurants or retail concepts and airport operators, like Mission Yogurt, which has significant experience in growing and maintaining concepts that thrive within the airport environment.

The original intent of the Great Hall at Denver International’s Jeppesen Terminal was to serve as a “traveler’s oasis” and a public space for visitors to enjoy. The renovation aims to revive this sense of community (while streamlining operations), which fits perfectly within the range and style of dining options that are slated to open as part of the project. As airports and airlines invest billions in terminal enhancements in an effort to create a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for passengers, as well as increase revenue, the attention to high-quality design also plays a major role. New terminal designs often are focused on creating lighter, airier experiences and providing travelers with ample space to relax and rest. DIA also is at the forefront of rethinking the ways digital signage and wayfinding improvements can enhance the visitor experience, integrating new flight displays, as well as new graphics. We approach our restaurant and retail projects with similar goals in mind, designing spaces that are refined yet comfortable and approachable, and complementary to the overall refreshed concourse. In keeping with advancements in overall concourse wayfinding design, interior environments accommodate for new methods of keeping travelers informed on up-to-date flight information.

Jax Fish House occupies a standalone space in the middle of the Great Hall. As a bar-in-the-round, there is no backside to the restaurant, which meant careful consideration of staff operations as well as providing both bar dining and grab-and-go components.
Courtesy BCV Architecture + Interiors

When it comes to the creation of new tenant spaces, airports can provide a perfect location to refine or evolve an existing brand to fit a new environment, while maintaining core aspects of its identity and heritage. Because tenant spaces vary widely, from midconcourse kiosks and bars to in-line, full-service restaurants, it is important for designers to consider key elements like overall visibility and visitor flow, as well as the balance of programmatic requirements like a variety of seating options, ordering and pick-up locations, luggage storage and back-of-house operations.

The “storefront” of in-line spaces, like the approximately 2,000-square-foot Post Brewing Co. at DIA (the largest of the Great Hall’s new dining options) is an important area to design with the busy traveler in mind. While the design of the restaurant brings some seating almost to the entrance of the space, the overall design is open and inviting, giving travelers a view through the interior to the signature bar and illuminated keg wall at the rear. The storefront also features clear signage in keeping with the airport’s design guidelines.

Jax Fish House, in contrast, occupies a standalone space in the middle of the Great Hall. As a bar-in-the-round, there is no backside to the Jax experience, which meant careful consideration of staff operations as well as providing both bar dining and grab-and-go components. At approximately 900 sf, the Jax design leverages its high-visibility location toward a “see and be seen” attitude, with shucking stations and striking, glass-enclosed aquarium displays anchoring either end.

As airports continue to renovate and expand, we look forward to seeing the evolution of new food and retail offerings that contribute to making the travel experience more exciting and enjoyable.

Featured in CREJ’s February 2019 Retail Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.