How Airlines Choose Business Class Menus For Each And Every Route

Eatin' good.

How Airlines Choose Business Class Menus For Each And Every Route

Image: Cathay

Cathay Pacific’s Joy Kesselring reveals how business-class menus are crafted to reflect the diversity and preferences of their customers.

A few days ago, our founder and head honcho Luc Weisman was lucky enough to fly from Australia to Europe on Cathay Pacific’s legendary business class. While it’s safe to say he was impressed by every aspect of this experience, one thing in particular really piqued his interest: the food.

It got us wondering: how exactly do airlines curate their business-class menus? Are they different routes to route? If so, why? Do they know what meals are likely to attract new customers? And how do they keep endlessly innovating for their loyal returning customers?

In an exclusive interview with Joy Kesselring, Cathay Pacific’s Inflight Dining & Hospitality Manager, we explore the meticulous process behind developing and curating the airline’s business class menus, designed to deliver a top-tier culinary experience at 30,000 feet.

Wonton Soup is a Cathay, Hong Kong classic. Image: Cathay

The Perfect In-Flight Menu

Developing an inflight menu for business class is a complex and detailed process that involves a heck-of-a-lot of considerations. According to Kesselring, practical challenges such as turbulence and limited cooking facilities on the plane are key factors, as are the relative strengths of people’s tastebuds…

“We ensure our dishes are delicious at high altitudes… Ingredients are carefully selected to appeal broadly to all passengers, with appropriate spice levels.”

Cathay Pacific’s culinary teams place a strong emphasis on using fresh ingredients that are not only delicious but also “wholesome and vibrant”. Each dish undergoes an internal tasting and review process before being approved for inflight service.

“Good food is about fresh ingredients that are delicious. A good meal is also sensory, so our culinary teams ensure dishes are not only tasty, but incorporate texture, flavour, and are well presented.”

Embracing Cultural Diversity and Passenger Preferences

Any good in-flight menu should be a testament to its home city. In Cathay’s case, they like to showcase the best of Hong Kong. “We love our home city, so it is important to us that we champion the best Hong Kong cuisine,” Kesselring said, pointing to dishes like egg tarts, wonton noodle soup, clay pot rice dishes, and mango pudding.

However, the airline also prioritises a diverse menu that reflects the global nature of its routes. “Food connects people with cultures. We ensure our menu features the diversity of the routes we fly to, accommodating the diversity of our passengers and individual preferences.”

Hong Kong is one of the most underrated travel locations out there. Image: DC Strategy

Passenger feedback plays a crucial role in menu development. “We consider the passenger profile on a certain route,” Kesselring explained. For example, meals on routes to predominantly Muslim countries are Halal, while routes to India avoid beef and pork….

“We also monitor the feedback of dishes and tweak recipes or remove dishes that regularly trigger our system with poor reviews.”

Cathay Pacific updates its menus monthly on flights out of Hong Kong, sourcing local and seasonal ingredients wherever possible., while regular quality control assessments are conducted throughout the month to ensure meals maintain their quality.

The airline caters to a wide range of dietary restrictions and preferences, offering 16 different meal options, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, Halal, and kosher meals. “Dining is an important part of the passenger’s inflight experience,” Kesselring noted, and the airline is also keenly aware of evolving consumer habits and is developing recipes that cater to these changing tastes.

Looking ahead, Cathay Pacific sees the future of airline dining as increasingly personalised. “Personalising meal requests through pre-ordering services will reduce wastage and drive increased satisfaction as passengers gain greater control over the meals they receive,” Kesselring predicted. The integration of digital technologies is expected to enhance the ordering process, offering passengers increased privacy and control over their inflight dining experience.

One such trend the airline is across is wellness, offering a specially crafted “healthy” set of meal options. The above is a healthy breakfast option with — who knew — a healthy chocolate croissant… Image: DMARGE

When asked about one of her favourite of Cathay’s culinary initiatives, Kesselring points to their partnerships with several prestigious dining institutions in Hong Kong. Michelin-starred restaurants Duddells and Louise feature in the airline’s front-end cabins, providing a bespoke dining experience. Premium Economy passengers enjoy homestyle dishes from Pirata, while Economy passengers can savour plant-forward, nutritious meals developed in collaboration with Veda.

As Cathay Pacific continues to adapt to the evolving tastes and preferences of its passengers, their commitment to delivering a world-class inflight dining experience remains unwavering… the real question is, will other carriers be able to keep up?