The United Club network of airport lounges should become somewhat more consistent in the near future as the company has consolidated its outsourcing efforts into a single vendor, Sodexo. This was part of the announcement made earlier in the week which also includes bringing a “celebrity chef” and “star mixologist” on board to help improve the product quality. These changes come on the heels of a shift in the overall catering menus to be more than just snack mix. It is undoubtedly good news but the most significant part of the story, at least to me, is buried half way down.
The Newark United Club between the C2 and C3 piers will be expanding by about 40% of its current size. After years of the carrier saying it wants to expand or add additional lounge service at Newark but that he space is not available it has finally chosen to displace other company operations and expand the lounge. Construction begins this year. Given the frequent overcrowding in the space this is a tremendous upgrade for travelers.
As for the celebrity chef, I’m struggling to determine just what value that brings when the “menu” is still basically a soup option and some veggie sticks or brownie brittle. The lounges do not serve real meals so a focus on “lounge menu planning and design, as well as food presentations” seems a stretch to me. Similarly, a mixologist working with the very, very, very limited choices offered as complimentary alcohol probably is still going to struggle to make things taste better. And once you’re paying for the good stuff anyways a fancy mixed drink doesn’t do much for me. Perhaps the complimentary beverage quality will step up;
I’ve heard it suggested that a prosecco option may join the house “red or white” wine list. And, yes, the bubbles are now free which is a step forward.
As for Sodexo, the company already has two-thirds of the lounges under management so rounding out the complete set probably saves United some money in volume. And it gives the airline an easier means to manage change and control operations thanks to dealing with only one vendor. But I’m not so convinced it means that dirty tables will be cleaned any faster or that empty food trays will be refilled more often. I see very little direct passenger experience impact from that part of the news.
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As of 1/1/2016, prosecco is complimentary at United Clubs.
Also, this expansion could be part of the effort for OTG to add a restaurant inside the lounge, which was previously announced with the OTG changes. If we want to further extrapolate, could this be the sign that they are also adding a GFL/area to EWR? One can wish.
Thanks for the clarification on the prosecco part; I missed the details on that, obviously.
As for a restaurant inside, definitely possible, though that would raise an interesting scenario between OTG and Sodexo in terms of staffing, management and responsibilities. I also think that were the space to be a dedicated GFL this would have been the time to announce it, not later after it is built. Given the lack of announcement there and the general shift towards retiring the GlobalFirst brand I’m betting against such.
I believe the restaurant in the lounge space was (or is) supposed to be a Marc Forgione concept called “Classified”, to be run by OTG. My understanding is that it will only be accessible through the United Club but otherwise will be no different than the rest of the OTG options, with a marginally higher-quality selection and the same inflated prices.
There will be more substantial food in that Newark club when it’s expanded.
Whether it will just be for select customers is another question.
Hopefully they’ll also finally fix the electrical outlets in some of the work stations that have been broken and a fire hazard for years, too.
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