New menu on board

Jackson Biko went behind the scenes in the ‘kitchen’ learn the story of the new menus that customers have been enjoying on board all Kenya Airways’ flights since the beginning of the year

Menu1At the end of this flight, the assistant flight purser will log onto a feedback form and input some important data. This will largely include what customers ordered in terms of food and drink, the complaints (only they call them OTIs – Opportunities To Improve) received and anything that transpired in this flight that concerned the menus. This information will land on a desk in Nairobi, at the catering office, where another busy member of staff will log it in the system specifying the flight number, the type of aircraft, the route, the time of flight and so on. Numerous kinds of feedback like this will be gathered from all the Kenya Airways’ flights and compiled every two weeks. It’s a lot of data.

A mountain of data
The person who handles this mountain of data at Kenya Airways’ catering office is called Leonard Tsuma, the Inflight Consumption Analyst. He will tabulate this information in graphs looking at route-specific trends. For example, he might notice that on KQ117 to Amsterdam, fewer people drank whisky on the night flight than, say, on a night flight on an Asian route. Or that the flights to West Africa registered fewer beer drinkers and more liqueur drinkers. This information is heavily dependent on the type of aircraft, the profile of the passengers and the time of the flight. Data on drinks will be logged in a separate sheet called the Aircraft Bar Control Book, which logs in the consumption trends on particular routes.

All this tabulated information will end up on the boss’s desk – Abdalla Masoud, Head of Catering. If there is a ‘suspicious’ recurring trend, like more fish is being returned on a particular route, or if there are more complaints or requests for a particular dish, then Abdalla will call together a team consisting of KQ Catering, Inflight managers, Inflight trainers, Sky Chefs, the supply chain, Process Improvement and the marketing team and they will meet to decide what has to be done to make the customers happier. The feedback will be reviewed and mulled over. Questions will be asked: Do the OTIs reflect the real data or did these OTIs come from a group of friends who travelled together? What are the geographical and cultural considerations around the changes we are about to make? Is this data enough for us to change the menu?

Making adjustments
Once a consensus is reached that the menu should be adjusted, Abdalla and his team will invite the caterers to do a presentation, a process that takes a whole week. There, more questions will arise, like the viability of serving particular meals on particular flights. Do the aircraft servicing those routes have capacity? For example, Embraers don’t have chillers – they use wet or dry ice – which means that during a long route strawberry mousse will not be a mousse once it’s eventually served. Factors like flight delays and flight durations are considered.

Once this hurdle is passed, Abdalla’s team will request for caterers to do a Meal Schedule, which contains a Flight Number, days of the week the flight will be on, destination, and the individual meals. Then they will sample foods from a variety of menus, photos of every meal will be taken and a Spec Book created as a quality control document. The result is a new menu, like the one on board today.

New menus
If you are reading this from Business Class, you will notice that the menu is larger. You also have a wider selection of wines – a process that took a year of sourcing and sampling. All the wines are from South Africa, picked by a Kenya Airways team with the help of sommeliers from South Africa. You will also notice that they are offering shiraz now, bottles of John B, to be precise. Kenya Airways is one of the few airlines offering shiraz at the moment.

The menu also reflects a range of needs. Apart from the option of red or white meat, the menu now has a vegetarian choice and two appetisers (including a vegetarian option). “We realised, based on customer requests, that people are now opting for healthier options and that’s why we offer mango and cucumber salads, for instance.” In Business Class, all routes can now enjoy two vegetarian options: Asian and continental.

If you are in Economy Class, your menu also has an additional vegetarian option apart from the red and white meat. Dessert used to consist of one option, now you have two. More importantly, there is a new choice for the health-conscious called the Healthy Option.

“In Business Class, for instance, we get a lot of requests to be served light, healthy meals, as customers are often scheduled to have dinner at their destination,” says Abdalla. “So we have smoked salmon and an assortment of salads added to the menu, together with dressings.” This new variation features poached chicken, Caesar salad, poached salmon fillet, prawns and tilapia served with seasonal salads. The healthy options are quite popular on the European routes.

“The whole point of adjusting our menus every month or so, is to make flying more enjoyable, because all you do while up there is read, watch, eat and drink and it can be monotonous to travel frequently and eat and drink the same things,” concludes Abdalla.