Dine on demand is the latest trend for inflight dining

As business class seats slowly get better and tick all the boxes such as lie-flat beds, direct aisles access and plenty of personal space, airlines are turning their attention to other ways to boost their business class experience beyond that of their competitors.

One trend I'm seeing is an evolution of inflight dining away from serving meals at set times and towards 'dine on demand'.

A la carte service

That name tells you all you need to know about the new way to get your grub at 30,000 feet: it's  "eat what you want, when you want it."

Almost every flight serves one main meal – a breakfast, lunch or dinner – shortly after take off, with a second meal a few hours ahead of reaching your destination. (In economy there's sometimes a snack served in between, while business class has several light bites available.)

Dine on demand lets you ditch that routine and a timetable based on the crew's convenience.

Pick your preference

For example, many business travellers will take a preflight meal in the lounge – especially if we're talking about a first class lounge available to top-tier frequent flyers – and skip the first meal on board or just have a smaller portion, such as the starter and salad.

That's a practice I have adopted for most international flights, and especially overnights from Asia.

The food served in the lounges is always fresher, with a wide variety of healthy options and ample chance to get in an extra serve of greens to aid with digestion.

Dine on demand gives you the flexibility to build your inflight dining around such preferences, as well as helping reset your body clock and even reduce the impact of jetlag.


A healthier routine

Gulf powerhouse airlines Etihad and Qatar both offer dine on demand in business class, with travellers able to choose from an extensive menu packed with smaller dishes as well as mains.

If you've tucked into dinner at the lounge ahead of the evening flight out of Australia, for example, once on the flight you can head straight to sleep, and take a light meal – a mezze  platter is ideal – on waking halfway through the flight.

A few years back Qantas adopted 'small plates' alongside its mains, and I find these work especially well on the relatively short flights to Asia.

If I've had a solid meal in lounge I'll usually request one small plate to be set aside and I'll have later during the flight (the chicken schnitzel and coleslaw sandwich is a good standby).

Who's rolling it out

Cathay Pacific will trial dine on demand on flights from Hong Kong to London's Gatwick Airport next month, followed by flights to Chicago in June, ahead of a likely worldwide rollout beginning in the fourth quarter of the year.

"We've got lot of after-midnight flights (from Hong Kong) to all over the world, so in the lounges you see a surge of dining before they get on board" says James Evans, Cathay Pacific's General Manager of Product,.

"Dine on demand will allow people to have something lighter than a large main meal (shortly after take-off) and something else later during the flight."

Control your own experience

Evans tells High Flyer that he is "really optimistic" about the two-month trials.

"I'm expecting a lot of positive comments from customers and great feedback in terms of that control over your own experience."

"We want to learn from it, build on it and then expand it across the network as soon as we can – assuming it resonates with our customers, and I think it will."

Evans expects that dine on demand will begin "a gradual rollout in late Q3 or Q4… you'll see that segue from the May and June trials to other ports and then building up over the coming few years."

"And it has to be a staged rollout… you need to have staggered approach and do it market by market because you can't train 10,000 cabin crew overnight."

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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What are your strategies for inflight dining, and have you used 'dine on demand' in any recent business class flights?