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Popular Casual Italian Eyes Up Travel Market

Vapiano has signed a letter of intent to open in airports and stations

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Casual Italian chain Vapiano is the latest in a string of UK operators to look to the captive travel market in an effort combat the effects of the casual dining downturn.

According to Big Hospitality reports last week, Vapiano has signed a letter of intent with HMSHost International, in advance of an agreement that would see the chain open new sites in airports and train stations through the UK, Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands. The sites would see Vapiano’s offering “tailored to the needs of travellers”, and include dine-in and takeaway options.

Vapiano appears particularly suited to pivot to airports thanks to its RFID chip service model — individual cards and the buzz-flash red disks seen at the likes of Pizza Union and Shake Shack. Diners “tap in” transactions at individual counters when ordering, and then hand in their chip card for payment on the way out, rather than operating under a full table service model. This counter structure engenders a few crucial aspects of the operation: infinitely (almost) customisable savoury dishes made in front of customers; speed of service; reduction in HR costs. This easily reproducible model paired with their commitment to making 99% of product in-house could well be a winning and scalable combination in a travel market often saturated by restaurants where the food is as pre-fab as the design.

As the casual dining downturn continues to hurt big operators, and increasing rents and business rates make high-street restaurants much less appealing (and increasingly less viable), more and more businesses are looking to new, relatively untapped markets to bolster the balance sheet.

Grind, the specialty coffee and cocktails company founded on Old Street roundabout in 2011, announced last year they had signed with SSP (a “leading operator of food and beverage brands in travel locations worldwide”) to launch Grind cafe-bars in airports and train stations across the UK and Europe. So, too, for Spuntino — the “dive bar” diner concept from the founders of Polpo, who announced a similar deal, shortly after closing high-street Polpo sites in Exeter, Bristol, and Covent Garden. TRG Concessions, the company behind the Spuntino deal, has also signed beer giant BrewDog to its roster, who will open their first airport bar in Edinburgh later this year.


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