It is often said that we don’t fly to enjoy the food, but many airlines still invest heavily in their onboard product to try and break this viewpoint. In many premium cabins the menus offered can easily match Michelin-starred restaurants on the ground. At the back of the aircraft, while many airlines are removing meals on short-haul flights, some are introducing premium meal options as an ancillary service.
One airline is now truly challenging the conception that we don’t fly because we enjoy the food by delivering the menu that it offers passengers at 38,000 feet in the air to a fast-food restaurant in the capital of one of the world’s bustling capital cities, with ambitions to take the concept global.
From a Cafe in the sky… to becoming a household name in Malaysia… to a restaurant in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, the story of Santan is certainly an interesting one, backed by one of the strongest airline brands in the business and one that extends much further than the network it flies.
What started as ‘AirAsia Cafe’, simply serving sandwiches and snacks in the sky, Santan was formally born in 2015 with the vision to create a unique dining experience in the sky, serving only the best and most delicious ASEAN flavours. This, we can all agree, has been achieved having served over 600 million passengers since its inception.
Named after Malaysia’s beloved ‘coconut milk’, Santan is described as “a reflection of the purity and simplicity of ASEAN flavours and ingredients” that has been inspired “to share this love for ASEAN dishes and flavours with the world” by uncovering “the best culinary secrets from ASEAN” and taking them to the air.
It is true that many of its meals have become household names in Malaysia and beyond, including its signature Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak and Uncle Chin Chicken Rice. But, can that concept be transferred from sky to land into the heart of the Klang Valley in the Mid Valley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur? With AirAsia’s success with its own brand strategy, it has every chance of success, as initial media attention has shown.
Alongside the signature meals from the LCC, other dishes inspired by popular food from across the region like Pineapple Fish Noodle from Cambodia and Chicken Inasal with Garlic Rice from the Philippines will be available, alongside regionally sourced coffee and tea, snacks and desserts inspired by local flavours such as the Nasi Lemak Quinoa Wrap and Onde-Onde Cake.
AirAsia’s in-flight menu brand says the opening the flagship restaurant with T&Co “marks a significant milestone in our timeline” and will allow more customers to savour a variety of Southeast Asian cuisines, at affordable prices. In fact it is just the initial stage of a project that could see the concept expanded further across ASEAN and even internationally given the global interest in Asian culinary.
“By the end of 2020, we aim to have five owned Santan restaurants and 100 franchisee-operated restaurants and cafes within the next three to five years with expansions in global markets,” says Catherine Goh general manager of Santan Restaurant and T&Co Cafe.
The journey from sky to land has a quirky marketing appeal and a sustainable ethos of working with local farmers, suppliers and partners “to ensure sustainability and long-lasting relationships between our ASEAN community” delivers the right messages to its target clientele.
It is also taking advantage of technology to deliver smart menus that with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will recommend best-selling dishes based on time, past ordering patterns as well as demographic taste.
The question is? Can the food make the transition given that onboard products and more heavily flavoured and spiced for the aircraft environment where cabin pressure numbs tastebuds and the lack of humidity dries your nose. Fortunately, what’s for sure, there will not be a soggy sandwich in sight.