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Chris Jones

Travel And Tourism: See What's Coming to Dinner

24 May 2005

Faced with the daunting prospect of soon hosting more than 50 million hungry travelers per year, McCarran International Airport is undertaking a $15 million renovation to upgrade travelers' food and beverage options.

After several years of offering plenty of no-name fare, the airport's latest dining do-over will emphasize well-known brands including Starbucks coffee, Chili's Grill & Bar and creations of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker said.

Diminished scores in recent customer satisfaction surveys showed McCarran's existing mix of eateries was no longer sufficient.

"Customers just didn't like the products we had," Walker said Friday, adding capacity issues have also arisen following last year's record passenger count of nearly 41.5 million.

"By renovating, hopefully we can make some of the locations more efficient," Walker said.

Food and beverage concessions at McCarran, the nation's sixth-busiest passenger airport, are overseen by HMSHost, a Bethesda, Md.-based catering company formerly called Host Marriott Services. A wholly owned subsidiary of Milan, Italy-based Autogrill S.p.A., the company operates 2,200 facilities at 71 airports worldwide and has an exclusive contract at McCarran through 2018.

HMSHost's lease agreement requires the company to return to the airport 11 percent of all food and nonalcoholic beverage revenue generated at McCarran. Alcohol and other merchandise sales require an 18 percent return, airport spokeswoman Elaine Sanchez said.

Last year, concession revenue amounted to approximately $121 million at McCarran, or about 65 percent of its total revenue.

"(Concessions) help pay our bills while keeping costs low for the airlines," Walker said. He also said his staff recently worked with HMSHost to revamp most of the airport's eateries, with some upgrades already complete or under way.

Sites in the airport's newer D-gates concourse will remain largely as is. But travelers will soon notice changes at McCarran's A, B and C concourses, as well as Terminal 2.

Among other renovations, a long-standing Cheers bar/restaurant near the A/B security checkpoint will be replaced with a Chili's, Walker said. New concepts such as 360? Gourmet Burrito and Flatbreadz will also move into spaces now used for Taco Bell and Big Apple Bagel locations.

The popular Burger King venues will remain, but Cinnabon's presence will be scaled back at the C- and D-gates concourses to make room for Sbarro and an expanded Ruby's Diner.

The C concourse's generic Home Turf Sports Bar & Grill will be rebranded as a Jose Cuervo Tequiler?a, while The Great Steak & Potato Co. will soon make its McCarran debut, giving patrons more menu options, Walker said.

The D concourse will get a new Starbucks, while a race-themed bar located outside the airport's secured areas will be converted to a deli to address the needs of those waiting to pick up inbound travelers.

Walker also hopes to build one or two "sit-down" restaurants within an approximately 10,000 square foot area of the D concourse, though he said it's too soon to say which brands would be located there.

HMSHost representatives were unavailable Monday, but Walker said the company's contract with McCarran requires the company to pay for its pending Las Vegas improvements.

Plans also call for HMSHost to spend another $6 million to upgrade its local airport concessions six or seven years from now.