If you’ve traversed many of the nation’s largest airports, you’ve encountered been inundated by CIBO or OTG food vendors and restaurants. Increasingly, it seems every restaurant in the airport is one or the other – how did this happen?
What is CIBO/OTG?
In some of the largest hub airports in the country, CIBO Express and OTG restaurants (each branded differently) seemed to have taken over the terminals. Their trademark is an iPad at each seat with a credit card reader and food runners rather than servers; at CIBO Express stores that iPad replaces all but one cashier.
Most of the establishments are fairly new, have a clean and modern look, and serve a variety of cuisines in each market they serve. In Houston’s newly remodeled C terminal, OTG operates Bámbám, a Cajun and Vietnamese fusion restaurant, a CIBO Express adorned with subway tiles and cleaver signage for snacks and magazines, with Ember as the centerpiece, a chic Texas steakhouse.
Ordering items from the table iPad as and when ready, having control over the timing and method of payment for the bill has changed the face of “sit down” restaurant dining in airports. The method is not devoid of criticism however, tips are incorporated but while optional, must be changed from the default 18% if patrons choose to distinguish between standard tipping rates for servers vs. simply food runners.
Have They Really Taken Over?
“You down with OTG? Yeah, you know me.”
The New York metro airports seem to have the largest dominance of OTG and CIBO facilities, Houston is growing, but these days it seems most major hubs have an influx of the company’s brands filling terminals. It’s not that there is one in every airport like Cinnabon or Starbucks, their coverage is actually far less. It’s that when they enter one of their 10 markets, they saturate it.
“OTG operates 350+ locations in ten major airports”
That’s a lot. In LaGuardia alone, the company has a mini food court with mid-concourse with a number of restaurants in addition to operations in Terminals B, C and D along with the Marine Air Terminal. That’s split up over 67,000 sq. ft and the company boasts 1,800 iPads deployed which is at minimum the amount of seats available (though multi-seat tables may allow for more guests with a single iPad.)
You won’t notice a big sign with OTG on the top, but their consistently modern look and the iconic iPads give it away. Try avoiding their restaurants in an airport hub for which they operate and you’ll be challenged. The CIBO/CIBO Express side of the business has even taken over the Hudson News corner of the market with upgraded newsstand shop fronts, quick snacks to go, and self checkout.
Where Do They Operate?
Travelers through the Windy City haven’t had a chance to see an OTG dominated terminal yet. But in the case of the New York market, LaGuardia, JFK and Newark all feature a substantial OTG footprint. Philadelphia, Washington Reagan National, Minneapolis, Houston Intercontinental and Toronto Pearson also have heavy infiltration.
How Did This Happen?
In the case of Houston, it feels like one day Terminal C was under construction, the next (less than two actual years later), everywhere I looked was a CIBO/OTG outlet. It certainly felt that way visiting LaGuardia as well. I reached out to their corporate office regarding their ascension from zero to the dominant food outlet but didn’t hear back from their team.
From what I can tell, the company is fairly young and formed at the right time. Major airport hub renovations were taking place and technology advancements met space constraints to create a perfect market for their product. They are also fairly good at their job. Their restaurants are well marketed, self-checkout is cheaper for CIBO and faster for me, their food court at Newark is one I would look forward to visiting if it was outside an airport.
The airport vendor has made a great home at some of the busiest airports in the country and offers something unique in a sea of mostly national chains with no real originality. While areas of service can lack, and an automatic 18% tip before I have received my food is not my modus operandi, OTG restaurants are an improvement almost wherever they set up shop.
What do you think? Do you eat or shop at their locations? Would you rather see local vendors or national chains rather than CIBO OTG?