Food for thought

Rudy's Inflight takes a bigger bite of the bizav catering market.

Customer Service Agent Tiffany Beetem (L) and Customer Service Mgr Dawn Ingram assess an upcoming order to ensure quality.

"We want customers to have a single point of contact, and ensure the same high level of service, even if they're a long way from the nearest Rudy's kitchen. ASN has had another benefit-it's bringing us even closer to the fractionals, who immediately jump on any new way to leverage their buying power."

Traditional corporate operators and charter providers can also benefit from ASN. Services include centralized billing and invoice verification, menu planning and design, and a rigorous affiliate audit process.

ASN works through a customized software program accessible through any computer, and includes a locker replenishment program at participating FBOs. Careful expansion Before its drive on Washington, Rudy's consolidated its New York position with the lease of an unused building right on HPN's Taxiway J.

Although it's significantly smaller than the TEB and IAD facilities, that's fine because administrative tasks are handled at the other 2 locations. Prior to obtaining the building from Westchester County, Rudy's had operated from rented quarters in Elmsford, about 9 miles from HPN-a situation that was workable but hardly ideal, according to Joe Celentano.

(T-B) Always ready to accommodate a client's request, Executive Chef Jonnie Khaoung (L) and Chef Bozzy Sattarzadeh prepare an array of quiches for an upcoming order. Two of Rudy's commonly ordered menu requests-an assortment of fresh sushi and sashimi garnished with colorful flower accents, and an arrangement of classic deli sandwiches-a Rudy's staple.

"It's not that far, but it's far enough away that some people didn't think we had a local enough presence," he says. "Now that we're right on the field, it's a different situation entirely for us. Planes taxi by and see our signage, and trucks with the Rudy's logo, and they know that we're right there and ready to serve them.

Logistically, the night curfew program [at HPN] gives us a bit of a break. The staff goes up at 0400 and is finished by 1900, because that's when the flow of traffic stops up there." The Celentanos have looked into expanding to SWF (Newburgh NY), as this airport, with its long runway and light traffic, is attracting a growing number of corporate flights.

Headquartered in Teterboro NJ, Aviation Services Network was founded in 2003 by Joe and John Celentano with the intention of raising the level of inflight catering experiences nationwide.

Sheltair, which acquired Rifton Aviation, is working diligently to snare the corporate widebodies heading for the New York area. Still, SWF presents a geographic challenge-it's around 40 miles from TEB, and an even longer drive from Manhattan. MMU (Morristown NJ) is another potential growth market-one that Rudy's serves from its TEB hub.

Long Island business is expanding as well, but is becoming increasingly difficult to serve its airports from New Jersey due to ground traffic delays. Will Rudy's ever head west, to the bizav hubs of the affluent Rockies? "We can duplicate this anywhere in the country," Celentano says.

"We understand our customers very well, and can anticipate their needs. The average flight is 2 hrs 20 min with 3 passengers, and it's usually businessmen going to a meeting. Naturally, there are all kinds of flights and passengers, but that core customer tends to drive our business model, our strategic planning and the way we allocate resources.

Always available for personalized customer service, Rudy's team of employees are available 24 hours a day to provide clients with a high level of quality and value.

"We've always taken a long-term outlook on things, and we're not tied to outside financing. The trick is to find the way to tap into the local labor pool and deal effectively with the relevant agencies. It's always our goal to establish strong ties with the local business community and use local vendors when we can.

"Our strategy is to go to vendors and guarantee them X dollars per month. If we don't order the planned amount, we still pay that minimum price. If we go over, we pay the difference. With that kind of guarantee, we know our vendors will be well motivated to get up in the middle of the night if that's what we need them to do.

"All told, it's been a very rewarding experience, doing this for the last 20-plus years. Coming to work still brings a lot of joy to us, because there are so many pieces of the puzzle that have to fall into place. The ripples of the little pebble we've dropped into the pond are far-reaching."

Catering 101

Today's top inflight caterers have a wide range of food and service options on tap, resulting in hundreds of choices for business aviation operators and their passengers. To ensure customer satisfaction, it's important that flightcrews and support personnel communicate clearly with their catering provider.

Operators are encouraged to consider the following key elements before calling their selected caterer: Ensure the caterer has the name of the person ordering the catering and a valid, working contact phone number. This seems obvious but often isn't. Give the caterer a way to get a hold of you in the event of a question or concern. The aircraft tail or registration number, and/or the tip number is needed, even if the food is to be delivered to a hangar or FBO conference room. Many catering orders have ended up in the wrong hands simply because a driver didn't know exactly where to take it.

To prevent confusion, the specific day and date of the order must be verified. "Wednesday the 10th" might work, but not if Wednesday is actually the 9th. Tell the caterer when to deliver the order, not when the flight is scheduled to depart. Often "wheels up" times turn into delivery times, and the food misses the flight. Plan to receive the catering 60-90 minutes prior to departure, and allow for outside variables such as distance to the inflight kitchen and rush-hour traffic. Specify the airport and delivery location.

Don't assume the caterer knows you're at TEB or HPN. The call center representative might be new, or the last order they did might have gone to LGA. Tell the caterer if any passengers have food-related allergies, are on special diets or face any other considerations that might affect the way the food is prepared, packaged or served. Be especially sensitive to nut allergies, which can prove fatal in extreme cases.

Specify the mode of payment, as options abound. Catering may be charged to a credit card, handled with a personal check or direct billed. In some cases it may also be added to an FBO fuel bill. Tell the caterer when, where and how you'd like the invoice delivered. Be absolutely clear about what you want, and how you want it prepared and packaged. Do you want it on a plate, or how about on a tray? What about in bulk, microwaveable or foil containers?

Do you want the meals packaged individually, or should each part of the meal be packaged separately? Consider your passengers and their needs. Are they adults or children, men or women? Are they elderly? Do they have any special needs? Ensure the person taking the order reads it back in its entirety.

The military calls this a "briefback," and considers it an essential part of all operational planning. So should you. Think of your order in terms of hot production, cold production and shopping, and it will be easier to convey your needs to the caterer. Enjoy!

Paul Richfield is a pilot, aircraft mechanic and aerospace journalist. He is a former executive editor of Pro Pilot and has written for the magazine since 2001.


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