Providing on-demand, human-powered meal delivery at major airports is a niche category of food on demand that’s heating up, with New York-based AtYourGate joining Grab in bringing meals directly to both weary travelers and airport employees. The goal, says CEO and founder P.J. Mastracchio, is to reduce the time everyone spends in slow-moving lines between flights or over lunch breaks.
“A lot of those things change the dynamic in the airport,” he said of taking employees out of the queue and also bringing meals directly to travelers at their gates. “We see the pressure on the front of the house diminish because half of the employees are now in their break room getting served as opposed to standing in line with travelers.”
While the idea for AtYourGate first germinated back in 2015, it entered the San Diego International Airport as its first location one year ago. In the subsequent months, AtYourGate has touched down in the concourses of Newark; LaGuardia; Minneapolis; and PDX in Portland, Oregon.
Previously a senior vice president with the PSKW marketing firm, Mastracchio said he’s been a wanderlust his whole life, ditched his car as soon as Uber became available in Southern California, and couldn’t understand why the on-demand economy was “everywhere but inside the airport.”
Comparing his offering to Grab, which allows customers to preorder and pickup meals as they taxi up to the gate, Mastracchio said using its own in-airport employees to deliver directly to consumers is the biggest difference. He also noted his app’s 60,000+ downloads, 30,000 completed deliveries and nabbing one order for every two users who download AtYourGate.
The service has also enabled catering and larger-scale, recurring orders, like USO outposts that regularly have groups of soldiers and new recruits showing up hungry with stipend checks in their back pockets.
Employing its own delivery personnel comes with other marketing benefits, as they are uniformed with a badge that gives them ramp access, they carry bright blue thermal bags, and when not delivering they spend their time promoting the service, offering discounted deliveries, helping travelers find their way and even picking up trash.
Part of the work of AtYourGate employees also includes being a Johnny-on-the-spot to capitalize on delays by showing up to the gate and offering to bring food to travelers wanting to stay close to the gate should circumstances change or alternative flights pop up. The company’s delivery personnel are selected based on their extroverted marketing abilities, adding that they’re “not just food runners, they’re ambassadors of the airport.”
So far, half of the brand’s orders come from employees, who appreciate being able to enjoy a longer break, without spending a portion of that time lined up with passengers. Mastracchio is focused on forming partnerships with airline partners, which it already has with Southwest and Alaska Airlines.
Rolling out the map outlining his own growth routes, the brand is bolstering its footholds along the East Coast and Midwest, with new airport deals coming soon. The company is also looking to enter international airports in the future.
The biggest challenge to growing the business is getting a “yes” from airport authorities who are often more hesitant than other non-traditional venues, like train stations, bus stops and stadiums.
Flexing his U.S. airport knowhow, Mastracchio used the Red Cow restaurant at MSP airport as an example, noting that his delivery employees don’t shake the food up and hand it to somebody “all messed up.” They have done extensive testing to ensure temperature and presentation are both spot-on after a walk from one concourse to another.
Knowing how to make friends in the right places, AtYourGate received an award from the Department of Homeland Security for feeding 2,200 TSA employees during the government shutdown for free—it covered both the food and the customer delivery fees.
As the company expands, its headquarters team is also monitoring how customers use the service, with some passengers placing an order from one airport before flying in to another, in hopes that food is waiting for them during tight layovers or meetings in their destination city.
“Early departing travelers are big customers of ours, and then the other thing we’re doing is promoting to a lot of conventions,” he said. “You have a lot of groups coming in … and everybody attending gets a code for free delivery from the sponsor.”
The biggest opportunity, however, is the one we all know best—delays from bad weather or mechanical issues. As long as that human struggle and anguish persists, AtYourGate’s founder reasons, there will always be an opportunity to improve the experience and reduce the friction points inherent in modern-day air travel.