Bain's Virgin Australia 2.0 takes Luke Mangan off the menu?

Business travellers bid farewell to some of the best inflight meals they've tasted...

By David Flynn, July 2 2020
Bain's Virgin Australia 2.0 takes Luke Mangan off the menu?

Highly-regarded chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan expects to find himself off the menu at Virgin Australia 2.0, as new owners Bain Capital take the airline down a few notches into a value-oriented ‘mid-market’ proposition.

Mangan says he is also owed in the vicinity of $400,000 by the airline, which collapsed into administration on April 21 with debts of almost $7 billion – although he’s resigned to getting little if any of that back.

“We’ve been owed about $400,000 for some time now, before all this even happened,” Mangan tells Executive Traveller.

“So I’m on a long list of creditors, and that’s the way it is – I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like to cry over spilt milk.”

Luke Mangan's inflight meals for Virgin Australia were a hit with many Executive Traveller readers.
Luke Mangan's inflight meals for Virgin Australia were a hit with many Executive Traveller readers.

A Bain Capital spokesman declined to offer comment beyond the firm's few published statements, having previously advised that it was "too early to discuss any details."

Mangan developed the airline’s highly-regarded business class menu, with what he describes as “lighter, cleaner, fresher approach” to inflight dining – and was also in charge of the à la carte dining at Virgin's exclusive invitation-only The Club lounges.

One of Mangan's Virgin Australia business class starters: plump and juicy Australian prawns in a light cocktail sauce.
One of Mangan's Virgin Australia business class starters: plump and juicy Australian prawns in a light cocktail sauce.

Bain is believed to be paring back the entire business class package towards a lower cost base, in keeping with its ‘value-based’ approach and a steer away from corporate travellers towards small-medium businesses.

The same thinking is expected to result in the closure of The Club lounges, created with the sole purpose of competing against Qantas’ influential Chairman’s Lounge network to woo the top end of town, especially companies with large travel budgets which could be directed Virgin’s way.

Virgin Australia's The Club is tipped to be a casualty of Bain's repositioning of the airline.. Source: Supplied
Virgin Australia's The Club is tipped to be a casualty of Bain's repositioning of the airline.
Source: Supplied

Read more: Secret perks of Virgin Australia's invitation-only The Club

"We are not looking to take Qantas head on, especially in their corporate part of the market,” Bain Capital’s local managing director Mike Murphy has stated. “We are not looking to attack the very high end of corporate Australia”

"In our research, access to The Club is important to a small elite segment of our customers and not the mainstream.”

“Things like a fancy club and fancy meals and all of that are relevant to a very small portion of customers… but for the vast majority of customers, they just don't value that as much," Murphy has told The Financial Review.

The Club: fine dining, or contemporary casual?

“We set all The Clubs up from day one with our Luke’s Kitchen brand,” Mangan says, although he maintains “it wasn’t fancy ‘fine dining’, just good simple casual food.”

Be that as it may, The Club members will miss their freshly-cooked ‘eggs any way’ breakfasts, the grilled salmon, thick steaks and especially the truffle fries.

“They were generous servings and the best food you could ever have in an airport” one The Club member, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Executive Traveller.

Mangan is proud of his work in helping train Virgin's cabin crew for food and drink service.
Mangan is proud of his work in helping train Virgin's cabin crew for food and drink service.

Mangan was hired as the airline’s consulting chef by former CEO John Borghetti as part of the transformation of low-cost Virgin Blue into the upmarket Virgin Australia, and he believes that “for the last 10 years, we are doing great things.”

“Obviously it wasn’t working, trying to take on Qantas – Qantas have got a good product and we couldn’t keep competing against that model.”

“But John wanted to change things, which he did, and hats off to him for what he did.”

Mangan was also involved in training Virgin’s business class cabin crew in food and wine appreciation, preparing meals and general service. 

“I certainly hope they keep that standard up and don’t let it slip,” he says.

Also read: Here is what Bain Capital's Virgin Australia 2.0 will look like

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 74

$400,000? How did they rack up that debt? I assume Luke Mangan is only developing menus and recipes not actually supplying the food so if he is getting paid that much, no wonder their cost base became too high!

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 536

I expected that, just healthy meals will do please

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 370

Virgin 2.0 could do far worse than engage, say, the last 4 finalists (i.e. those coming 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd) from Network 10's Masterchef and deploy their youthful food savvy on a rotational basis (e.g. this week's menu comes from ....). High profile culinary talent at a very reasonable price, talent that some of us will have seen glimpses when forced to watch by our other halves.

I think the TV show is an annual affair, thus keeping the chefs and their culinary fare 'unscrupulously fresh'. For a little extra coin, those chefs might occasionally make an impromptu appearance in J-Class to press the flesh and remind us why we're paying a premium over those in Eco? Just my A$0.50 worth.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Feb 2017

Total posts 27

The red chili duck was my favourite

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2019

Total posts 19

I care about the quality of the food, not the fancy name who has designed it. Virgin V2 needs to watch its coin!

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 285

I am confused.

Did Bain or VA actually announce anything about their relationship with Luke Mangan or is it an expectation inferred by the assumed course for VA based on previous announcement?

Nothing in the article said Mangan was told by Bain that he will not be doing anything for VA although I doubt they would pay the 400K

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 105

No actual news just click bait

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 285

Ah, so.....

Thanks for confirming! For a while I thought I needed to check my glasses

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 352

Clickbait.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 61

At its peak, Ayala champagne with a choice of 3 whites and 3 reds and stunning food with an extra "pantry" menu on the transcontinental A330in J - the food and wine clearly superior to the QF offering at that time.

However, this ploy, although pleasing to the palate, could not be sustained.

It was good while it lasted.

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 58

Other than the Spanish Tomato soup, I'm not sorry to see his offering go.

01 Apr 2014

Total posts 93

Quality food on an airline does not need to include paying a celebrity chef for their endorsement and the sometimes pretentious titles that come with some dishes. QF take note with the ponytailed bloke with his hand in your pocket - the COVID19 'cook at home' video sries he did wearing the QF PJ tops were a cringeworthy and unconvincing waste of money.

07 Mar 2017

Total posts 46

Whatever happens in the future, Luke's done a great job - and been far better than the competing offering. Well done!

Always looked forward to one of Luke's meals on east-west flights and also to LAX and Hong Kong, they were always better than the Qantas Neil Perry dishes. Uncomplicated, unpretentious, tasty.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Nov 2019

Total posts 45

Ill miss Luke cooking my meals on board my flights personally.............

Oh, and when Joyce gives the Ponytailed warrior Neil Perry the bullet from the Qantas kitchen, Ill also miss Neil cooking my meal up front on my flight.

In the words of a millennial, SMH

19 Jun 2020

Total posts 22

Watch the standard of Qantas drop once Virgin go back to basics, no competition will mean cost cuts for sure, Lukes menus were always better than the Qantas offering

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

23 Mar 2015

Total posts 48

To serve good food, well prepared, healthy and tasty, costs little more than mundane crap food. It's all down to motivation and proper sourcing. So unless Bain is reverting to warm gin and peanuts, they need to do the job properly, both onboard and in the lounges.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 74

LOL that you think lounges will survive at the end of this. Or that they will be any more than a basic offering.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 61

The future of J and F travel for a couple of years is likely to be more about the seat and bed and privacy rather than the food and wine and service - those days are over and us fortunate and privileged (often entitled) few who have had these pre-COVID luxury experiences are best served radically accepting this

12 Jun 2020

Total posts 9

Aplied a month ago, was meant to travel this Tuesday, absolutey zero communication. I'm trying to get to my fiancè in the US. i haven't seen him since Oct last year. I have MS and a heart condition. the stress has the potential to put me in a wheelchair so thanks Australian Govt. I had to listen to my man, who is very much the strong protector type, trying to choke back tears on the phone a few nights ago. Destroying lives. this is not a democracy, we are not 'free'. Sorry, we are free to pay taxes and the salaries of border force, who aren't even obligated to fulfill their duties. and the news today, locking up people in social housing in Victoria. it is shameful the way this govt is treating it's citizens. downgrade the travel ban. do NOT enforce hotel quarantine, home isolation and door knock. costs a lot less, it's been proven hotel quarantine is not working anyway. stop treating us like animals you can cage under the guise of public health. my health is deteriorating and I don't even have the virus.

05 Jul 2020

Total posts 1

Airlines have been burning money for years good move by Bain if Mangan can compare 400k to crying over spilt milk he's clearly an arrogant man who clearly needs to adjust his ego. At the end of the day no need for pony tails and high ego chefs being over paid for services not really required even in the best of times.

21 Dec 2012

Total posts 31

so no more of his chocolate balls in a plastic wrapper? I can't say I mind them shedding the cost of a celebrity chef, surely we're well advanced enough into airline catering that the catering companies know their processes for creating a dish and you're just picking out a menu from a long list.

More importantly, I might not be big end of town, but I'd certainly be woo-ed if they can they bring back the old J class mocktail

NZ

13 Aug 2016

Total posts 59

So they paid someone $400,000 an year, to use pre-packaged Pandora bakery goods as an desert on the Tasman.....


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