More choice on the menu for Virgin’s business class flyers

“Not the beef pie again!” will hopefully be a thing of the past...

By David Flynn, April 9 2021
More choice on the menu for Virgin’s business class flyers
Executive Traveller exclusive

Virgin Australia's business class travellers can look forward to more dining choices on future flights, as the airline reviews the rollout of its new menu with an eye to not only increasing the variety of dishes but cycling through the on-board selections.

Launched a fortnight ago, the menu's casual cafe vibe has generally been well-received by premium passengers – but Virgin sees this as just an appetiser for what's to come.

"We won't get everything right at the start," airline CEO Jayne Hrdlicka admits, saying that feedback from travellers would drive the menu's evolution.

"There'll be a number of things we take off which people don't like, and things we keep which people like."

Virgin and its partners Gate Gourmet and Perth Inflight Catering are already drawing up the menu's first refresh, and they've no no shortage of options to choose from.

Virgin Australia's first menu 'cycle' for business class breakfast.
Virgin Australia's first menu 'cycle' for business class breakfast.

A long list of dishes took shape ahead of the menu's debut, and while items like the smashed avo on toast, bacon and egg brioche and haloumi salad were obvious starters, many more crowd-pleaser candidates are queued up to follow.

And while the core menu will change every eight weeks, the offerings on each route will also be cycled within that period so that frequent flyers don't see the same dishes over and over again on every Sydney-Melbourne trip, for example.

"We'll have three 'cycles' running in the same eight week block and we'll rotate through those so that there's choice for our guests," Sarah Adam, Virgin Australia's General Manager of Product & Customer Experience, tells Executive Traveller.

"There's also a lot of science and algorithms that sit in the background around where we load dishes and where we don't," Adam elaborates.

Getting the mix right: different dishes appeal on different flights...
Getting the mix right: different dishes appeal on different flights...

First-hand experience bears this out: on a recent 5pm flight from Sydney to Brisbane I noticed only three servings of the haloumi salad were loaded on board and all were snapped up by passengers in the first row, leaving just the lamb and rosemary pie for row 2.

However, a colleague on a 5pm flight from Melbourne to the Gold Coast found the pie was everybody's first choice.

The length of the flight, the weather at the city of departure, and the time of departure and arrival all play a part.

"I think that it's just about making sure that we've got the right ratios of dishes loaded, so we'll be having a closer look at that," Adam says.

"If we know that one thing's becoming more popular than another, we'll just change the ratios and make sure that we're still giving guests choice while having more of those really popular dishes ready for them."

There's also a pairing of dishes at work within each cycle.

"If you want something a little bit naughty for dinner, we've got the lamb and rosemary pie. If you want something a little lighter, then we've got the halloumi and quinoa salad. It's all about balance."

Virgin will look at the size and number of servings on coast-to-coast flights.
Virgin will look at the size and number of servings on coast-to-coast flights.

This interplay of "hearty and wholesome" came back again and again during Virgin's research on what passengers wanted, through "a lot of focus groups... and a lot of survey feedback from our guests."

Virgin's cabin crew also weighed in on the process.

"They get to interact with our guests every day, so they were really getting in there and telling us what guests were asking for, what they wanted."

As the menu evolves, Adam expects passengers will notice a connection between what they're eating in the air and in Virgin's lounges, especially the new dishes being served in the Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra lounges.

A selection of meals from Virgin Australia's new-look Adelaide lounge.
A selection of meals from Virgin Australia's new-look Adelaide lounge.

"We know our guests wants something that's modern, a little bit relaxed. There's really a marriage between our guest touch-points in our lounge and then onboard in business class."

Passengers on longer flights between the east and west coasts – which also involve a two-hour change of time zones – could also see more on their plate, with Adam saying "we'll be looking at how many services we need to do for longer sectors as well."

Also read: Virgin, 7-Eleven plan Velocity ‘points for petrol’ partnership

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.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 211

Yes, these things are always a bit of an 'evolution', and especially when it's just been launched there will always be things that change even in the first few weeks. Be good to see the meals being served are as complete as in the PR photos, with those sides which were often lacking from passengers actually got.

For east-west flights I think Virgin could stand to offer a second service which is more of a light snack. Maybe once the buy on board menu has proper meals, not just chips and cup noodles, they can let business class passengers choose a few things from that menu to make up their second lighter course?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Dec 2012

Total posts 53

My concern is this is not looking good for gluten-free business class passengers such as myself.  In the earlier version of VA, there was at least one meal that was GF and if you happen to be flying Y it was a disaster but there were options in the Lounge.  I had lots of emails with the prior executive team on this, but the new exec team's emails are hidden.

I think that there should always be a vegetarian option, a lot of carnivores like me still like to go vegie sometimes just for health reasons, maybe that could also be made gluten-free so it covers people who need to eat GF. Otherwise Virgin really needs to have a GF meal as pre-order, make that option clear to passengers in an email when they book, and if you don't order it in advance then it's up to the passenger to look after themselves and buy something GF at the airport.

Virgin made a decent start of this, be interesting to see what other dishes it has up its sleeve. Still hoping to see something like a healthy poke bowl with fish or chicken, rice and some vegies.

Qantas

31 Oct 2013

Total posts 13

As long as they keep serving me G&T I shall be happy with a pie, or a salad.

Hopefully the original MEL lounge opens again soon.  The current set up is soulless with next to no powerpoints and no view!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Aug 2017

Total posts 63

Flew Virgin from Brisbane to Darwin earlier today in Business. 4-hour flight.

Positives:

The pie was delicious.

No matter what drink I asked for it was provided -- gin (twice), Coke No Sugar, whisky, jasmine tea, water. (Please... don't judge me.)

Snacks were provided later in the flight when people started to get hungry again. More than one snack was no problem.

Negatives:

I had to ask for salt and pepper to be provided.

The main course could have been slightly more substantial.

The snacks were pretty basic and cheap. (eg. chips, pretzels).

All in all, it was a comparable product to Qantas, apart from missing in-flight internet access.

Meals are great I just wish they got Geoff Dixon onboard and some old fashion marketing and start being informative rather than withdrawn with a wait and see approach which just makes consumers try other airlines

21 Apr 2019

Total posts 7

This is good news. It looked a bit skimpy. And why not a desert on MEL/SYD?

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 165

I don't understand why they don't just launch a system where passengers can make their meal selection online prior to departure.

This has the double benefit of the passenger receiving their choice, and a reduction in wastage for VA.

If Virgin wanted to add a little 'wow' factor into their Business Class F&B offering i'd install aircraft espresso machines and be able to offer proper espresso based drinks.  This is one element neither of the domestic competitors offer. 

Those are both great ideas. Ordering in advance would be very smart, efficient and a good way to use tech and add those 'touch-points' which the VA exec mentioned, especially if they had special meals which were not on the normal menu, a bit like SQ's Book The Cook, without going to the extremes of lobster LOL. Those could be seasonal, or they could even have them prepared fresh in the kitchen of the Virgin lounge at your airport of departure. That could be something really great and let them do a lot of meals where they want to ensure they are super fresh and also as you say avoid wastage.

The espresso machine would also be a very cool little 'Virgin' touch, and of course John Borghetti had them installed on the A330s and B777s. Okay they were only Nespresso machines but still they poured a good coffee. I remember reading an article about aircraft interior and galley companies producing Nespresso machines in a standard galley module for the likes of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 too, so yes, Virgin should definitely bite the bullet on the cost of that and make it another drawcard, think of all the positive publicity they'd get too!

16 Oct 2012

Total posts 25

New menus are all fine, but I still feel like an unloved veteran Plat. No comms from VA enticing me to sample their new wares. Nothing to tempt me back onboard. Indeed, the VA message seems to be ‘we are interested in a different demographic now, not you’. 

Like countless others I long ago lost patience with the VA management silent treatment and shifted all my flying to QF. I’ve gone from VA fan to QF Plat. Though I have to say I’ve no love for QF. In fact I tend to think the airline has an arrogant sense of entitlement and a lazy lack of innovation. It rubs me up the wrong way (just my personal opinion). And certainly the catering in QF business class leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve eaten better meals Westfield food courts!

All of which makes me wonder what on earth they are doing over at VA when there’s a good news story to tell customers. I work in comms and this ain’t rocket science: Communicate with your existing customers and make sure they know they’re valued. 

KC
KC

09 Nov 2011

Total posts 23

Hiya cooper81 I totally get your thinking, as I thought the same, but my own brother pointed out the major pitfall. I myself often jump on an earlier flight or make flight changes on the day, that would make it near impossible to manage pre-order or special meal requests.

Big bro is a bit of an avgeek and also pointed out (annoyingly prob right,) that this would all depart from the more mid value marketing they are clearly pursuing. Any sort of system that needs careful hour by hour management is labour intensive as I know from my own work. 

It may only be an option if pre-ordering was a user pays system, especially in the new Virgin business model. 

Nespresso machines on board would be a fantastic idea, ditch that brewed coffee, although it’s better than the instant that was being served.

They could offset that expense by offering it for sale to main cabin on longer flights.


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