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.
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.
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."
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.
"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."