Atlanta amends airport concessions requirements to respond to business concerns

By David Pendered

The concessions industry is struggling to get its head around Atlanta’s novel approach to establishing new food and beverage businesses at the airport.

Companies seeking contracts want the city to be more specific than it has been in telling companies precisely what concept Atlanta wants at each of the 100-plus food and beverage shops that will be created.

The city responded Thursday by issuing a host of amendments to its original, April 5, request for proposals for concession businesses.

The city initially had intended to leave some flexibility in its document. That’s because Atlanta wants the industry to be creative in suggesting concepts for presenting food and beverages to passengers, said Paul Brown, concessions director at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“We are setting up guidelines, but we’re relying on the industry to bring the ingenuity and imagination and cutting-edge thinking that we don’t provide on a concept-by-concept level,” Brown said.

In the high-stakes game of airport concessions, it’s probably natural that operators want everything nailed down.

Airports are notoriously difficult places to operate – security is intense and they never take a holiday. In addition, operators must comply with both local and federal regulations.

But the pay-off in Atlanta is worth the grinding effort to submit a proposal. Winners will get exclusive access to nearly 90 million affluent passengers a year – most of whom can’t leave the airport.

Atlanta has an ambitious schedule for revamping the airport’s food and beverage businesses on all concourses and in the atrium. Proposals are due in late June and the plan is to have the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Kasim Reed sign off the new contracts by autumn.

The amendments the city released Thursday are set out in a voluminous digital document on Atlanta’s website.

In one example, a planned news and gift shop now is authorized to sell coffee. A coffee corner proved to be a big deal, Brown said, because this site is the only one before security in Concourse F. Being able to sell coffee could add a lot to the shop’s bottom line.

Brown said vendors posed more than 329 questions about the city’s request for proposals. Exactly 308 of them are answered in the amendment. Dozens of other pages address a host of intricate contract questions.

In another example, the city changed its requirement for proposals to be submitted in 12-point type on double-spaced pages in a three-ring binder. The new requirement provides for the submission of proposals that are single- or double-spaced.

This seemingly minor issue is important for the team of airport executives who will be reviewing the proposals. Reading hundreds of pages that are single-spaced could be a challenge. Then again, the new provision will save paper and cut costs.

The preferences and appetites of passengers apparently was a frequent question. The government has that information, but won’t release it:

  • Question No. 116 – Has [the airport] conducted any passenger surveys to determine passenger preferences, likes, and dislikes?
  • Response – Yes.
  • Question No. 117 – If so, can the city please provide a copy?
  • Response – No.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

1 reply
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    It’s the way Atlanta government operates – they say they want innovation and then they squash all attempts to provide it. Government wants total control until things turn bad, and then they want maximum deniability and political distance.

    Look for the new concessions to be a repeat of what’s there now, with the same cast of characters. At ATL, political connections mean everything.Report


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