Phoebe Fung, who worked at oil and gas giant BP PLC for nearly 15 years, knows what it's like to be on the road a lot for business.
But about 10 years ago, she went out on her own and started Vin Room, an award-winning wine bar franchise in Calgary. Her latest outlet opened in the Calgary International Airport's new international terminal last year.
This restaurant, in particular, will have a number of features aimed at the business traveller, part of a grander shift in airport food and restaurant culture.
"I wanted to put all the niceties that I wanted as a business traveller in an airport restaurant," Fung explains. "It has terminal monitors to monitor departure times, it has plug-ins with USB and data ports, and a complimentary business centre where you can fax, scan or print documents."
"Under our bench seating, there are places to put your carry-on luggage so you're not tripping over it," she continues. "It's all the things that I wanted when I was travelling for business."
Fung says the airport location for Vin Room is 2,000 square feet, but has run 40,000 feet (or 12,100 metres) of cable through its space in order to accommodate all the plug-ins.
"These are the nice amenities that you want," she says. "I was the general contractor on this build because I wanted things to be done perfectly from the view of a customer."
A wine bar wouldn't be such without wine. Fung says her other locations have 110 wines by the glass, but about 80 at the airport outset because of security and space restrictions.
The menu at Vin Room also fits the business traveller experience because it's mostly tapas (small plates).
"We'll keep with that theme," Fung says. "It'll be great for travellers."
She's not the only restaurateur who has noticed people on the go are craving fancier fare.
Canadian celebrity chef Massimo Capra – he of the handle-bar mustache, boisterous Italian flare, and numerous media appearances on Food Network – says the palate and habits of passengers and business travellers have changed over the past few years.
He says when his Toronto Pearson International Airport venture Boccone Trattoria opened in 2012, he wanted people to be able to fly to Toronto in the morning, have their meeting in his restaurant over lunch, and fly home in the afternoon without ever leaving the airport. That objective holds true today, and Capra is copying the strategy elsewhere. Soprafino at Hamad International Airport in Doha is his latest airport venture.
"We have a good solid clientele of repeat customers because of business travel," the award-winning chef says. "People that travel multiple times per week, they can sit down, meet their whole group, and have a great meal and great bottle of wine, plus be really entertained in a pleasant environment."
Capra also says that even though business travellers usually just want to get home as fast as possible when their day is over, his Italian fare is so well received that many will make a stop at Boccone as they exit, then head home with their meal to go.
He boasts that everyone who dines with him will receive their food within a 10-minute range from when they order, vital for business travellers.
Airport rules on products that can enter the facilities poses a challenge for a fine-dining chef like Capra, who wants to have the freshest ingredients possible. But that hasn't stopped him from creating items that airport dwellers can compare to any other bistros throughout Canada's biggest city.
"The pizza is the same as any of the great pizzerias in Toronto," he explains. "We take raw materials in our kitchen and we turn it into food. We buy very little that is premade."
"I travel quite a bit, and when you go through security and all that you get jolted, you feel out of place. It's never really a pleasant experience," he continues. "When crafting a menu, I wanted to create something as fresh as possible for travellers to help them relax. Gourmet-style pizza, fresh pasta, I'm making the dressing for our salads. The people see that, and they realize it's very different from what the norm will be."
And it's not just at the gates where the dining options have improved.
At Vancouver International Airport, a nearby Fairmont hotel, which has been open for 17 years, is seeing a recent resurgence thanks to its dining options.
Ken Flores says business road warriors have travelling down to a fine art. "They are probably more willing to take a chance on something more local than on something they may have at home," says Flores, the former general manager at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport who's now in the same role at Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver. "The leisure traveller doesn't travel as frequently and obviously wants something that doesn't make sitting in an airplane for 12 hours uncomfortable."
That's why the restaurant, Globe@YVR, serves up comfort foods such as pizza and gourmet grilled cheese, intermixed with fine cuts of steaks and British Columbia salmon.
Additionally, the Jetside Bar at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport plays live music seven nights a week, and Mr. Flores says it's great for business travellers who want to unwind after a long week.
"People who are travelling alone won't go into the restaurant, they'll sit at the bar," he explains. "At the tables in the bar, we have lounge seats with plug-ins and, of course, free WiFi."
Travellers, especially those from Asia and other overseas destinations, can enjoy any room service meal at any time of day if they are staying in the hotel.
"We go 24 hours a day on our room service so you can order dinner based on your clock, not ours," Flores explains. "We recognize business travellers aren't necessarily on our time clock, and guests want things that remind them of home."