AirAsia Opening Fast Food Restaurant: Brilliant Or Stupid?

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Well, now I’ve seen it all. Airline food is typically the butt of jokes. At best, some first & business class food may be restaurant quality, though many would argue even that is a stretch.

And many first & business class meals are most definitely not restaurant quality…

I don’t think many people would want to be served an economy airline meal on the ground, at least not if they’re going to go out to eat. On a good day I’d say economy airline meals are comparable to TV dinners you stick in the microwave.

But it seems like AirAsia disagrees. AirAsia Group’s CEO, Tony Fernandes, is planning on opening a fast-food restaurant serving the same cuisine they have on their onboard menu.

As he said during a Larry King Now interview last week:

“Our food is fantastic. We believe in it so much that we’re going to start a fast-food restaurant out of it. It’s called Santan.”

As someone who doesn’t speak Malay the first thing that came to mind when I saw “santan” was “satan,” which I’m guessing they’re not going for. 😉 However, “santan” actually means “coconut milk” in Malay, which makes a lot more sense. That’s also the name of their onboard menu.

As of now AirAsia hasn’t shared more details about the restaurant concept, though we’ll apparently learn more soon. I’d guess the restaurant will be in Malaysia, given the name and the scale of operations they have there.

For a sense of what AirAsia serves onboard, you can find their onboard menu here.

I’m not really sure what to make of this announcement.

On one hand this seems absolutely nuts. Malaysia has incredible food and a real food culture, and surely locals are used to great food and won’t stand for being served airplane food on the ground.

On the other hand, I could actually see this working out. The number of Malaysians traveling is higher than ever before, and going out (even if just to a fast food restaurant) is very much a social thing. I could see young people really wanting to eat at a place associated with travel in such a way.

Furthermore, while they claim they’ll serve the same food as onboard, I’d guess that they’ll at least serve it fresh, rather than cooking it and then reheating it hours and hours later. So it could actually be decent, and could be worthwhile solely for the publicity, if nothing else.

So yeah, I’m not fully sure what to make of this. If there’s an airline and country that could make this work, I’d say AirAsia in Malaysia ranks pretty high.

I wouldn’t expect to see the American Airlines Marketplace available in Manhattan anytime soon, though…

What do you make of AirAsia opening a fast food restaurant serving their inflight cuisine?

(Tip of the hat to Skift)

  1. I’ve had the chicken rice flying Air Asia Philippines, while not gourmet, but it was tasty enoug that’s I’d order it as fast food. Definitely 3x better than when Panda Express serves, and many people go to Panda Express

  2. Vueling has a hotel in Barcelona. Can’t think of an airline I’d less like to stay with on the ground so maybe this Air Asia restaurant is no worse an idea.

  3. @Steve has a point. Panda Express is the worst American Chinese food I’ve ever had, and yet people still buy it. (I’d rather eat microwaved dinners than Panda Express, personally.)

    Could work…

  4. @CraigTPA: Flew the other day next to two passengers that brought onboard Panda Express food. It was disgusting since the greasy smell filled the entire plane and I had to do my best not to throw up. Other disgusting thing is to bring Buffalo Wild wings on the plane and share among many people on the same family passing the food container from one row to the other.

  5. I was served Nasi Lamak in an Aluminum foil container in their Premium Flatbed class. It was one of the worst meals I’ve had onboard – can’t imagine going to a restaurant to eat something like that. The flight was a good value though, it was only a little over 50% more than what full service carriers were charging for economy.

  6. AirAsia is known for its “challenging” food. Like the time I opened up my hot meal to find a fish eye staring up from the rice. Or the woman who opened her meal to find a frog. A whole frog. It was dead, and not very big, but it was still a frog. I’m surprised they didn’t charge extra for the additional protein.

    They only time I’ve ever gotten sick from eating street food in Malaysia was after eating an AirAsia meal.

  7. I recall the food on Air Asia to be very good. This could work and Lucky is right in perceiving the youth culture in Malaysia would go for it (at least for a while).

  8. They tried to launch budget “tune” hotels and failed.
    While the AirAsia food is pretty good for an LCC, how much do they know about running a restaurant?
    They should stick with what they are good at….

  9. Well, they already run T&CO cafes which is the brand of coffee and tea they sell onboard as well. And the cafes serve drinks even better than onboard.
    Their meals are actually quite good for onboard meals (vegetarian options that I tried, but I hear the chicken rice and other dishes are good too) so the on-ground cafes could very well work, especially in busy areas.

  10. “I could see young people really wanting to eat at a place associated with travel in such a way.”

    Can you? Have you ever spoken to a young person before?

  11. Air Asia has blanketed their luggage rack covers with advertising and thus ruined the interiors of their planes. I call them the “Billboard in the Sky”. I thought that their planes once looked nice, but I await a further “sell-out to the almighty dollar” by their blanketing the OUTSIDE of their planes with Nestle, McDonalds, Subway, Bank of Malaysia, etc etc… No surprise here that they want to sell out to “fast money/fast food”.

  12. Air Asia food is great certainly the best economy airline food I have had (and I have tried most of the menu over the last few years)

  13. Why is it always young people who are supposed to become a springboard (test mice) for every possible kind of innovation? Let’s see if this idea goes viral with upper class seniors instead. They travel a lot, by the way.

  14. Also, if they need to serve passengers food during heavily extended delays, it’ll be easier to organise if they were in control of a restaurant.

  15. As a Malaysian, there’s much much better options available for the same sort of food Air Asia is planning to offer. Probably can attract some random tourist but I doubt any locals is would be interested in this.

  16. As a foreigner living in Thailand I can assure you that locally there are much better, and competitively priced, options available….but to be very fair, Air Asia’s food is better than most of the Thai restaurants I’ve been to when I’m in the US.

  17. To be fair, in the past I pre-ordered a meal on AirAsia twice and I have to say that these where the best meals we’ve ever had in economy class. Not lukewarm and bland but actually hot and tasty, with fresh vegetables.

  18. I have flown AIrAsia a number of times and always found their food to be fairly good. Also their menu items are usually significantly cheaper than meals on European low cost airlines.
    Having said that, Malaysia has one of the most exciting and affordable food scenes of anywhere. I think they will find it difficult to compete with the night markets and food courts of KL and Penang.

  19. I fly air Asia every 2-3weeks and their food is much better than most premium carriers offer in Economy. For flights to up to 3hrs the hot seats in the exit rows + one of their pre-order dishes is my way to go, as I still save lots of money that way. However, i would never eat that on the let’s see if it succeeds.

  20. Restaurant-quality is usually intended as a compliment; however, there are some pretty lousy restaurants out there.

  21. The nasi lemak and nasi biryani are always highlights for me on an Air Asia flight, as is the satay on Malaysia Airlines. I think Air Asia’s food is some of the best in the sky and as millions of travelers are familiar with this menu on board, this restaurant concept on the ground might just work (or at least until the novelty wears off).

  22. Ewwwwww. I actually don’t mind most airline meals, but theirs is the single most disgusting excuse for a meal i ever had. Rice was still frozen solid and tasted foul. All they offered is to reheat it, not even offered an alternative, and I was in their biz equivalent. What a sad joke, I hope to see them fail.

  23. My sister flew with AirAsia when she went KL and said it was the nicest meal she ever had in economy – so maybe?

  24. I’ve eaten many AirAsia meals over 10+ years, and having grown up on Indonesian cuisine which is in many ways comparable with Malaysian, not once did they disappoint: tasty, nutritious with a good size of veggies and highly affordable. I can see this concept “fly” if the food is made fresh, and I would be interested in giving it a try.

    I really question the validity of those negative comments…

  25. Air Asia food is generally very good. I would say tastier even than SQ or CX.
    But I wouls not necessarily go for it on the ground.

  26. It actually could work if they opened it in the airport terminal, for example. It’s not like the other options are very good or very cheap in the airport anyway. And probably there’s little additional cost to AirAsia as they are preparing all these meals in bulk. Just need to rent a bit of space, get a staff or 2 (or maybe just rotate them) and that’s it – extra profit and some marketing/branding.

  27. Well well well… I have to say the meals on AirAsia that I flew last time are sometimes good and bland. I remembered receiving chicken rice which happened to have less meat that are sometimes less cooked and much skin which was not good.

    On the other side, I have to avoid this airline at all cost due to the worst airport, KLIA2. You literally have to walk long distance from your disembarkation, to escalator then go u-turn at immigration checkpoint that takes more than 1 hour, and wait at baggage carousel for more than 30-50 mins because of long distance the airport staff have to transfer baggages from aircraft to this by a small truck, and then you also have to walk again a long long distance to reach the pick-up point outside the airport. Such a bummer… >(

  28. I think this could work if served in airports, as Air Asia serves food that is well above a normal economic class one. But I highly doubt that this will work in shopping malls in the city where so many competitors inside.

  29. I’m not against this idea in principle as I had a fantastic mutton biryani on Singapore Air (economy) during January but I do object to religious discrimination/lack of tolerance restricting the menu. The only meat available appears to be chicken. How can you have a Malaysian menu that does not contain a decent beef rendang?

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