What Does Anthony Bourdain Make Of Airplane Food And Room Service?

Filed Under: Media, Travel

I have a lot of respect for Anthony Bourdain (it’s incredible the brand he has built based on eating food around the world), though personally a lot of what he says doesn’t resonate with me. Obviously we travel for very different reasons. As much as I make traveling about the journey to an extreme, he makes traveling about food, also to an extreme (in my opinion, at least).

That being said, I do find Bourdain’s impressions of things to be fascinating, keeping in mind that he phrases things in absolutes as part of his persona.

An interview was just published with Anthony Bourdain on bonappetit.com, and it has some pretty interesting quotes about airplane food, room service, and more. I figured I’d share a few of the most interesting parts.

Bourdain never eats plane food, and thinks people only eat it because they’re bored:

Do you eat the plane food?
Never. No one has ever felt better after eating plane food. I think people only eat it because they’re bored. I don’t eat on planes. I like to arrive hungry.

I certainly don’t disagree, and I’ve largely written off domestic plane food. At the same time I do think saying “never” is a bit of an extreme. I’ve certainly had some restaurant quality meals in the air, though I know everyone has a different approach to that.

Etihad-A380-Apartment - 41

He’s then probed about dining on longhaul flights:

What if you’re on a super-long flight? You just don’t eat?
For a super-long flight, I’d order cheese and shit load of port. I’d eat some cheese and drink myself stupid.

Of course it depends on the airline and cabin you’re flying. I assume he’s usually at least in business class. Though if we’re going off the assumption that airplane food is bad, I’m not sure I totally follow how bad cheese is better than bad salad, for example. But there you have it — he just has cheese and port on longhaul flights.


And now we get to the part on which I strongly disagree with him. Bourdain doesn’t care about coffee, but likes it light and sweet:

What’s your coffee strategy on the road?
There are few things I care about less than coffee. I have two big cups every morning: light and sweet, preferably in cardboard cup. Any bodega will do. I don’t want to wait for my coffee. I don’t want some man-bun, Mumford and Son motherf*cker to get it for me. I like good coffee but I don’t want to wait for it, and I don’t want it with the cast of Friends. It’s a beverage; it’s not a lifestyle.

As longtime blog readers know, for me coffee is a lifestyle, which is why I spend so much time talking about it on the blog.


He’s also asked about room service, which he says it’s never okay to order, unless it’s just coffee and croissants:

Is ordering room service ever okay?
No. For breakfast, maybe. I don’t really eat breakfast, but having coffee and some croissants in the room is always nice. But if you really want to send yourself into a tragic spiral of depression, call down for a room service hamburger when you’re alone in your room. You will inevitably be disappointed and more than likely sent into a manic-depressive state for days.

Again, I think he’s being intentionally over the top here as it’s part of his persona. I’ve had plenty of great room service meals. None have been unforgettable dining experiences, but that’s not the point. Sometimes you just don’t want to leave your room, whether it’s because you have work to do, you’re exhausted, it’s cold outside, or a countless number of other reasons. But not every meal has to be an experience, in my opinion. And while eating cobra heart and seal eyeballs is certainly an “experience,” personally I’ll take room service over it. 😉


Where do you stand on airplane food and room service?

(Tip of the hat to Mike)

  1. I never eat airplane food expect for bread (even on 13 hour flights). I generally like room service ( much more than airplane in any travel class).

  2. Lucky, from flying long haul SQ, EK, KE etc. on first/biz, none compare to a good local burger joint, side of garlic fries and a coke. Perhaps its eating at high altitudes, but the food on plane is never amazing. It can be good and special (especially the caviar), but there’s really nothing to write home about. The magical factor of eating on a plane might be the highlight of the whole experience.

  3. agree on most if not all. room service only for breakfast. there’s something depressing about it for any other meal. i’ve dragged myself out of the hotel even in the depths of epic hangovers to go out and get local meals. nothing is more tragic than eating a room service hamburger in some of the great food cities of the world.

  4. “Never, ever eat one morsel of airplane food….blah, blah, blah.” So, in his eyes, I guess I’m a rube if I eat a meal on Cathay Pacific on a 14 hour flight. Guilty as charged I guess.

    After hundreds of interviews and hundreds of shows, his schtick is growing tiresome. Hey look at me being edgy with my “Mumford & Son looking” zinger. It’s a fine line between edgy and just being a crotchety, old grouch.

  5. Do we know for sure he flies J/F as opposed to Y?

    Domestic flights sans food are possible but not long-hauls, especially if you don’t bring anything on board (he’s opposed to that too).

    Rest of the article is pretty interesting though, especially bits about Japan and Beirut.

  6. If he’s in business class, most business class food is pretty boring compared to what Bourdain will be eating on the ground.

    Also consider that cabin pressuirzation of 8,000 feet means you lose some of the aroma and flavor of the food. Oh, and a lot of airline food (even first class food) is blast chilled and reheated, which limits some of the ways you can cook it (it’s part of why steaks and fish are very very tricky on airplanes, and why stews/tagines/curries that use moist heat/braising work better).

    So Bourdain’s attitude on airline food is not surprising at all. I mean, really, if you have had Ferran Adria cook for you, and you can eat at a top chef’s place pretty much any time you want, are you going to be particularly impressed with a tin of caviar and all the Krug and Johnnie Walker Blue you can drink?

  7. When I’m hungry, food always tastes better. I’d definitely eat on a plane to ease boredom though. Since I’m not overweight, it’s not a problem. He would likely be pretty plugged up from port and cheese from a long haul flight so not feelin’ too good at the destination IMHO. For me, food is a means to an end. Like the flight! -but then I’ve NEVER sat where LUCKY sits. 😉 (Not cause I don’t have the skills, more like an entourage.)

  8. I agree with him about Coffee, Coffee is probably my favorite thing in the world, its my morning routine, I take time making my own Coffee at home and its something I’m very proud of. But….

    The point I agree with him about, I don’t like all the hipster coffee places where I just feel like a dick for ordering regular Strong Coffee, So i tend to avoid all of those places, I look for a smooth tasting cup, I want it quickly and at a good price and don’t want to spend the day in the coffee shop sipping latte’s

  9. I’m generally not a fan of airplane food but I must say that I had the best stake I’ve ever eaten while sitting in Cathay Pacific first.

    I prefer a variety while traveling. I get bored when all we do is eat at the lounge at the hotel.

    When I had a very long term stay at the Grand Hyatt Santiago I ate my fair share of room service dinners. I spent a good portion of the time there alone with my three kids so there really was nothing better than being able to enjoy a quiet meal after they had gone to bed. Without room service or delivery, that wouldn’t have been possible. After ordering a few meals, I easily caught on to what meals were the best tasting and best value.

  10. You guys know he is a classically trained chief right?

    I do agree with him on the local food, coffee and room service.

  11. If flying business class I may order food depending on the time of the flight. If I can avoid eating it I will. Otherwise, I order the option that has the lowest chance to give me trouble, meaning food poisoning, etc… Usually pasta is the safest for me. If hungry I always go for the ice cream dessert which is also the safest option. I don’t recall in my last 20 years of business travelling ordering room service. I like to get out of my room even if I have to work. If I am too tired to go out I am probably too tired to eat anyway. If you don’t want to go out at least go to the hotel restaurant.

  12. “I don’t want some man-bun, Mumford and Son motherf*cker to get it for me. I like good coffee but I don’t want to wait for it, and I don’t want it with the cast of Friends. It’s a beverage; it’s not a lifestyle.”

    Laughed so hard at this. He’s right. Not everyone has time to sit around the locavore third-wave coffee house all afternoon working on their typewriter.

  13. @Ted:

    I might have gotten that impression from reading his books, considering that they include a good amount of autobiography, or watching the episode of No Reservations where he goes back to cook at Les Halles for a day…

  14. Purely from Bourdain’s perspective, I totally get it – If my life was about crazy travel motivated by all things food, I would never be able to appreciate flight food or room service. Similarly Lucky, if I were you, I would totally be all over the first class meals and room service.

    My lifestyle does not allow me to always be in business or first, so NO FOOD if I am roughing it at the back end. Room service depends on who pays for it, I am not flushing my money on room service, rather walk out 5 minutes and see what the local scene is.

  15. Oh, and I think room service is mostly overpriced uselessness as well. I hardly ever order delivery, either. If I’m too lazy to cook, I might as well get some exercise in and walk the few blocks to a local restaurant.

    That being said, it’s pretty obvious that a blogger who decided he was going to live out of suitcases and hotels is going to be ordering a LOT of room service and spending a LOT of time eating off of the executive lounge’s spread. 😉

  16. I agree with him about room service meals; I don’t order room service. I would rather go out at 0 degrees on a cold January night in Chicago to a local restaurant, than to eat in my hotel room.

    Otherwise, if I didn’t want to leave the hotel, I’d eat in the hotel restaurant; eating a room service meal is depressing.

    As far as not eating on a flight – the only flights I eat on are long haul (15+ hours) flights. If I could just eat dessert, I might give it a try 🙂

  17. I agree with him. The food in J and F is okay, but definitely always worse than any decent restaurant. People eat more for the convenience than for the quality. I usually skip dinner on transatlantic redeyes and eat at an airport restaurant (not the terrible lounge food) before the flight instead. I’m paying to sleep, not to eat low quality food on a short flight.

  18. A good premium class meal while flying can be nice. But I like Tony’s idea of arriving hungry. I never looked at it that way before. I might try that next time and go straight for some local food.

  19. I’ve only really had and considered using room service for breakfast as well.
    I’m sorry to say that I have never had any outstanding food on a plane, and part of me agrees that you may want to eat just because you are bored, but on a long-haul, I wouldn’t survive on the bag of chex mix I bought in the terminal. I suppose if you have access to a good lounge, you can fill up there to avoid eating on the plane. He spends most of his flights thinking of ways he can insult Guy (rightfully), so he never gets bored.
    The whole article mentions his love for Spicy Noodles, I wonder if he would eat that if it showed up on the inflight menu. I’m guessing not.

  20. Room service is for people who don’t have a life.

    Of course one has to eat on an airplane—to pass the time as well as to assuage hunger. But Bourdain is a food guy, and I can understand that airplane food does nothing for him, the same way watching bad movies on that tiny screen would do nothing for you if you were a serious film buff.

    Waiting while a hippie brews coffee just for you is for people who don’t have a life.

    I like Bourdain. Beneath the jerky exterior, he is very solid.

  21. “The whole article mentions his love for Spicy Noodles, I wonder if he would eat that if it showed up on the inflight menu.”

    The soto ayam I had on a CX J flight last week SIN-HKG was awesome. Granted, I don’t know what the baseline is for authentic soto ayam. But it was one of the best in-flight dishes I’ve had.

  22. His position is applicable to 99% of travelers out there. He also doesn’t seem the type to regularly indulge in EK or LH F, or to while away his hours at a luxury 5 star resort, where your exceptional (as in, the exception) experiences are related. The vast majority of my hotel meals have been unmemorable, at best, and memorable for all the wrong reasons, at worst. And while the domestic F salad is passable, unless you’re in a decent Business or First class long-haul flight, airplane food is, again, forgettable, at best.

  23. Last year, back when everyone thought Donald Trump was a joke (before the first debate), I had a choice between watching the first debate in my hotel room while eating room service or missing the debate. As a reasonable human being and a true lover of entertainment, I ordered room service.

  24. I agree with Boutdain on everything except the “I want to arrive hungry” concept. I understand his logic, and if money was no object, I would do the same, but I’m never going to reject free food (especially if it’s decent) for restaurant food that I have to pay for.

  25. Generally agree on room service, although the best burger I’ve ever had was a room service order at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai. Not a name drop, just a fact.

  26. Food on planes, including premium international first, is ridiculously over rated. At its peak it is reheated average food, at its worst it is garbage.

    This is not to say that I don’t eat it on a long haul flight to Japan or Hong Kong but it’s more to pass the time than anything else.

    The food simply cannot be prepared and selections cannot be made that are competitive with decent food on the ground. It’s not the airlines fault it is just simple logistics.

    So sure, Bourdain is playing this up for the sake of his persona and I have personally seen him eat a hotel burger by the pool of the Four Seasons Maui but I think he is more or less correct. And I agree 100% about the coffee and the man buns. In 10 years man buns will look worse then mullets.

  27. Always amazed at the posters who feel the need to put down others with condescending statements like ” for people who don’t have a life”. Who cares what other people like or don’t like.

    I don’t drink coffee or alcohol, and only order room service when I am too exhausted to leave the room or am sick. However I always eat airplane food to save time and money from having to do it as soon as I land. I want to get going with my trip and not waste time in an airport or hunting for a restaurant when I land.

    I love the food on Asian carriers. I especially like the food in their Business and First Class in flight and in their lounges. Those who don’t like it don’t have to eat it.

  28. When traveling from home, priorities surely tend to be different than when traveling IS your home (such as thoughts on room service).

  29. Why are those of you that use room service ok with overpaying so much? The prices alone are ridiculous, but by the time you pay a 15% service fee AND an in-room dining charge, it’s becomes absurd.

    I don’t get it.

    Is it an American “thing”?

  30. I’m on your side regarding coffee, Lucky! There is obviously nothing wrong with only enjoying bodega coffee, but to feel superior because of that is silly. (The same goes toward the commenters here who said essentially the same thing.) It’s the same kind of condescending elitism that people accuse the “man-bun, Mumford and Son motherf*ckers” of perpetrating.

    The lack of awareness about that hypocrisy is pretty astounding. Still love Bourdain’s show, though.

  31. @Todd: I imagine that many people ordering pricey room service are traveling on expense accounts so they don’t have to pay for it themselves.

    There’s probably also a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds represented here. Some people have lots of money and value the convenience of room service. Some people eat on the plane because it’s free and saves on a restaurant later. Some people get by with cheese and port so they can eat at a Michelin-starred place when they land. All sorts in this world.

  32. I agree with most if not all of it. I do some 20 8+ hours flight in J and never eat. I either eat at the lounge before or during connections and sleep as much as I can to fight jet lag (this is what works for me); I never drink any alcohol however. Never ever order room service, too depressing imo to the point id rather eat fast food.

  33. I know in my experience in Chile, the room service was actually reasonably priced. They didn’t have a minimum delivery amount and they didn’t have a service fee. I always tipped as I would in a restaurant but it would be like $15 USD for a good meal.

  34. Agree with most of it. When I was younger, I was so excited about having airplane food in J or F. I fly the same carrier long haul in J on a monthly basis. I don’t eat the first meal. I try to get as much sleep as I can. If I wake up being a little peckish, I’ll get a light meal.

    I don’t care if you’re flying SQ, EK, QR, CX, whatever. You get sick of it. Ever been to a catering kitchen? After visiting one, you’ll never want to eat airplane food again.

  35. The level of douchebaggery on the part of Mr. Bourdain and most of the commenters is out of control. If you’re traveling enough in J or F to be blasé about aiplane food you’re going to be comparing your meal to that prepared by Aramark, Sodexo pr The Palm not Le Bernardin.

  36. In my opinion, flying in premium classes is all about the space. I do not dine in the air regardless of business or first. In the last year I flew about 650,000 miles and I ate twice in the air (once on SQ Suites and the other on Cathay F) and both times I would rate the meals as 6/10 – maybe a 7/10. My system has become of having a great meal before leaving for the airport. I will snack on raw nuts and fruits in flight, but I mainly use the time and accommodations for catching up on sleep. Upon reaching my destination (even if it is an airport while in transit), I will ensure that there is sufficient time to shower and leave the airport for a good meal. These little traditions make my journeys enjoyable. Airline food is not my idea of a good meal and room service is not somewhere I want to spend when given the choice (I generally order a fresh coffee or tea via room service at the most). In contrast, my wife who travels with me, generally cannot survive an hour without eating what with all the marathon running and Cross-Fit training. Therefore, she will dine in the air. However, she does not endorse airline food, but rather needs it to keep her body from starving itself, especially on 16 hour flights.

  37. Not all room service food is bad. I stayed at the Hotel Metropole in Monaco on business, arrived late and did not feel like going out to a restaurant, so I ordered room service for dinner. It came from the Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon restaurant located inside the hotel. It was a memorable meal, delicious and entirely without fault. And I ate it in my bathrobe.

  38. Bourdain’s job is to wander around exotic and ordinary locations eating everything in sight and drinking to oblivion while being followed by cameras every step of the way. Of course he doesn’t do room service.

  39. I think a late night, ~1am room service after a long night of drinking with your significant other is okay too. I’ve come back after a long night out starving for crappy food, and late night room service hits the spot.

  40. Does anyone have an opinion on ordering special meals on a flight? Do you prefer vegetarian over Kosher over whatever you might get on the flight in economy seating & why?

  41. Seriously? People aren’t eating business class food on principle? I bet these are the same people that on a rush will think nothing of going to a McDonald’s or similar junk food purveyor. Because, just like airplane food, it DOES make you feel better after eating it.

    Incidentally street food may be exotic but it isn’t better than airplane food (Google “gutter oil” to see what can be served on the street). But it does make money for Bourdain, so it must be OK to him — he makes no money on airplane or room service food.

  42. Im in premium and pre order my meals.
    Steam fish salads light vegies
    No alcohol no sugar no carbs
    Will have coffee for breakfast and boiled or egg omelet
    And drink plenty of Evian if its available as it makes me defecate.
    I think its the minerals in it.

  43. Generally, I only order room service when I’m traveling for business and there’s nothing else around. Most of the time, I’m in the middle of a bustling city where I have plenty of other options for a meal, but occasionally, I’ll end up at a hotel for work where I’d have to grab a cab or an Uber in order to find something to eat. In those instances, I will order room service (or eat at the on-site restaurant).

    I rarely eat on a plane, since I’m usually in economy. I just bring my own food/snacks if it’s a long haul flight, or eat before I get on (or wait until the flight is over) if it’s a short flight.

  44. I like to drink my ass off in First international. Not to get drunk, but just enjoy myself (especially in ANA First). Might as well down the Habiki and Krug. Meals are hit and miss, but most Asian airlines are spot on and worth eating. If I’m dropping $20k on a ticket, I’ll do as I please and they will kiss my ass.

    Really could careless what old Anthony does or says. Means absolutely zero to me.

  45. No point in comparing airline food to a fine dining farm-to-table restaurant. It’s food served 43000 ft in the air!! What does one expect? It’s simply amazing what airlines are able to offer in premium classes now a days. I’m not a big eater, so I am usually content with not eating over a 14 hour flight since I like to enjoy the bed and be fresh and rested to start work/travel as soon as I land. Fruits and snacks are my go to. I don’t see what is wrong with room service. My best room service experience was in Shanghai at the Ritz. I had a reservation at the MMBund which I visit frequently when I go to Shanghai, but this time I was tired and just worn out. When talking with the concierge, I mentioned that I wasn’t able to make it there that night and was a little disappointed. Guess what? They sent someone to the restaurant to bring my favorite dishes back for me so that I can dine peacefully and comfortably in my room. In return I left a generous tip. So…what’s wrong with room service??

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