Etihad Eliminates Inflight Chefs, F&B Managers

Filed Under: Etihad

Etihad has just revealed its latest cost cutting initiative, which many premium passengers won’t be happy to hear about…

Etihad cutting inflight chefs, F&B managers

There was a brief period a while back where Etihad tried to become an uber-premium airline. One of the cool features we saw from the airline was the introduction of inflight chefs, as well as food & beverage managers:

  • Inflight chefs were be able to customize meals for first class passengers, using the ingredients available to them
  • Food & beverage managers were able to help business class passengers with deciding on menu items, pairing meals with drinks, etc.

Well, unfortunately Etihad Airways is eliminating the positions of inflight chef and food & beverage manager. Eligible crew members who are currently in those roles will be offered contracts as business class flight attendants.

Here’s how the airline explained the decision to employees in a memo, per Paddle Your Own Kanoo:

“To make us fit for our current business needs will, unfortunately, mean that they crew community will need to go through a further transitionary period, and regretfully, there will be some redundancies to certain crew roles.

Our premium cabin services have always formed a key part of our commercial offering, but as with many aspects of the business, they have had to be reevaluated in light of the ongoing pandemic.

As part of this, we have had to make the difficult decision to discontinue. the Inflight Chef and Food & Beverage Manager positions in First and Business.

We are incredibly proud of our talented crew and the contribution they have made to our business in these roles and this development is not in any way a reflection of performance. It is simply another devastating consequence of COVID-19 and a change that cannot be avoided based on the current climate that we find ourselves in.”

Why would Etihad eliminate these positions?

Both Etihad inflight chefs and food & beverage managers also acted as flight attendants, so it’s not like they necessarily need to be staffed in addition to flight attendants. However, they were still more costly for a variety of reasons:

  • They were paid more for working these positions
  • They required special training
  • There’s inefficiency to having a bunch of different crew “ranks,” since it makes it harder to schedule crews efficiently; this is especially significant at a time like this, where demand is constantly fluctuating
  • Since Etihad is eliminating inflight chefs, presumably the airline can also cut back on catering

I’m not surprised to see this change, and I’m sure Etihad viewed this as an easy way to cut costs.

Does this make a big difference for passengers?

As passengers, are there huge implications here in terms of the passenger experience?

For the business class food & beverage manager, personally I don’t view it as a huge loss. It’s not like a fancy restaurant where a sommelier can help you choose between hundreds of wines. Like, I know I’m supposed to have a red wine with steak and a white wine with chicken, and I can usually decide between a few options.

The first class inflight chef is a much bigger loss, in my opinion. Now, at first I should acknowledge that there’s a huge variance in terms of the quality of Etihad chefs, and I had some that were phenomenal and made the experience, while I had others that might as well not have been there.

But I do have to give Etihad credit for just how customizable first class menus have historically been. You could choose your protein, sides, sauces, etc., and often the chefs would even be creative beyond that, not to mention offer much better presentation than you’d usually find on a plane.

For example, I once had a severely delayed flight from Seoul to Abu Dhabi in Etihad first class, to the point that the flight went from an overnight flight to a daytime flight. However, they didn’t change the menu, so there were mostly breakfast options available. The chef managed to use his creativity to whip up something better, and prepared me a surf & turf.

Personally I view this as a pretty meaningful devaluation of the Etihad first class experience. It was one area where Etihad’s first class soft product excelled, and that advantage won’t exist anymore.

Is this the end of the Etihad Residence?

There’s one other interesting potential implication here. Etihad has The Residence, which is its three room suite with butler service on the A380, and it’s unlike anything else in commercial aviation.

Are there any implications for The Residence with this change?

  • All of Etihad’s A380s are grounded at the moment, with no plans for them to be reactivated anytime soon
  • A subset of food & beverage managers are trained as inflight butlers
  • With the food & beverage manager position being eliminated, will there be any butlers left should the A380 return? Or will Etihad train people from scratch if/when that happens? Or will the airline simply not have butlers even if the A380 makes a return?

Bottom line

Etihad Airways is eliminating inflight chefs and food & beverage managers as its latest cost cutting measure. I view the cut of the inflight chef as a big devaluation of the first class soft product.

Then again, with the state the industry is in, who knows when most premium cabin soft products will return to their previous levels.

I feel bad for all the people who will be taking a pay cut at best, or losing their jobs at worst.

Are you sad to see Etihad eliminate inflight chefs as well as food & beverage managers? What was your experience with them?

  1. As you also said, looking at the state of the industry, it could be much worse. While it’s sad for those crew members, I can understand the decision from an economic point of view. Etihad was not profitable even before the crisis, so maybe they should even see it as an opportunity to restructure and come back stronger. Nobody says that such things can’t be reinstated later.

    While these things are all very nice, I honestly don’t think that they are so much of a differentiating factor for customers to really generate additional revenue. Even more so during this crisis, when everyone is just glad to find a half decent and operational network paired with a solid product. Bells and whistles have to look different during a pandemic, unfortunately.

  2. I’ve consistently had good experiences with the Etihad chefs but always thought it was kind of a gimmick. They are limited to the ingredients on board. So it’s not as if you can order oysters or foie gras if it’s not in the galley. I honestly preferred the First Class on Emirates because, even though there was no chef, there was a much wider selection of food choices.

  3. Whilst it was a fantastic luxury – in this day and age of pandemics it’s an excessive add on that I feel is unnecessary

  4. really, who cares?
    it was a bunch of silliness in the first place.
    one of the mideast 3 needs to die or transform.
    let’s assume that it is Etihad.

  5. …and that video that you linked is ridiculous. Robert Crandall once spoke about the silliness of caviar in first class saying that what the real market wanted was space and peace. true then and true now. what the bloggers want is not what the true revenue flyer wants.

  6. The F&B manager did have some influence over the inflight experience but it did depend on the manager, some were poor so they haven’t helped their colleagues. A loss? Not so much.

    The on board chef was a complete waste of time and money for the airline, in terms of cost, and for us as passengers in terms of experience. Great idea but it never works as they cannot possibly create a true restaurant experience in the air with so many restrictions. Don’t even think about asking for a medium rare steak as it can’t be done, much is pre-cooked on the ground, so their ability to provide what the airline claims just cannot happen.

    My experience of Etihad chefs is that they wouldn’t get a job as a sous chef in an average restaurant on the ground. This isn’t just an Etihad problem as none of the airlines can do it.

  7. I was very impressed with the customization of the food they serve last time I flew them. It was def more customized than Cathay F, JAL F, Emirates F, Singapore F, and La Premiere. It felt like I was at a one Michelin star restaurant. Sure it wasn’t Michelin star level food but the effort was commendable and food was tasty. I’m sad that the customization is no longer there. Hopefully it’ll be back once air travel becomes normal again.

  8. @ Boom
    Indeed, all that really should count is space and peace. Much of the overkill in service and meals is because all Airlines start with similar aircraft, use similar seat maps and seats and need to differentiate.
    I wish Airlines would accommodate excellent meals in the Lounge and meals available onboard, at a lower level and let everybody sleep during night hours. (Of course, this is based on TA flights which are 7-9 hours and eastbound night flights.)

  9. I have traveled many times in EY business class from AUH-jfk, I must say the food and benerage managers made me feel at ease, sometimes it’s not just the food and wine, but the overall hospitality that you experience. Sad to see them go. There is always a different aura around them when they serve.

    @Mike Horne, sorry to see your comment “The inflight chefs won’t even get placed as Sous chefs on ground”. Once I was in the lounge on A380, the chef even though was working in first class, we ended up chatting, he was executive Sous chef from a well reknowned hotel brand with almost 16 years experience. With what I understand, all these chefs were super talented and some of them held senior positions in their previous job. The reason they were there “as mentioned by him” was they all loved to travel.

    As the kitchen galley was next to the lounge,later he also showed me how he prepared a wonderful salmon frittata and a beautiful cake from scratch.
    I just hope they assign someone with good hospitality background to manage their business and first class in the future and just wish that the 380 flies again as Etihad 380 product is in no way comparable to its competition. It’s simply a top product.

  10. sorry… but who needs a fresh cake from scratch. on an airplane! because your deserve it? get real. tell the wife to have a soufflé ready when you arrive home. see how that goes.

    the secret to cooking on an airplane is simple. bump to maximum temperature and then take it out early to rest.


  11. @Boom
    Even I can buy a cake after landing, or tell someone at home to make a souffle. But what made me appreciate is that this chef took his own initiative with passion to bake the cake in a galley from scratch to surprise an autistic child who loves a bishopnut strawberry cake. Actually it was not the cake, but how this chef actively took an initiative to make this kid smile out of surprise on an airplane.
    I always thought the secret of cooking onboard an airplane was to just shove it all in and heat it to max until I saw this chef in EY cooking the food onboard using a combination oven, I don’t remember the brand though but it had all the options of braising, grilling, steaming.
    May be somethings that you appreciate onboard are not just with a boom.. you need to anticipate the passenger needs and act towards making it happen.

  12. I was an inflight chef during the golden age of EY.
    Most of us were well experienced and we love our job as cook/chef.
    At the end of the flight it was not just to reheat your meal but also to go beyond and surprise our guests onboard.
    Making a cake on an airplane without flour and baking powder is not easy if you don’t have the knowledge and the passion for what you are doing.
    And last but not least we were there for your safety first of all.

  13. Only people who have chefs at home knows the value of a chef on aircraft. People travelling after begging miles at counter and hogging like hell at lounge won’t understand the concept.
    I flew with chef, who showed me his pictures with some Michelin chef, he was working for him. @mike horne
    Sadly they moved from ground to flight because on ground they get paid 2000Euros and inflight they get 6000euros plus housing plus travelling.
    Every one works for money.
    Yes you can ask your wife for cake after landing, just don’t give her flour, baling powder, then u will enjoy the hot slurry .

    Waiting for ur wife’s cake pic. @boom

    People travelling in economy will always find paying money useless, cz that’s the thing they don’t have MONEY and taste buds.

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