Report: O’Hare has $3 billion opportunity to be culinary destination

Airport workers recommend sustainable and local food for the future

(Chicago) – The menu at O’Hare International Airport is about to change but what’s on it is yet to be decided. The City of Chicago will soon set guidelines for companies interested in providing food concessions at the airport and ask those compa­nies to submit proposals for how they’d do it. Today, food workers at O’Hare released a report, Putting Sustainability on the Table: Airport Workers’ Vision for $3 Billion of Food and Drink at O’Hare, which suggests recommendations to the City on how to ensure the menu is as tasty as possible.


Cooking, serving, and greeting travelers, O’Hare’s food workers are on the frontlines of the passenger experience. In advance of the City’s guidelines, workers at O’Hare, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 1, surveyed their co-workers and passengers in order to determine the best direction for the airport. What they found is a shared passion and vision for food at the airport:


  • 57% of workers surveyed said that customers have asked if their food was cooked from scratch, or from pre-made or frozen ingredients. Of those, 58% said they were asked that question on a daily or weekly basis.
  • 47% of worker respondents said that a customer has asked where the food in his/her restaurant was produced. Meanwhile, 86% of workers surveyed said they think that restaurants at O’Hare should buy food ingredients that are grown locally.
  • 89% of worker respondents said they think there should be more food service training opportunities available as part of the redevelopment of O’Hare. Workers at LAX in Los Angeles are currently participating in a training program to learn new culinary skills as part of the concession redevelopment at LAX.


The redevelopment of concessions at O’Hare provides the City with an exciting culinary opportunity. To ensure its success, airport workers recommend that the City prioritize cooking fresh, healthy food using locally grown produce, minimizing food waste, and investing in airport workers to provide job stability and training throughout the transition.


“The main thing is that people are changing the way they eat based on health concerns,” said Jesus Valle, a server with 32 years of experience at the airport.


Encouraged by steps that the City and HMS Host have recently taken towards improving sustainability at the airport, workers are enthusiastic about the future of food at O’Hare.


UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana.