Three Reasons to Ditch the Spreadsheet and Modernize Your Airline Catering Operations

Every industry has a story of how modern technology has either empowered its ability to quickly adapt in times of change, or held it back.

Despite the significance of the airline industry to global economic health, many carriers are still operating with outdated methods of organizing and sharing information. This is especially challenging during this time of constant change.

In the beginning, an informal system of individual Excel spreadsheets and Word documents may be enough to manage the volume of catering data at hand. But during this time, with an increased change in the number of flights, choices offered, and more historical information, data management becomes much more complex.

It’s easy for airlines to then find themselves entrenched in a system with floating, locally owned and stored documentation. While catering information can be updated on individual legacy files, it cannot be automatically replicated everywhere.

This is enough to create headaches internally, and considering that this documentation is also used by vendors, real problems can emerge.

Following are 3 valuable reasons for airline catering managers to strongly consider ditching manual systems of legacy spreadsheets, and upgrading to strategic catering systems built to make your tasks simpler and scale with you:

1. Manual updates create errors and inefficiencies in day-to-day operations

In today’s environment, changes to business realities occur faster than ever. We have learned that demands on airlines to adapt to changes are never-ending and relentless.

From new galley plans and loading diagrams to meal specifications, each piece of information lives in multiple places, with no standardized method for describing, categorizing, or coding.

Even tableware labeled a “salad bowl” in one Word document may actually be one and the same with an item called a “fruit bowl,” a “pasta bowl,” or a “cereal bowl” in other files. But because the empty, round dish is called by other names, the item isn’t standardized. The result? A caterer may have no real idea which bowl should actually be used, unless they gleaned the information from past experience or a one-to-one relationship with an airline employee.

Then consider the litany of changes that are a natural, inherent part of an airline’s operations. As new standards are introduced to deal with health safety, the flexibility to adapt quickly is only more important.

During any given month, catering managers receive requests for changes, and then must squeeze all of those changes into a small window. Extremely organized airlines using manual processes are able to accomplish this, though it’s a tight, often stressful routine.

Most airlines do not even attempt this kind of schedule, updating records and issuing information only as these changes are made or requested. This scenario constantly bombards caterers with changes on very short timelines.

Even for the most efficient catering operations teams, it’s impossible to keep up with these changes or requests for information manually, using tools not built for the task. A system of individual files passed between employees and then to vendors creates a veritable house of cards.

With these manual systems, it’s little wonder that vendors often deliver catering orders that are different than expected. The volume of information is often simply too much to process in the time provided.

2. Growth and innovation are needlessly interrupted

A system of legacy spreadsheets and documents cobbled together makes scalable change difficult in the stages when an airline may need it most. This inflexibility undoubtedly holds airlines back from implementing more efficient and profitable processes.

With disparate information owned by individual airline employees, it becomes difficult to even define what those processes are to begin with, much less identify improvements.

And when an airline operating within these systems seeks to launch a competitive initiative, pushback often stops innovation in its tracks. Given the various departments involved, all must be on board and ready to consistently update their own documentation. In the best of cases, the burden of legacy spreadsheets may still cause teams to miss their window of opportunity.

Even the most fundamental of improvements are hampered if reliable data is impossible to obtain in the first place. By containing relevant information in disparate MS Word and Excel files, it becomes impossible to actually query the information needed to make these decisions. Despite their best efforts, employees of airlines still operating this way are unable to provide the quick-turn information and reporting necessary to make important operational decisions.

3. Low-tech solutions are more expensive in the long run

Managing highly complex catering operations with existing tools like Microsoft Office may seem like a cost savings initially. After all, there’s no additional technology cost. And who among us in the industry doesn’t know how to use a Word or Excel document?

In the long run, however, this approach creates hidden costs in the form of significant overspending on both head count and equipment.

It can also create higher vendor costs. Consider, for example, the caterer who receives a last-minute change to a galley plan, but whose other documentation doesn’t match the new information. In these cases, it’s too late to ask questions. The caterer is likely to go their own way, often resulting in higher costs.

This ‘guesstimate’ approach is far from an anomaly. Over time, it’s easy to become a habit for vendors operating under these conditions. When you can’t receive the information you need in time, you learn to operate without it, even if that creates additional costs for the airline.

Though it can be easy to view this as a simple case of “you get what you pay for,” the reality is that most airlines who upgrade from clunky spreadsheets to streamlined technology solutions find the investment pays for itself many times over. This occurs not just from curbing inefficiencies, but from better forecasting, real-time updating to new contingencies, and enabling profit-generating innovations that simply weren’t possible before.

Those responsible for airline catering operations know that nothing is ever static. There will always be changes. This relentlessly dynamic environment requires technology that can keep up with those changes, instead of holding you back.

Therefore, it’s important to recognize the difference between a technology solution that is merely economical and one that is growth-empowering, and understand the long-term return on investment of each.

It’s time for airlines to upgrade to technology systems that were built for the task of adapting to change quickly and efficiently.

With Paxia’s IFX and GP, the need for spreadsheets and Word documents is eliminated, and all data is centralized. When a piece of information or process updates in one part of the system, it updates everywhere. The result: every approved airline employee and vendor will access the same set of crucial, current information.

Given the size and continuing significance of airline operations to our challenged economies, it’s imperative that you have a single source of truth about your data. Catering operations in particular are filled with complex, minute details — a situation demanding to be simplified and streamlined.

It’s imperative that airline catering operations managers are able to efficiently accomplish more tasks, more efficiently, and to change them on a whim as their business needs evolve.

With technology that provides a single source of truth, airlines can rapidly adopt these changes in hours, not days or weeks — providing every stakeholder and vendor with the right information, when they need it.