So much more than in-flight catering
Par-Avion started out 20 years ago as a small air charter catering service operating from a garage in Fourways, and has grown into an exclusive, one-stop service, providing the full range of in-flight catering and hospitality, plus airport lounge and cabin décor, and catering for private functions. If you have ever wondered what it means to provide VIP in-flight hospitality, have a look at Par-Avion’s service.
Odette Rousseau, Par-Avion’s director, came from the hospitality industry, working at 5-star safari lodges, and so knew what it takes to cater to discerning guests. In addition, being married to a pilot and having friends who flew in corporate charter companies, meant she understood the industry. Thus, when Rossair, an executive air charter company based at Lanseria, found themselves in a tight spot, urgently needing catering for their crew and four passengers, they called on Odette. She wasn’t in the business at the time, but pulled it out the bag. The flight was a success, the passengers were happy, Odette found herself with her first client and Par-Avion was launched.
That first year, Odette ran the business from her garage in Fourways, but in just a year, she needed a bigger space and so moved to Lanseria Centre bordering the airport. In-flight catering, often unfairly, has a connotation of mediocre food and even sick passengers. Odette was determined to undo that association, and instead bring the bespoke service that clients would experience at their favourite restaurants and 5-star lodges to executive charters. It’s about making the passenger feel that someone is truly interested in his/her experience. Attention to detail, over and above good food, such as preferred glasses and perhaps branded serviettes, and catering to seemingly trivial, but specific, requests goes a long way. Par-Avion has a comprehensive catalogue, but inevitably it is tweaked to accommodate clients’ particular wishes – in executive catering, anything is available.
Odette knew that to provide such an attentive service depends on well looked after crew. For example, a well-known international musician recently travelling with a group of 13 through South Africa had a complicated order of 13 different lavish and specifically requested dishes which had to be prepped, served and cleared by one cabin attendant, who also had to fulfil her key role of ensuring safety, on the short hop from Jo’burg to Durban. In such cases it’s easy to see why having the crew on your side and delivering the service you have planned is important. Keeping the crew happy means the passengers are well looked after, and therefore become repeat clients.
It’s a formula that has worked. Par-Avion is now considered among the leaders in executive in-flight catering and associated services to the aviation industry. They have facilities at Lanseria, OR Tambo and Cape Town, and in addition to doing executive catering, do in-flight catering for FlySafair. They have also expanded to offering a full ‘car to cabin’ service, aimed at providing continuity from airport lounges through to in-flight hospitality, and have even branched into catering for VIP functions. This has resulted from years of building authentic relationships with discerning, well-travelled clients on corporate charters.
Thus, having originally set our as a niche VIP jet caterer at South Africa’s major international airports, Par-Avion has extended its service offerings to clients both at home and in the office, providing a complete catering services for both corporate and social occasions, such as unstaffed boardroom functions to complicated event management and product launches. Over the years, Par-Avion has successfully served Heads of State, visiting dignitaries and celebrities.
Par-Avion clearly knows how to please executives, and many of their executive charter clients have called on Odette and her team to do the décor for their airport lounges and aircraft interiors, as well as passenger comforts and amenities: linen, pillows and cushions, blankets, toothbrushes razors, slippers, etc. Par-Avion even has its own range of executive linen. Furthermore, Par-Avion services all the major executive charter companies’ lounges, including Fireblade, NAC, Absolute Aviation, ExecuJet, Swift Flight, Elite Aviation, Signature Flight Support and more.
Worth noting is that the Swissport Aspire Lounge at OR Tambo, which Par-Avion furnished and services, was recognised as the best lounge at the airport. The lounge hosts passengers travelling on Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Iberia, and China Airlines, and is managed by a separate dedicated development and management team. David Coyne, director of commercial development, heads up the team, and brings a wealth of experience from his previous role at LSG Skychefs.
So, what goes on behind the scenes of providing Par-Avion’s tailor-made executive yet diverse service?
Firstly, maintaining food quality is paramount, and that means regulation. Par-Avion has qualified personnel checking quality daily. In addition to the external audits conducted regularly and on a random basis, Par-Avion regularly conducts its own internal audits to ensure they continually surpass the required standards and are in line with legislation. Maintaining a clean audit and high standard has been of utmost importance from day one, and Odette even passed the external audits in her first year, when she was working from home.
Secondly, you need and incredibly committed and dedicated team. Lynn Rickard is Odette’s right-hand woman and co-director. As director of food and operations, she handles everything that is involved in the day-to-day running of the business, including chefs, deliveries, orders, quotes etc. Essentially, she is in charge of all operational aspects of the company and clients can reach her 24/7 365 days a year.
Lynn is supported by operations managers at various units, and they in turn are supported by a phenomenal team of over 70 employees. It’s literally a 24/7 operation. All staff, employed from the surrounding community are hand-picked and have undergone CATSETA recognised training. They have a passion for what they do, and the kitchen is the heart of the company. Food is evaluated by how much “love has gone into it”. They can be faced with ridiculous requests and challenges, such as providing catering for a full BBJ delegation, and only getting warning at 12 pm that the plane will be departing at 6 am. Yet they always meet the deadline, going to any lengths to ensure requirements are met, whether it’s doing the shopping for African presidents, or buying Richard Branson’s favourite chocolate cake from Spar. The loyal and hardworking team pull together to get a job done, and everyone is continually striving to improve.
It might not initially seem like it, but it’s a lot of fun. Every job is different. You have to shift from providing in-flight hospitality to a delegation of three BBJs one minute and then a small executive charter for a company director the next. Par-Avion staff also get to know celebrities, the Royal Family, and Heads of State through their work, and more often than not, their clients are surprisingly approachable and down to earth.
Finally, you have to be able to swap hats and think like the company you are serving, so that although it’s one company providing the hospitality for a number of different clients, the service is tailor-made and unique. Par-Avion supplies niche products and services in a fast paced and demanding industry. It’s constantly changing and never boring.