Does a Delta First Class Lunch have to look good to be good? How much does presentation matter to you?

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Would you order this?

I take tons of photos when I travel and many of them are of food options on jets, at lounges or at hotels and resorts. Sometimes the meals are very good while often they are just acceptable considering the circumstances.

Delta had really pushed this year to show off their new Italian inspired flatware, plates and more including replacing the 1980’s faux “trailer park” wood trays (gosh I hated those). They are really trying to, at least with the service items, show off class and style and for the most part they are pulling it off.

But that begs the question – how much does presentation matter vs. taste. Take the above meal on my recent visit from St. Thomas back to the lower 48 (well, Atlanta to be specific). The flight attendant, who was amazing btw, described the lunch this way:

“It is beef something with potatoes. It is good. You will like it”!

OK, well, after that description how could I say no? When first presented, since we do judge by our eyes just about everything in life in just a few seconds, my reaction was humm… OK then.

The meat was tender with just a little bit of heat (i.e. spices) and I think there were caramelized onions and red peppers alone with the au jus (saying sauce that way just sounds better right). The potatoes were good with skin on and the fried zucchini were not mush. The salad was crisp and fine and the carrot cake, while not my favorite, was also equally good. Overall a decent and fine airline lunch I would order again.

But unless I had told you this description, and you just saw the above photo, would you order this?

And that is my point and question for today’s post. Would you rather have a perfect presentation and yet the flavor fall flat or does it not really matter to you what or how the food is presented if the flavor profile is a winner? – René



  1. The eyes do start the process. In Amsterdam we bought some bright blue Gouda cheese which is repulsive to most until they taste the lavender flavor. Some still have a hard time getting past visual cues. The Japanese are correct that presentation is critical.

  2. Delta is still making us eat off a tray. It is plastic now rather than fake wood. I don’t get it. I prefer eating off linen like at home or at a restaurant.

  3. Don’t forget that aroma is an equal contributor to taste. Given the air cabin dryness, this should be accounted for differently than an on-the-ground experience. What is interesting about appearance and table setting, is that the cost differential (ingredients) to do it “right” is marginal to doing it “not right.” The aesthetics issue is very market specific and is hard to do in a mass-production kitchen such as ATL, I would think. Still, Rene’s meal looks so much better than the deep fried salmon “fish stick” and blue cheese everywhere “cuisine” on Delta business class to Europe, designed by a former Delta head chef.

  4. Wow. I flew St Thomas-Atlanta/New York twice a month for six months in 2016. They always had fresh fish, normally red snapper from a local caterer in St Thomas. It was always good. I never saw beef.

    But yes, presentation matters. I’d rather have a much bigger salad, personally. The salad is always such an after-thought.

    Plus, I don’t know why Delta can’t serve the salad, entree and dessert separately on a flight over 3 hours. That was my biggest complaint flying to St Thomas. The meal service would be done an hour into the flight and often there was nothing to do because wifi and live TV wouldn’t work until about an hour before landing on the flight from St Thomas to Atlanta/New York.

    I flew San Juan-New York on the first day the new crockery was in service. I like everything but the tray tables. They’re so cheap looking. Again, on a flight over 3 hours — let alone a 14-hour flight to Asia — they could easily serve the food without a tray.

  5. @rene The really nice part is that was back in May and I have received no response from Delta about the “Turkeysammich” for dinner from STL>SLC. #keepclimbing

  6. Presentation certainly helps but I really just want it to taste good. More importantly, I want variety! I fly JFK-DEN weekly and have had the same 2 options (omelette or quinoa oatmeal) for the last year. Will they ever change it? I’m so bored of it I eat in the terminal!

  7. I want the food to taste good. I also agree with Rob that they need to change up the menu.

  8. Presentation matters. However, until Delta matches American’s option to choose my meal in advance, I will make my decision based on the verbal description. In addition, as a vegetarian, when I add my preference to my reservation, the meal is chosen for me.

    Ultimately, the quality of the fare matters more.

  9. I’d eat that lunch in a heartbeat. Yeah, the au jus got sloshed around on the plate (during the handling and transport I’d imagine) so the plated beef ends up looking sloppy. Other than that, I think it looks OK (but just OK) but then again I’m not too difficult to please – I still eat the eternal chicken salad in the Sky Clubs after all. I remember 30 and 40 years ago on transcons having two entree choices in Coach that were much better than what Delta is now serving in First Class. Yep, airline food is another victim of the dog-eat-dog, Greyhound air buses that air travel today has become. And we are grateful that First/Business Class is today what Coach was 40 years ago.

  10. @JSW that sandwich looks about the same I got sitting in the ER last week with my father, sans the cheese… some sort of cold dry something with sawdust bread ;).

    @René, I don’t mean to correct you, but to me that looks like very tasty grilled zucchini, not fried. Unless they are faux grill marks. 🙂

  11. Taste is obviously the #1 most important thing in a meal, however opinions are quickly formed by the presentation, and the presentation of that meal was quite horrible. Not the end of the world, but it signals lack of effort.

    Also: I hate to point it out, but that lunch cafeteria tray is even worse than the faux wood ones that it replaced. (By a lot, and that was hard to do)

  12. Maybe it’s my hunger talking, but that presentation looks fine to me. Certainly looks more appetizing than those sad looking first class sandwiches.

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