Food hall ex­plo­sion: an al­ter­na­tive to all day din­ing?

Hospitality News Middle East - - CONTENTS - am­ber-con­sult­

En­com­pass­ing a re­fined din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in a mar­ket set­ting, the food hall con­cept brings to­gether a range of sev­eral in­de­pen­dent out­lets, each of­fer­ing their own spe­cialty, yet form­ing one en­tity. Ralph Nader, CEO of Am­ber Con­sult­ing, dis­cusses the fancier and ‘food­ier’ cousin of the food court

In con­trast to or­di­nary restau­rants, food halls pro­vide din­ers with a va­ri­ety of op­tions, cap­tur­ing the shift in peo­ple’s culi­nary pref­er­ences from ubiq­ui­tous in­ter­na­tional meals to more in­ti­mate lo­cal choices. Ex­pect to find lo­cally sourced food and dif­fer­ent types of F&B out­lets, as well as re­tail kiosks, in a shared din­ing space.

A re­ward­ing idea

Food halls are more than just some­where to eat; they’re an al­ter­na­tive gath­er­ing spot, where din­ers can en­joy a meal, while soak­ing up a lively am­biance. Thus, a food hall is a holis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, com­bin­ing food, drink, so­cial­iz­ing and en­ter­tain­ment. This shift­ing be­hav­ior in cus­tomers’ pref­er­ences is due to a num­ber of fac­tors that are mainly re­lated to el­e­ments as­so­ci­ated with the con­cept of a food hall, namely: • Fo­cus­ing on serv­ing qual­ity rather than quan­tity • Of­fer­ing a live show to cus­tomers in ad­di­tion to its main din­ing pur­pose • Propos­ing a wide ar­ray of cuisines in one en­tity • And fi­nally, giv­ing guests the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence ‘up­scale’ street food Aside from be­com­ing the cus­tomer’s pre­ferred choice, food halls also present an eco­nom­i­cal so­lu­tion for in­de­pen­dent restau­ra­teurs by min­i­miz­ing costs, such as rental space and main­te­nance fees, among oth­ers.

Min­i­miz­ing the scale

In­creas­ingly, ar­chi­tects are seek­ing to de­velop the food hall con­cept world­wide, adopt­ing an in­ti­mate de­sign for small-sized spa­ces. In­stead of of­fer­ing a vast seat­ing area, food halls are pro­vid­ing smaller, co­zier seat­ing set-ups, spread across the lo­ca­tion. Counter seat­ing is another pop­u­lar con­cept in food halls, ideal for both solo din­ers and small groups keen to con­verse and so­cial­ize. Counter seats also come in handy for walk-in din­ers who don’t want to make reser­va­tions in ad­vance.

A con­cept for all

Food halls are be­com­ing more preva­lent on the ground floor of mixed-use res­i­den­tial build­ings in ur­ban ar­eas, pro­vid­ing a key amenity in both com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial build­ings, while at­tract­ing peo­ple who are look­ing for some­where to stay and play. Equipped with event spa­ces, gro­cery stores and en­ter­tain­ment fa­cil­i­ties, such as live mu­sic, food halls aim to at­tract a wide-rang­ing clien­tele, from mil­len­ni­als and food­ies to fam­i­lies with young chil­dren.

The fu­ture of all-day din­ing

Many of the ma­jor F&B in­dus­try play­ers have re­al­ized that with din­ers’ pref­er­ences rapidly evolv­ing, pro­vid­ing a di­verse range of ex­pe­ri­ences is a key part of stay­ing rel­e­vant and se­cur­ing re­turn cus­tom. Against this back­drop, a broad range of providers are turn­ing to the food hall con­cept and choos­ing to elim­i­nate their ‘all-day din­ing’ and out­dated ‘buf­fet’ op­tions. The char­ac­ter­is­tics of the buf­fet con­cept, in par­tic­u­lar, are in stark con­trast to those of food hall out­lets in that buf­fets: • Must be al­ways full • Fo­cus on quan­tity more than qual­ity • Of­fer a stan­dard­ized ex­pe­ri­ence • Have a limited num­ber of hours per day • Are bor­ing theme-night re­lated

Har­rods mall was the one of first to ini­ti­ate the food hall con­cept in London, thereby trig­ger­ing a ma­jor domino ef­fect, while a sep­a­rate, hugely suc­cess­ful food hall story be­gan un­fold­ing in Torino in 2007. Eataly’s idea was sim­ple: to gather un­der one roof high­qual­ity food at sus­tain­able, rea­son­able prices, while cre­at­ing an in­for­mal, re­laxed and sim­ple place to eat, shop and learn. To­day, Eataly has ex­panded across more than 40 lo­ca­tions through­out Italy and be­yond.

The food hall has also had a domino ef­fect on ho­tels, prompt­ing many to re­think their F&B of­fer­ings. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on just one restau­rant, some have de­cided to cre­ate a space filled with plenty of op­tions and a high­end at­mos­phere.

“The typ­i­cal break­fast, lunch, din­ner - ap­pe­tizer, en­tree, dessert model is not some­thing that our guests are re­spond­ing to any­more,” says Beth Scott, who’s in charge of restau­rant con­cepts for Hil­ton World­wide’s 3,900 prop­er­ties. The Plaza Ho­tel in New York City fea­tures a food hall in its base­ment. Serv­ing ar­ti­san food and take­out op­tions, this set-up has be­come a model for many ho­tels look­ing to adopt the idea.

A risky busi­ness to mit­i­gate

While the food hall con­cept of­fers sev­eral ad­van­tages, such as the op­por­tu­nity to re­duce over­heads and min­i­mize space, it is not risk­free. Food halls may ap­pear at­trac­tive right now, but they share the same pros and cons as any other restau­rant, with no guar­an­tees of suc­cess. As with any booming trend, the fear that peo­ple will be­come bored is of­ten jus­ti­fied. Aside from fac­ing th­ese very real risks, some ven­dors also find that the bulk of their vis­i­tors opt for small-scale pur­chases, such as cof­fee or a sand­wich, which makes sur­vival dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially with heavy hu­man re­source costs.

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