All Hail the Food Hall

Beyond the varied menu and service styles, food halls often feature a retail component, which allows customers to take a portion of their experience home to enjoy later.

Food halls represent a fascinating and fast-growing portion of the foodservice community. In Chicago, for example, many major buildings now include or plan to include food halls among their amenities. In fact, according to an August 8 Crain’s Chicago Business article, more than a dozen major food halls opened in the U.S. in 2015 and 14 more are expected to open this year.

So what’s the appeal of the food hall?

Food halls are attractive to property owners because they represent a clear point of differentiation from other area facilities when it comes to providing foodservice. They typically feature varied menus prepared by some of the area’s hottest chefs or restaurants. For emerging operators, this approach holds particular appeal because it allows them to expand their operations, build brand awareness and even test new ideas with much lower risk than if they elected to open a new restaurant.

Food halls often combine multiple service styles in one space. Customers can choose to grab and go, sit in a common area or even opt for traditional table service in some instances. Beyond the varied menu and service styles, food halls often feature a retail component, which allows customers to take a portion of their experience home to enjoy later. (For a closer look at four food halls from around the country, check out Tom O’Brien’s article.)

So how do food halls differ from food courts? Simply put: food halls represent a next generation approach to the ubiquitous food courts that dominated my adolescence.

For the most part, food courts tend to be a collection of quick-serve restaurants linked together through some common, often fixed in place, seating. The restaurants tend to be tried-and-true chain concepts, which in all likelihood provide customers with a consistent and familiar foodservice option that allows them to get back to their other reasons for being in the vicinity.

In contrast, given the upscale culinary experience that tends to be a cornerstone of most operations I have visited, food halls represent destination dining for many consumers. Eataly, with five U.S. locations and others throughout the world, represents an extreme but excellent example. The place is more like a food carnival – the Madison Park location in New York City measures more than 50,000 square feet – in that the attractions hold something for everyone. This broad-based appeal continues to translate to the bottom line. At last check the Madison Park location was raking in more than $85 million annually and the Chicago location was expected to exceed $50 million in annual revenue.

Eataly, like all of the other food halls, hits on all of the right notes for today’s consumer: perceived upscale experience, plenty of choice and showcasing local culinary expertise. Sounds like a winning combination.

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