Despite a setback to hospitality during the pandemic, food halls continue to open and thrive across the country, proving that their popularity isn’t a passing trend. The success of food halls comes from curated menus, authentic brands, and dynamic environments. Corporate dining environments can pull numerous lessons from the success of food halls.
1. Hyper-Curated Menus
Food hall vendors excel at hyper-curated menus. When there are just a few choices, it’s clear to the guest that the chef has focused on and perfected those items. Guests prefer a few amazing choices, rather than many good or decent ones. Limited choice also helps employees avoid ‘decision fatigue,’ especially if they’re making countless decisions during the workday.
Corporate environments should take note of this, and scale back menu offerings at each station. This not only improves the guest experience, but also provides savings for labor, food cost, and real estate. Instead of providing a wide variety every day, variety can come by changing menus on a daily or weekly basis.
2. Branding and Authenticity
Whether food comes out of multiple kitchens (as in the case of most food halls), or a single kitchen with one culinary team, each station should feel distinct and authentic in its branding and offerings to create an engaging, dynamic environment.
Variety in the architectural design and signage can help with this, but food halls with consistent design language across kiosks still achieve this. Food hall kiosks have unique signage and menus, packaging and dishes, and uniforms. Providing subtle branding differences between stations in corporate environments can go a long way in providing a less corporate and more authentic and varied experience.
For example, at a Japanese station, in addition to sushi, you might also have green tea or some unique beverages and mochi ice cream. The taco station, on the other hand, might offer Mexican coke and churros. This way, everyone can get a full meal at one station without having to run around or swipe their card more than once.
3. Integrated Seating
In corporate environments, there has traditionally been a distinct separation between the servery and dining spaces, separated by cashiers as a control point. Blurring the line between the two — like food halls have — creates a more dynamic environment where dining and food can be together. This encourages employees to use the dining areas even outside of meal periods as a third workspace for individual work and meetings.
When the lines are blurred, the way guests pay should be considered. Food halls typically have point-of-sale stations at each kiosk, and this can be done in corporate environments, too. In this case, each kiosk should have everything to complete a meal, including beverages. Corporate environments might also consider self-checkout or order-pay POS systems so guests can easily visit multiple stations without paying twice.
4. Futureproofed Design
Food halls can experience a heavy rotation of operators, even as often as six months, so the space must be designed in a way that can easily be redesigned for a new operator and menu. This is also helpful in corporate environments, to future-proof the space and minimize downtime and cost for any future equipment or layout changes.
Hoods can be oversized with extra exhaust capacity to cover future equipment additions or changes. A fire protection system can be installed with overlapping coverage, with nozzles spaced evenly throughout the entire hood, rather than drops that are specific to the equipment. This allows for cooking equipment to change or shift without modifying and refiling the design.
Providing a reserve of utilities at each station also helps to future-proof the space. Utility Distribution Systems (UDS) are one way to provide this at cooking lines. This pre-engineered chase way for electric, gas, and plumbing allows for equipment to be added or changed out without adding rough-ins. These typically are built with future reserves.
5. Dayparting the Space
While most food halls are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not all vendors operate during each of these meal periods. The entire space needs to feel active, even when certain kiosks are closed. Food halls do this a few different ways, and corporate environments should consider this in their designs.
Food halls consider when each station will be open and locate them thoughtfully in the overall space. Some locate all-day concepts — like coffee bars that convert to bars — near the entrance. Others space out concepts based on when they’ll be open to activate the space throughout.
When stations are closed, they can be thoughtfully concealed so guests don’t look into an empty and dark space. Stations can be closed off with artistic sliding barn doors or folding partitions that accordion down.
Stations can also be planned so they remain active throughout the day. Full-service stations can provide self-serve or grab-and-go offerings during slower meal periods. Stations can also be day-parted, with concepts that rotate and signage that converts between meal periods.
After long periods of remote work, companies are finding ways to encourage employees to come back to the office for collaboration and comradery. As they do, they can — and should — pull lessons from the successes of food halls and how they bring people together.
By Christine Gurtler, LEED AP, FCSI, design director, Jacobs Doland Beer