October 30, 2017

Not your parents’ mall food court: Exploring the food hall trend

Food halls are popping up in major cities all over the U.S., and they're nothing like the dreary mall food court you're picturing. Sure, similar to traditional food court, these spaces offer food from a variety of vendors and a common seating area. But the comparisons largely stop there.

The Fareground is a likely draw for culinary students in Austin, and soon there will be the St. Elmo Public Market, according to Eater. There are a number of reasons why these areas of culinary variety are becoming hot spots in major cities. Here are a few:

They encourage innovation

Food halls can be classified as somewhere between the mobility of a food truck and the permanence of a brick and mortar. They're smaller than the typical restaurant and have a structure that's more welcoming to experimentation and innovative ideas, Thrillist pointed out, and this is a concept many up-and-coming as well as established chefs have capitalized on.

One example is Mike Isabella's hall, Isabella's Eatery, where he's included delicious and creative menu items from a variety of his destination District of Columbia restaurants. But they don't always have be chef-centric food halls. Chicago's Revival Food Hall features such diverse yet highly acclaimed restaurants like Smoque, Furious Spoon and Aloha Poke Co.

Food halls are also an attractive option to young chefs looking for a place to begin their culinary journeys, yet not keen on taking the brick and mortar risk.

"The ideal food hall is somewhere a young chef can have a footprint in an urban area without incurring a huge cost,"  Niall Hanley, who launched  Morgan Street Food Hall & Market in Raleigh, North Carolina, told Thrillist. "You want to give younger entrepreneurs access to downtown."

Chefs have more freedom to experiment in food halls.Food halls encourage chefs to push the boundaries with their menus.

They're economical on many fronts

When private investment and real estate development firm Tidewater Capital & Warhorse Development began experiencing delays in building permits on a Market Street block in San Francisco, they came up with a new idea to make their space profitable: open a food hall. In the year following its opening in October 2014, 150,000 people visited The Hall, Food Fanatics reported. Surely this is a much better return on investment than an empty space waiting on authorized building permits.

Other investors and building operators choose to host food halls on their first floors as a way to diversify their offerings in a mixed-use building and bring in new customers. But food halls provide economic value to people outside the real estate development scene.

Restaurateurs are attracted to food halls because they're a more affordable investment than a whole brick and mortar restaurant. While they're able to take the risks they want – like experimenting with their menu – they can avoid the risks they don't, like investing in a commercial property. The space is shared with other restaurant owners who are in similar positions, thus lowering overhead costs like building maintenance.

Food hall customers also see financial benefit from eating at these locations. Food is offered at a lower price point than at a fancy brick and mortar, while the creativity, quality and presentation of the food may be on par with an upscale restaurant.

They're more social

The communal eating space allows for large groups of people as well as solo diners to feel comfortable. Building Design & Construction pointed out that the counter seating makes it easier for lone eaters to strike up a conversation with each other, more similar to a bar than the small, personal tables at a typical restaurant.

Food halls are also conducive to large groups of people in a way that walk-in restaurants may not be. The variety of offerings allows groups of picky eaters to come together for a meal at a common location while still sticking to the cuisine they prefer.