The way we eat is changing.
Chain restaurants were once the most popular destinations for occasions and everyday alike. The tide has turned and many diners are rejecting branded chains in favour of venues which house multiple food options in one place. Inspired by Hawker centres in the Far East, food halls are becoming a craze - the place to eat - favoured by foodies for the variety and point of difference they offer.
In the capital, new places are popping up on a monthly basis with Arcade Food Theatre opening just last week at Centre Point on New Oxford Street and London expecting its biggest so far in 2020, Eataly, a 42,000 sq. ft food complex at 135 Bishopsgate. But this is not just a "London thing". Food halls have opened in Manchester (Market House and Mackie Mayor), Liverpool (Baltic Market) and Leeds (Trinity Kitchen) to name just a few.
But what has prompted the rise in food halls?
The concept of multiple food vendors in close proximity, sharing communal tables is not a new phenomenon in the UK – think food courts in shopping centres. But the latest food halls are a new breed. They are typically standalone and not filled with your known brands, but house an eclectic mix of offers which give customers an opportunity to try new foods they would not find elsewhere.
When dining in groups, crowd-pleasing cuisine such as Italian was previously the default, to ensure everyone in the party was catered for. Food halls solve the issue of `something for everyone' by allowing customers to go their separate ways in their choices yet still enjoy dining together. The format works equally well for solo diners.
From the operator perspective, the challenge of the economics of running a high street restaurant is well documented - debilitating business and rental rates, and food and labour costs. The food hall model centralises capex and costs. This allows chefs to focus on sourcing quality ingredients to produce high quality delicacies at reasonable prices (typically c.£20 per person for a decent feed). Simpler less binding contractual terms reduces barriers to entry and results in more coming and going among tenants, which generates a welcome fluidity in the mix and greater interest.
Overall, it is clear why this format is winning: food halls create a destination and an experience; one which holds particular appeal among millennials, providing a laid-back atmosphere, diversity and, crucially, value for money. The obvious benefits to both customers and operators explain the recent wave of openings and we suggest that food halls are here to stay!