Food halls - the retailer’s best friend?

If you were to compile a list of major retail trends, the rise, and rise of the food hall would surely be a contender for one of the top spots. Whether it is London’s Mercato Metropolitano in terribly upscale Mayfair, or Mercado Little Spain, the fashionable alternative to luxury shopping in New York’s Hudson Yards.

Time to consume: 3 min
10 April 2020

The question perhaps is why the answer is more complicated than might at first be imagined.

Firstly, there is the matter of price. Both the London and New York locations mentioned are expensive and the expectation is that eating out in either will be a wallet-voiding experience. Visit either food hall and it is possible to dine inexpensively, providing you are relatively selective.

Then there is the matter of choice. A visit to a food hall (which, for the most part, means multiple eateries and a very small amount of, usually a specialist, fresh food to take away) does not involve any kind of reservation. Instead, you pitch up and in Mercato Metropolitano, you can choose from a significant number of different cuisines. In New York, all in Spanish, but it is highly regional, meaning an almost equally diverse range of options. Whichever the food hall owner chooses, they are in control of both space and format.

Now factor in ‘community’. Benches and/or small tables around which numerous people sit are the order of the day in this kind of enterprise and while you probably won’t end up talking to the people next to you, there is always the possibility that you might do so. This is about ‘belonging’.

Finally, there is fashion. Food halls really are modish currently and they are in touch with many other trends, from sustainability to the yearning for an imagined simpler life, that makes them the sort of places that are desirable. They are also surprisingly tech-heavy with QR codes and payment by phone the norm, as well as a heavy reliance on social media to spread the word. It is worth noting, however, that almost all of what is done using the customer’s tech, rather than installing costly kiosks and suchlike. The efficiency and marketing benefits for the food hall operator are clear.

But perhaps most of all this is a trend that means a certain amount of not acknowledging the reality. We would like to think that this is how things were and that what is on offer is a little slice of yesteryear. Maybe, but setting up food hall-meets-markets in city centers is an appeal to a metropolitan audience that will demand free wi-fi, mobile payment, and foodstuffs that weren’t even dreamed of when markets were markets. What all of this boils down to is a little bit of storytelling, which in itself is a trend that is currently hard to ignore. And the idea that it’s cheap is also probably wrong. Perhaps by comparison with the restaurants that surround them, but food halls definitely target no-commitment millennials and those for whom spare cash is not an alien concept.

Happy eating!

Article written by
John Ryan
Freelance Journalist and Editor at Retail Week

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