Trend watch: Food hall mania
While it’s easy to look at food halls as the new food court, don’t expect to find the fast food and large chains you see at the local mall. Frequently located in the heart of thriving businesses, shopping and entertainment districts, some food halls focus on a single type of ethnic fare like Latin or Italian. While others also offer pre-packaged retail options in addition to their dine-in menus. But the one thing every food hall has in common is a wide variety of fresh and flavorful chef-made food.
Consumers flock to food halls for the quality and the variety – they’re the ideal choice for an indecisive lunch group. Restauranteurs are lining up to secure their space as well, and for a number of smart reasons:
- Great testing ground – whether it’s for up-and-coming chefs, new menu items, new restaurant concepts or expansion of emerging concepts
- Much lower risk and smaller investment than opening a new, full-sized restaurant
- Prime locations without the premium price tag, and with guaranteed traffic
- Built-in marketing and brand awareness that comes with the natural promotion of the food hall
Answering the call of the food hall
Successful food hall operators are those who have adapted their mindset. The first step is understanding that, unlike a traditional restaurant, business is likely to slow down in the evenings and on the weekend because a large percentage of their customers have left the area to go home. Beyond that, it’s all practical.
The typical individual space in a food hall is 400 square feet or less. To make the most of the space constraints, restaurants decide upon a couple of multi-functional and space-saving pieces of cooking equipment. Convection and combi-ovens provide a lot of functionality in a small space, and griddles and tilt skillets also offer the kind of versatility a small space needs. Making room for ventilation can be a challenge, which makes ventless fryers and induction burners smart choices as well.
Between the small space and the big crowds, the simplest way to keep the traffic flowing is to pare down the menu to a handful of options. Not only are minimal menu items easier to manage, they require less equipment to prepare them. And for restaurants with larger flagship locations, a smaller menu also leaves room to test new items on the food hall crowd before rolling them out to the whole operation.
Some restaurants with flagship locations prepare many of their food hall menu items offsite and deliver them, in bulk, to the food hall. When this is an option, the restaurant equips its food hall space with hot holding technology that keeps food at the right temperature without drying it out.
Consider the extras
There’s more to food hall menus than main dishes, and deciding how and where to manage the extras is important to overall efficiency. Beverages, for example, can be offered from a fountain or in bottles from a display cooler – the first requires more labor and maintenance, while the second takes up more space. Restaurants offering to-go meals, grab-and-go sides like chips and salads, or retail non-perishables like sauces or pasta, display racks, shelves and coolers are also a must.