The business of the Food Hall

In Europe there are about a hundred, in the States about fifty (including those under construction, 16 in Manhattan alone), as many are scattered among the vast territories of the former Soviet Union and the great capitals of the East. But according to the prophecies of the experts in the sector, by 2019, they will multiply exponentially: according to Cushman & Wakefield, a prestigious analysis company linked to the world of retail, the business of the food hall will record in a two-year period an overall increase of 700%, doubling the presence in Europe and invading the American territory with more than 200 additional units.

Food Hall Guide

The Bang Bang Oriental Food Hall of London, Foodhallen in Amsterdam, Copenhagen Street Food, the Grande Epicerie in Paris, KaDeWe in Berlin, l’Eliseevsky in Moscow, Timeout Market in Lisbon, The Basement Food Floor in Tokyo,  Zeppelin Station in Denver, El Palacio de Hierro in Mexico City and Eataly in Italy are all worth a visit for the variety of food on offer.

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The food lobbies are certainly not the most suitable place for a romantic dinner; one usually takes a seat at a long table in the middle of a room with very high ceilings, and eats shoulder to shoulder with an anonymous neighbor. Rather, they represent an unusual opportunity for mixed conviviality and a way of socializing the palate with unexpected flavours. Mostly they are frequented in the morning, during the lunch break or immediately after work, a little less in the evening hours when people typically seek more intimate meal experiences. The reference target is the millennials type, i.e. the customer attentive to the experiential dimension of consumption experiential dimension of consumption.

They are mainly populated by young people, the average age is 35 years, and represent a pole of attraction for hordes of tourists hungry for local specialties. If you have problems with food and indeterminate spending horizons, it would be better to avoid them: the food lobbies are undoubtedly the realm of the temptations of the throat and the embodiment of the lust of taste.

The big binge

They extend over areas of hundreds of square meters, can be based in old historic buildings in the center that have changed use or become redeveloped ruins of industrial archeology scattered in the suburbs.

They resemble shopping malls with retail displays and temporary mini restaurants, and like multiplex cinemas they look the same all over the world, with their standardized aesthetics, luminous signs and signage that guide the flow of consumers. They have a minimal style in detail, and propose a sort of endless replication of living modules with kitchens where you can pick up the meal to be consumed directly on site, or do a kind of shopping that is different from the classic supply from the supermarket.

Technically, they are defined as spaces that offer a wide range of refreshment points, representative of global culinary trends and new trends in food & beverage: Asian, Italian, French, American, Indian, Spanish, Korean, Mexican, European, Mediterranean, but also sushi bars, street food corners, wine bars and cocktail bars, ice cream parlors, chocolaterie, bakery, cafes and candy shops.

They are often misunderstood with food courts but, although they are synonymous with the colloquial use of language, simply calling them short is reductive. A food hall is not only a place where you can have a different meal, but it is also a real commercial oasis where you can buy premium foods, or products of food crafts excluded from the large distribution circuits.

Do not call them non-places

Often they occupy entire buildings, other times they are located inside shopping malls, stations, airports and other aggregation spaces. It doesn't matter, because once you cross the threshold of a food hall you could be anywhere, in Tokyo as in Los Angeles, and live the same experience: a multisensory shock of smells, colors and flavors from around the world. These spaces are characterized by the serial reproduction of architectural stylistic features where nothing is left to chance. Everything within them is precisely calculated: the number of decibels, the lighting, and the length of the routes, the frequency of stopping places, the type and amount of information. They are places detached from any relationship with the social context and the geographical dimension in which they are located, places crossed by thousands of passing individuals. Actors, needs and events meet without ever really mixing and for the relationship that comes to be created between service and users, they could be called non-places.

Kevin Lillis, CEO of Hospitality & Alliance, who anticipates a bright future for the food halls and hopes to see them included in the world's most prestigious hotels, has a different opinion.

"Adding food & beverage spaces in luxury hotels is an excellent alternative to attract new customers, but it is above all a way to promote integration between the tourist and the local community," he says. "Moreover, in the current economic climate, it is extremely difficult to think of opening a restaurant or a business without being completely profit-oriented. Hotels are an excellent opportunity for chefs and restaurateurs who would like to propose an alternative concept of cuisine, free from the worry of gain for its own sake. They could be the last resort to be able to offer their customers luxury experiences at a sustainable cost.
In addition to being extremely attractive for food-travellers, food-bloggers and food-photographers who are always attentive to market news, the food lobbies attract the interest of commercial operators who aim to intercept large segments of undifferentiated users and achieve greater brand visibility in the short term.

The contained management costs, the fiscal concessions for leasing and licenses, the financial shock absorbers for the startups of the sector, the possibility to delegate to external companies services such as the management of the tables and the supply of furnishings, act as an incentive to the choice to insert their own refreshment point within a seemingly depersonalizing context.

There is no denying that the redundancy of supply entails certain risks, including, for example, being forced to compete constantly and the need to offer the public quality products at a competitive price. And, also for this reason, hotels could really be the promised land of the food halls of the future.

Adding spaces dedicated to food & beverage in luxury hotels is an excellent alternative to attract new customers, but it is above all a way to promote the integration between the tourist and the local community

The integration of the food lobbies in the hotels is a pioneering work in progress towards which the efforts of the entrepreneurs of the food and hotel sectors are concentrated. There are currently not many of them in the world. Moving from New York to Las Vegas, we move from Plaza to Harrah's, which with the combined offer of prestigious suites, grills and oyster bars, food lounges, casinos and nightlife event rooms, offers its guests a complete holiday package.
Or the World Resort in Manila, a sprawling structure that includes a shopping centre, various cinemas, skating rinks, games rooms and a refreshment area as large as a neighborhood, for tasting specialties of Asian cuisine. Also in Italy, precisely in Città Sant'Angelo, in the province of Pescara, we have an example of a food hall hotel: the EKK, an area of 15 thousand square meters born from the recovery of the old Cantina Sociale Santangelo.

The structure includes several areas: the Febo Garden - nursery and garden centre named after the owners of the EKK, the Febo brothers; the eco-hotel with 33 rooms and business center; the restaurant, which has about fifty seats and offers a revival of traditional Abruzzo cuisine in one hundred recipes; the market that frames 130 suppliers "made in Abruzzo" divided on a provincial basis.

To make a good food hall hotel, in short, you need four ingredients to mix well and cook over a high heat: enlightened entrepreneurs, talented chefs, a catchy food-brand and a photogenic setting, and an intriguing range of products and services of quality at low cost.

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