Eating out in the mall becomes a foodie experience

 —  Article by Natasha Stokes
food outlet in modern mall in Thailand
Image credit: Shutterstock

Food and beverage retailers have become an increasingly core part of the modern shopping center.

Yet it’s not a case of the more, the merrier; getting the right mix of big name chains, independent outlets and pop-ups to cater for today’s food-savvy, globally aware shoppers is key.

Research from ICSC in conjunction with JLL found that the right line-up of F&B had a “halo effect” – shopper traffic increased, customers spent more time in the centre, and overall sales grew.

“Twenty years ago, shopping was all about the transaction – you buy something, then you leave,” says Richard Moulds, Associate Director of Foodservice Consulting, JLL. “To attract and hold more customers, shopping centers need to offer an experience – and in creating that experience, forward-thinking landlords are increasingly reviewing their food and beverage (F&B) options.”

A little bit of everything

Socially connected, food-savvy consumers are driving a change in the type of restaurants found in shopping centers. Gone are the days of queuing up for a pricey, mediocre meal at the food court, Moulds says; instead landlords are increasingly reacting to global food trends with international food options that also provide a desirable dining experience.

Nor does that experience necessarily come at a cost – the rise of street food and upscale casual cuisine such as gourmet burgers has triggered a wave of “super-casualized” restaurants, such as Singapore’s Michelin-starred chicken rice cafe, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle. Evolving preferences for simpler, cleaner diets have led to a boom in the popularity of juice bars and vegetarian cafes, as well as restaurants that serve one food, done well.

In the U.S., as younger people increasingly eschew fast food for healthy, quick food and full-service restaurants, slow cooking, where stews and braises are favored, and zero-waste cooking are on the rise.

Shopping centres across the world are increasingly streamlining these trends into sleek dining options – in China, destination restaurants are located in upper storeys of shopping centres, alongside or near retail stores, with mainstream chain restaurants relegated to basement floors, while food halls that curate a gourmet line-up of global foods, such as the multinational Eataly Food Halls, boost shopper traffic in city locales.

Creating a new type of space

While the right balance of international, healthy and on-trend food options is key to attracting visitors, it is as important to ensure that there are eateries to meet shopper needs at every point in a mall’s opening hours.

“Managing F&B operators by the time of day is critical – more important than curating the mix of brands,” Moulds says.

For example, fast-food or “refuel and relax” options should be available if a center is open in the morning; over lunchtime, fast-casual or casual dining options where office workers can grab a quick lunch; while mid-morning or mid-afternoon refreshments could be met by food stands, and if a center is open in the evenings, bars and full-service restaurants.

There is a great opportunity for shopping centres to reconfigure their real estate as department stores fall out of favour, leaving swathes of empty store space to fill.

“Physical centres themselves have to change,” Moulds says. “It’s about much more than exchanging one shop for another – it’s about rethinking how a space can suit a customer’s needs.”

At La Maquinista in Barcelona, the redevelopment of its food offerings around a communal space increased the space taken by F&B operators to 14 percent – and boosted shopper footfall by 7 percent in the day, and 14 percent in the evening.

For food and beverage to attract consumers, especially for the more-lucrative evening spend, Moulds notes, shopping centres should implement leisure features, be it a cinema that extends opening hours into the night, or an outdoor space that encourages visitors to linger that little bit longer to grab a snack – or stay for a glass of wine.

The shopping centre of the future

Shopping centers hoping to evolve into hangout destinations could turn to Hong Kong’s Harbour City for inspiration – its 2,000,000 square feet of space comprises 450 stores alongside 50 food service outlets, three hotels and two cinemas, making it closer to an urban social hub than a shopping center.

“In the future, we won’t refer to shopping centers – we will simply refer to places, offering a great experience that happens to include stores,” Moulds says. Whether in the form of a pretzel stand or tapas bar, food will play a greater part in creating that place than ever before.

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