Americans in urban cities are kissing the traditional food court goodbye and welcoming food halls as a better way to dine with variety. Commercial Real Estate Company Cushman & Wakefield estimates that there are 118 food halls across America in 2017, and have since suggested that they would triple in market size by the end of 2020.
So what exactly is a food hall? Food halls are large venues that hold a diverse assortment of restaurants, mini-chains, and shops. Businesses in food halls are referred to as “stalls” and take up an appropriate amount of space so that a multitude can fit under one roof. Food halls can offer a themed cuisine (like Japan Village in Brooklyn which boasts an array of Japanese food stalls), or simply provide an assortment of food concepts with vendors from all over (like Urbanspace in Manhattan). While food halls are wildly popular, being a vendor comes with its pros and cons. Before taking the steps to operate out of a food hall, consider the following:
Food Variety/Restaurant Exposure
One of the most obvious pros of food halls is the opportunity to try a horde of diverse dishes. Not only is this beneficial for customers, but also businesses. Food halls are perfect places for up and coming restaurants that may not have their spot in the NYC dining scene just yet. If you have a unique idea for a business, its location in a large area with constant foot traffic will provide plenty of exposure. Plus, the success of a business with your food hall location can be a good gauge on whether or not it’s time to expand.
Shorter Lease Contract
When starting a new restaurant, signing on an expensive lease can be quite a gamble. Buildings frequently require several year leases that can cost a pretty penny if your business does not turn around enough profits. A plus side for food halls is that contracts are typically month-to-month leases, giving you the ability to back out if your business isn’t exactly booming.
Cheaper Operating Costs
Not only do food halls let you save a buck by renting month-to-month, but the condensed version of a standalone restaurant makes everything just a little bit cheaper. Business owners can think of their mini-restaurant like a rented apartment – since you’re only using a portion of the venue, costs are shared between everyone who operates from the food hall. There’s also no need to worry about spending a fortune of furniture as food halls take care of seating and décor.
Food Hall Trend Stability
While food halls may be a fabulous way to get your business started and gain exposure, it’s important to note that they are a pretty hot trend right now. That being said, is it possible that food halls will die out faster than you can say Smorgasburg? Similar to food trucks, the halls became famous really fast and have gained a lot of popularity with tourists, foodies and working New Yorkers alike. However, the restaurant industry has a tendency to shuffle trends in and out at a fast pace, and entering the food hall scene at its peak could be risky.
The fact that food halls hold an array of different restaurants and shops can be a double-edged sword – is there such a thing as too much foot traffic? The answer is yes, in the case that customers walk right by your mini-restaurant and on to the one next door. With so many options to choose from, it’s possible that your business could get overlooked, especially if it has a similar cuisine or theme as another establishment in that space.
Lack of Personalization
We may have won you over at the fact that food halls require very little purchases for furniture and fixtures, but for some, this can hinder their business. Atmosphere plays a huge role in what makes a restaurant unique, and with hardly any room for personalization in your restaurant stall, this may be hard to achieve. Food halls cater best to businesses that want to showcase their menu, give much space for flare in terms of interior decorating. That being said, stalls are still customizable. You have an opportunity, albeit a limited one, to showcase your visual brand.
Food halls are on the rise and a great option when considering where to open a new restaurant. Cost, theme, and business recognition are all factors to tie into your decision on whether or not you should set up shop in a food hall. With plenty of NYC-based halls to choose from, finding one that best suits your restaurant’s vibe and cuisine is doable.