My first memory of a Food Hall was the magical temple of comestibles by that name at Harrods in London.  With its Art Deco decor and endless aisles of artfully arranged food, this culinary mecca dates back to 1902.  And unlike most American department store, even today Harrods features a Fresh Market Hall that is “a showcase of the very best fresh produce. Fruit and vegetables, sustainably sourced fish and shellfish, quality-assured meat, artisan cheese and charcuterie, as well as a tantalizing array of pre-prepared food created by our 150 in-house chefs.”

When Globe St. declared 2019 to be the Year of the Food Hall in the US, this is (perhaps sadly) not the kind of food hall they were referring to.  American food halls, or public markets, are usually shared spaces with stalls occupied by various vendors and restaurants.  They take advantage of the fact that Americans are now spending a large portion of their food budget eating out, and that many people enjoy combining shopping, drinking and dining.

According to Phil Lavoie, COO at Gotham Organization, “over the past five years, food hall concepts across the United States have opened at an unprecedented speed. New data from Cushman & Wakefield’s latest food hall report predicts that at the current rate, the food hall marketplace will triple in size by 2020.”

Food halls are usually located in densely populated areas, often in proximity to buildings with office workers seeking lunch, or dinner to take home.  Some are publicly owned and serve as incubators for small businesses that may eventually set out on their own.  Others are commercial developments that offer leases lower in price than private spaces due to the smaller footprint and shared utility costs.

While many food halls featuring restaurant stalls are what Bethany Biron of calls “the food court’s younger, hipper cousin,”  others include at least a few retail spaces that are similar to the push carts, or RMUs (retail merchandising units) that are common in malls.  Like the RMU, a stand in a food hall offers some unique opportunities for retailers. If you already have a store, you could use this opportunity to set up an outpost, reaching a different audience than you normally do. Or you might want to experiment with a curated new selections merchandise – ideally with a food or local theme.  And a food hall might be the perfect place for a new entrepreneur to try out an idea for a store before taking the plunge by leasing a larger space. 

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder