The hospitality industry has been hit hard in the past year, you only need to open a newspaper or head online to see the impact of the pandemic and Brexit.
In spite of this new food courts are popping up around the country at a time when many other food operators are closing their doors. What is it about food halls/courts that make them a viable venture in an industry that’s struggling?
And how can existing food courts stay ahead of the game and keep their clientele comfortable and engaged in these ever changing times?
It’s not been easy
First up, it seems important to point out the obvious. It’s been a tough year!
Since March 2020 those with their feet on the ground in the hospitality sector have witnessed the impact of an enforced lockdown. Many have closed their doors time and time again, and some have been unable to reopen them under the strain.
As well as on and off lockdowns, businesses have also become increasingly concerned about the brunt of Brexit. Redundant hospitality workers on furlough have migrated to other sectors to earn their crust, and many have headed back to their home countries. With less staff available to fill rising job vacancies wages are rising in line with demand.
It would be easy to become dragged down with the difficulties, however a glass half full approach and a hefty dose of creative thinking is what’s required moving forward.
Food courts have something valuable to offer
In order to understand why food court operators are having more success in the hospitality sphere at this time it is useful to explore the inherent value of their business model.
The lure of a food hall is surely bound up in the phrase ‘variety is the spice of life’ right? Thai for starters, Vietnamese for mains and a mouth-watering Italian dessert to round it up is enough to get anyone excited. If a cuisine crawl is what you are feeling, then a food hall is the place to go.
They are ideal for group events, allowing members of the party to take their pick from different dishes without having to endure any pre-outing arguments about where to choose.
They also offer a convenient and efficient alternative to mainstream restaurants due to the way food is prepared en masse; so serving times are significantly reduced. Dare I say, they also provide a slightly fancier alternative to fast food chains, with delectable dishes available quickly within a more chic environment. Lots of courts have levelled up and provide something unique and glamorous for their customers when compared with more traditional fast food options. Not that I’m putting down a Maccies drive through – sometimes a large McChicken sandwich meal hits the spot, however you understand the point I’m making here.
With a queue up and order system, or more recently an order via app structure of serving in place, there is a reduced need for waiting on staff and therefore less monetary output for operators and vendors.
More recently shelter halls and sessions have diversified further on the traditional food court setup with a focus on community connection and the showcasing of local talent. These larger operators offer customers, in the communities that they are based in, an opportunity to support businesses in the area by ensuring those offered space are local vendors.
The new food-halls-with-a-twist have been praised for offering budding entrepreneurs on the local hospitality scene a step up with short term residencies, followed by future opportunities for growth via partnership schemes.
With all involved set to gain, these new halls foster a community spirit as well as an entrepreneurial mindset, and is another reason why they are growing in popularity.
The model as a whole has a clear versatility and wide spread appeal – catering for those heading in for a quick post-work bite as well as a work’s party seeking an all-night event with food, drinks and music. Therefore its flexibility is a key part of its appeal.
New Life in the sector
With these advantages to the food court model it makes sense why, even in times such as these, new halls are appearing across the country.
Nottingham-based Eyvallah Estates Ltd have submitted plans for a new food court in Derby city centre to the council. Viewing their new food centre as a viable investment they plan to create a space consisting of shipping containers to house their new venture.
It is not just private operations that recognise the opportunity food courts offer, with Telford and Wrekin Council pumping funding into Wellington Market’s new food court. The council have offered money to vendors who have gained a space in the market’s new food hall as a part of their covid recovery scheme.
As well as new courts starting up around the country, existing operators are diversifying to remain operational. Street food operator Birmingham-based Digbeth Dining Club, although not currently running events from their city centre base, have diversified and are operating from alternative locations including Hockley, Worcester, Coventry, Warwick and Bromsgrove. This move to more covid-friendly spaces means the operator has managed to remain afloat.
From a place of renewed enthusiasm and conviction of the value in these services – now is the time for existing operators to look inwards and explore the options available to them to ensure their continued progression.
Creativity and innovation way forward
With ongoing anxiety around close contact and hygiene as the vaccines are rolled out there is a call for innovative ways to deliver beautiful food and service to customers in a safety conscious manner.
Enter tech solutions – we have already seen operators become incredibly tech-savvy through Covid. During tiered lockdowns when take-outs were allowed, Digbeth Dining Club asked customers to download their app solution onto their smartphone, order their food, choose a pickup time, pay online and only head on in when the food is ready for collection. This reduced face to face contact with people and saw only a brief interaction with the vendor. Covid friendly service – tick.
Technology to ensure front of house operations are in order is one way to remain ahead of the curve. Solutions to help with back of house operations from a staffing perspective are also super valuable. Streamlining your staffing, resources and operations is a must to keep moving forward in a cost-effective manner. Click here to read more about what’s available from Stint – we’ve got your back on this one.
It’s uplifting to see that food halls and courts are doing well in spite of the uncertain societal backdrop. With a unique operational model, opportunities for progression and expansion plentiful, and the chance to diversify to remain comfortable and entertaining for customers – the future looks bright for food courts.
This article was written by Alison. She is a certified journalist, experienced copywriter, digital marketer and features writer. Alison has spent time as the Assistant Editor of Premier Hospitality magazine and has gained experience as the Editor of a plethora of publications in the construction, health and safety, healthcare and rail sectors.