Friday, May 24, 2024
HomeRLI Food for ThoughtCourts, Halls and Hubs

Courts, Halls and Hubs

Courts, Halls and Hubs 1

Jonathan Doughty, the “RLI Food Guy” is a “C level” executive in the foodservice and leisure industry with 45 years of experience and leadership in restaurants, hotels and global consulting. In his latest article, he discusses the difference between a food court, a market hall and a food hub…

I am just back from a few days in Germany and Denmark as I sit down to write my piece. Each month I try to comment on something of significance or contribute something which helps the readers with their planning and delivery of food places.

As I arrived in Copenhagen, I was wondering what the topic would be for this month and then, as if by magic, it was presented to me “on a plate” by one of the people I was meeting. She asked, “What is the difference between a food court, a market hall and a food hub?” I thought about it and realised that it was actually a great question as she also came from the property world, specifically in shopping centres. So, what exactly is the difference?

Let me give it to you straight, it was not such an easy thing to outline and detail until I struck on the emotional, experiential and biological differences. Then it was easy, if in your projects, you intend to build one, or are struggling with the operation and performance of one, then read on. In my consultant role, I am challenged with this almost every day. This is not a definitive view, but is “Johnny’s view” of how the world is. Take it or leave it if you like, but it has served me well for 30 years.

A food court is a collection of kiosks, serving food to guests in a central seating area, with a central clearing service. They operate using disposables, crockery or both and generally have brands operating in the space, but not always. They were hugely popular in the last 25 years and many projects around the world have them, whether it be huge ones, small ones, successful ones, expensive to run ones and many that are just “ok”. To me, many of them are the lowest common denominator feeding location for the mass market in a shopping centre and generally cannot deliver much above the food and drink. Perhaps a nice ambience and design, but the score of “Johnny’s emotional index” is low, very low. It is a functional eat, not an experience. There are exceptions, but generally they are a biological experience where people eat because they are hungry and enjoy the choice.

So on to the market hall. Let me first of all say there are more market hall “specialists” out there than there are market halls. I spend a lot of time in this space and it is in its infancy still. There are lots of great things going on, some amazing locations (like Mercato Mayfair in an old church in London) and again it is a collection of kiosks, counters and bars serving into a central seating area, using disposables, crockery and or glassware, but to be clear, that is where the comparison ends with a food court. Market halls have passion, emotion, its more than just about the food and drink; it is about the experience, the entertainment and the vibe. You stay longer to enjoy these than just to eat food. They are recreational places, entertainment venues, places to enjoy and before you shout the words “alcohol driven” take a trip to Riyadh, to The Kingdom Centre and the Al Mamlaka Social Dining Market Hall – Wow! Not a drop of alcohol, of course, but a fabulous vibe with great food and bars, serving non-alcoholic cocktails and drinks using Lyres amazing products. It works, its clever, its as good as anything else on the planet and we can thank the boys and girls at TGP International.

Turning to food hubs, this was somewhat harder to describe as it really is just about a collection of foodservices in one place, but not with a common area of seats with restaurants, bars, cafes and kiosks. Staying in Riyadh, a great example is the dining area at Via, with some world-class restaurants, but an example nearer to home is the “Foodtopia” project at Myzeil, in Frankfurt Germany. We never set out to be a food court and we always wanted to be a food hub. We delivered it with a choice of restaurants, small QSRS, cafes and bars around a cinema – on the fourth floor of a shopping centre! It is award-winning, continues to outperform initial projections and is a major anchor for the project. We have no shared seats and each tenant does their own “thing”.

Whichever route you choose, bringing food together in a collective space creates much more than the sum of the parts. In my world food courts are numbered now, although market halls require huge investment and specialist operators, so I am putting a lot of time and advice into food hubs in the future – we will see if I am right. Go eat…