Why Food Halls Are Becoming a City Center Must - Have

Neasa MacErlean
12 March | London | EMEA | F&B
Not yet five years old, the Time Out Market in Lisbon has already become the Portuguese capital’s most popular visitor location. Over three million people eat and drink there a year, choosing from its 23 restaurants, 14 food stalls and bars and eight shops. Housed in the 136-year old Mercado da Ribeira building, the hall follows a common formula in this burgeoning sector — offering a range of regional and global cuisine in a striking city center refurbishment.

While the food is the big draw, the buildings themselves often add to the experience, from Foodhallen’s converted tram depot in Amsterdam to Eataly’s disused Vermouth factory in Turin or Elliott Stables’ warehouse setting that celebrates its Auckland heritage.

Location, however, is also key. In London, the former BHS department store on Oxford Street is expected to become the UK’s largest food hall when it opens, as a Try Market Halls venture, later in 2018. Easy accessibility, good food at affordable prices and the ability to cater for a varied audience, from tourists to lunchtime office workers and families looking for high quality, casual dining, are just three of the reasons why many people become return visitors.

“Food halls give an accessible platform for London to showcase the UK’s best chefs and cuisines,” says JLL surveyor Flora McPhail. “In its Oxford Street location, Try Market Halls will provide a destination in its own right but it will also improve the area for surrounding occupiers. The market hall will extend the dwell time of shoppers or tourists by providing a much need food and beverage amenity for the street.”

Low entry costs open up the opportunities

In the next couple of years, numbers of food halls are set to double in the UK and the U.S. Many are already well-known chains such as the Eataly brand, which is already present in around 40 locations with plans for more than dozen new openings in the coming years. Time Out, meanwhile, is also expanding across Europe and the U.S with a site in Miami due to open this year and three more in the pipeline for 2019.

Part of the reason for the growth is that food markets remove the two largest barriers stopping chefs getting into bricks and mortar: capital costs and long leases. “There is a low cost barrier to entry,” McPhail says. “Fitting out a building for a restaurant is an expensive process which requires substantial funding. But the food halls give each chef the ability to simply turn up and do what they do best: cook.

The format also means they can adapt rapidly to changing consumer tastes. “Managers of these ventures are constantly on the lookout for new chefs and other entrepreneurs,” says McPhail. “The food scene in London and globally is so transient one week Hawaiian food can take over a city and the next it can be Turkish. Food halls continually showcase the most popular dishes from a city through an ever-changing rotation of operators or menus.”

Acting as catalysts on the neighborhood

While some food halls are now in purpose-built environments – take the Markthal in Rotterdam, for instance – others are bringing derelict buildings back into the heart of the social scene. In Manchester in the UK, the listed Mackie Mayor building has started a new chapter as one of the city’s hottest dining options. In the U.S. former banks and cinemas are among buildings now in line for a fresh start as a food hall. Andy Lewis-Pratt, CEO of Try Market Halls, says: “Food halls revitalize under-utilized iconic assets – whether former night clubs, booking halls and redundant retail space to be opened up for public access. The market halls promote local produce and talent and are at the heart of the social, and entertainment calendar.”

Such redevelopments also have positive knock-on effects for nearby retailers, as shoppers stay in the area longer, frequently returning to the shops after a quick food stop.

“Food halls often end up being catalysts for revitalizing the surrounding area,” says Mike Taylor, Director, at JLL. “They act as destinations to give people an additional reason to visit a particular area of a city. Plus their appeal goes beyond food to engage communities through cookery classes, cookbook launches or music and fashion shows.”

Food halls can also encourage further development. Lewis-Pratt adds: “The market hall can be an anchor to many forms of development, serving as a meeting place, a cultural hub or an expression of entrepreneurial flair that attracts corporate and residential neighbors. These developments create a buzz which can become a highly effective form of regeneration.”

In Amsterdam, Foodhallen, for example, is seen as a major reason behind the successful regeneration of the area with house prices nearly doubling in five years. “It was an industrial area and now it has become one of the most popular attractions in the city and a place where Millennials want to live,” says McPhail.

 With the ongoing popularity of street food and the ever-growing appetite for trying new dishes, food halls are well placed to keep on drawing in the crowds, says Taylor. The most successful ones, however, keep one thing in mind: the star attraction of the food hall should always be the food.