The term ‘food hall’ – it used to trigger the image of fighting for a plastic table in, the lower level of a shopping centre, while grabbing some much-needed sustenance during a mega shopping trip. Recently though its image has undergone a transformation. Now food halls are the height of cool and the place to hang out in the day or evening with a craft beer and a plate of international cuisine.
So why are food halls, in the UK and further afield, suddenly so popular? Well, much like the revolution in digital foodtech, food and restaurant trends are being driven by consumer demand for flexibility, choice and convenience.
Food halls are about as flexible as you can get when it comes to a sit down, dining-out experience. Tables aren’t usually booked, people tend to ‘grab a space’ where available and then venture out to explore the various food stall offerings. They are often open day and night so can represent a casual lunch, or a big night out with friends, and there’s no need to stick with just one food type. People don’t want to be restricted to eating Italian or Chinese with friends; a food hall means each person can satisfy their individual desires and access tens of flavours, all under one roof.
The only drawback to a food hall as we see it, is the queuing. When you finally find a table, you take it in turns to explore and buy your food of choice, because you don’t want to lose your precious seating space by all going at once. The lines are long, inevitably, and by the time you’ve purchased your food, your friends are desperate to buy theirs. You can’t wait so tuck in – albeit slowly – but by the time they get back, you’ve finished yours. The chance to eat together has been missed and nearly an hour has been spent queueing and eating in relay. Still, there’s plenty of time to drink together, off you go to queue again….
Food halls are intended to give customers a better dining experience so imagine how much better that experience could be if the awkward food relay was negated. If these food halls and the traders were using pre-ordering technology, such as mobile ordering apps for smartphones, they could be.
Customers could browse food choices online in advance, place their orders and collect without the hassle of queuing. Or, if they wanted to choose with their nose, they could navigate the halls, decide what takes their fancy and then sit down with their friends, ordering food from their mobile app and enjoying the chance to socialise while they wait for their meal to be prepared. That food could then be delivered to the table by the food stand itself, or an alert could be sent to the customer’s phone so that they know when to head over and collect it.
Alternatively, the individual restaurant brands can get ahead with their own digital ordering services. For example, our client, healthy eating brand Squirrel, has a site within the Market Halls near Victoria station in London. Customers wanting to order their food can do so through the website or by downloading the Squirrel app from the App Store or Google Play. They can then pick up their food from the Squirrel stand within Market Halls. For the brands themselves, digital technology gives them business insight like no other, enabling them to better understand customers, manage stock and increase operational efficiencies.
If it’s flexibility, convenience and choice that these consumers are craving, then the combination of street food with a side dish of digital ordering sounds like the perfect combination to us.