A new declaration for food independents

September 24, 2014

Foodservice can save malls – with the right inventiveness and local appeals.

Mall operators have a path in front of them for a brighter, hipper future. It is based on foodservice that is more local and personalized, and more speedy and inventive, than the chain or food court offerings that prevail in most.

Many shoppers find it is fun to wander about a mall, randomly spot store windows and hone in on merchandise they might potentially buy. The Lempert Report suggests that mall eateries offer the same sensibilities – bold sensory appeals (visual, smell), whimsy (unusually named food items), health (fresh ingredients), local tastes (regional favorites, craft brews) and seasonal relevance (foods in season) – to make eating there more fun and a destination of its own. Who better to provide this than restaurateurs from nearby neighborhoods, who’d love to capture this traffic and whose names are familiar to this hungry audience? 

The sooner malls capture the vitality of independent food entrepreneurs, the livelier their spaces will be, the more refreshed shoppers will feel, and the more satisfied they’ll be while planning their next rounds of store visits. Just as people flock to independent apparel stores that bring unique fashions, they settle in nicely with local eatery favorites. This is a cool way to reward local innovation and keep circulating money within the local community too.  

We visited a food court near some corporate HQ buildings in Morris Plains, NJ, recently. It was packed at lunchtime and moved heavy volume efficiently. There was a deli, an oyster bar, three sushi chefs, a vast area from which to buy prepared foods, and separate areas to sit with TV monitors and couches. The food was fast and healthful, neither too fancy nor overpriced and served in a clean setting.  

Mall operators that empower WiFi and retail promotion incentives sent to shopper cell phones in eating areas can add to productivity. According to Yahoo Finance, a food court generates $700 in sales per square foot vs. $250-$450 for an apparel retail. And since just 7% of shoppers currently visit a mall solely for food, there’s a huge potential upswing that comes from inviting in popular local eateries as food-court tenants and inspirers.