Food halls are opening all across the world, offering customers authentic food in relaxed surroundings and appealing to the experience economy. But is there too much, too soon?

Food and drink has reinvented itself away from the formal sit-down restaurants to embrace new, theatrical environments combining food retail, casual dining and gourmet experiences. A host of new schemes, open and proposed, are set to drive this global trend further.

City travel and entertainment publisher Time Out has been at the forefront of the revolution, which opened in Lisbon, Portugal in 2014 and has become one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.

It has plans for Miami, New York, Boston, Chicago and Porto and when I caught up with Didier Souillat, CEO, Time Out Markets, in Milan recently he told me the key to success is curation. He says a market needs to be where people live, work and tourists go and stresses that the magazine is a huge marketing machine for the Markets. He says that finding sites is very difficult, as Time Out needs to find “improving locations we can afford now but that in two or three years from now we won’t be able to afford.”

He also needs “foodie cities” and ideally cities where the publication is strong too. So in New York and Chicago the magazine is very strong and in Miami and Boston – which have close ties with New York anyway – Time Out will be launching the magazine to support the marketing. As opposed to some of its peers, Time Out Markets is neither after longer dwell or higher basket spend, because it wants throughput to drive its turnover.

The company is hoping to open in London but has had plans declined for a 17-restaurant, four-bar site at a former Shoreditch stables in East London. Time Out lost a subsequent appeal but a second appeal result will be known shortly.

Meanwhile, the Italian gourmet giant Eataly has confirmed plans to open its first UK location at Broadgate’s 135 Bishopsgate in 2020. The 42,000 sq ft store will occupy the ground and first floors of British Land’s development and Eataly is also opening in Paris with Galeries Lafayette, as it expands its global empire.

London Union is another operator extremely active across the UK capital and Jonathan Downey, co-founder of the company, says that the key for him is to find interesting buildings or an abandoned warehouse, take short leases, and then “do something interesting in a short period of time.”

For him the most important part of his business is to find, mentor and help new talent. He predicts that in London the number of the new food halls will mean that some are not that good, because he does not believe there are enough strong F&B businesses to fill them.

He told me: “I see food halls in the US and what’s going on in London and a lot is quite average. There are bandwagon operators and I think the poorer ones will not succeed, the best will rise to the top.”

Jonathan Doughty, head of foodservice at ECE Projektmanagement, adds that the new F&B formats are asking questions that the property industry they have never had to answer before.

“We have to be better,” he tells me. “The next three to five years will see a massive change between property and F&B. At the moment the F&B operator is a partner until the lease is signed, then they become a tenant. The real estate we have built was for yesterday; is it the F&B experience people are looking for?”


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