Food halls have recently become the solution for many a developer or place maker to the question of what to do with voiced spaces in city centres across the UK.

In our meetings with new and existing clients alike, we’re now being asked what’s next after food halls?

We don’t think it’s a question of what’s “after”. We’d argue, as we’d always argue, that the solution is about meeting your target audience’s expectations. Generally, this means more integrated cooperative experiences across the board, designed around an increasingly always-on, fluid audience. In short, food hall (co-dining) + co-working + co-living, and so on.

Always-on

Compartmentalisation is on the decline. Phrases like “work-life” balance now seem redundant as advancements in telecommunications has led to an always-on work culture that means people can never really unplug like they could even 30 years ago. According to Powwownow, 58% of workers are able to work flexibly.

As a result, public and private spaces have responded by becoming more flexible, enabling them to perform a greater number of functions.

A good example of this is the hotel lobby. The lobby of Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, for example, features a record store, florist, comfy sofas, a coffee bar, and desks at which the increasingly mobile working population can work.

Ace Hotel, Shoreditch. Image courtesy of Milton Gan.

Hotel lobbies can be an education to those in retail and land development. They have diversified rapidly, meeting the expectations of the modern day traveller based on their lifestyle.

Food hall plus

Food halls (a concept that we’ve already spoken at length about) meet their customers’ demands by offering multiple cuisines, and therefore greater choice in food, price and so on. They’re also more causal than the sometimes stuffy dining rooms of restaurants. Recent examples include Duke Street Market in Liverpool and Assembly Underground in Leeds.

Assembly Hall, Leeds. Image courtesy of Wren Architecture.

But the market is starting to saturate, so what comes next? We’d argue that the answer is diversification based on market research. The beauty of food halls is flexibility (at least for the operator, not so much the vendor…). Operators can swap out vendors as and when they’re not working with little consequence.

But why limit the mix to dining operators?

Food retail, or even general retail could be a logical next extension, combining the best of dining and grocery in one space. A good example of this is Mercato Metropolitano in Elephant and Castle, which features a fine foods deli and wine shop as well as twenty plus dining offers. It’s been that successful that Lendlease have asked it to come into the new Elephant Park development, 10 minutes’ walk down the road, and it’s also set to open in Ilford, across town. 

Other entertainment could be offered in the form of a small arcade, by creating an increasingly popular “barcade”, or a boardgame café. Table tennis, air hockey and table footy all make for popular additions and could help to increase dwell.

Further additions could be the inclusion of a florist, barber shop, book shop or DIY/crafts store. It’s all about looking at gaps in supply and demand in the local community. What could work well in a Leeds suburb might not do in the middle of Durham city centre.

Boxpark is a great example of what can be achieved by creating a broad mix of retail and dining in a food hall-type space. The company’s recent announcement of two new formats—one larger and one smaller and solely food focused—are a testament to this.

BoxOffice, a new, large-format BoxPark concept. Image courtesy of Big Hospitality.

Mixed use developments as micro communities  

The same principle could be expended to mixed-use developments. As one so-called “place maker” recently told me, the days of the out-of-town retail park featuring your usual suspects of a B&Q, Argos and a Pets at Home are over. While they might serve some small purpose to a segment of the audience, these sorts of relic retail parks aren’t going to create new centres of activity and community.

So what will? If you want to attract a few thousand people to live and work in a voided space, what are the fundamentals? Somewhere to live, work and eat. So, a food hall, a co-working space and co-living space and some flats could be a strong foundation.

A new example of this sort of local place making is the new development at Catford Mews, from the Really Local Group. The development will consist of a three-screen cinema, a number of street food vendors, some desk space and a live music venue for south London artists. This mix was determined, to a greater extent by the results of 500 questionnaires completed by local community members. A specific output of this research, for example, will be that the cinema will programme a series of black and Irish history and culture documentaries.

Catford Mews. Image courtesy of Catford Chronicle.

Another avenue to take, if there are local businesses looking for a retail platform, and the desire to create a point of difference on the high street, a retail incubator could promote local talent and craftsmanship. An example of this from the States is Selden Market in Norfolk, Virginia, which supports a rotating lineup of the city’s up-and-coming concepts in retail, food and more.

Selden Market. Image courtesy of Work Program Architects.

You could create a community event space that creates a programme designed to line up the needs of the community with the ambitions of the local businesses in the area. You could combine your food hall and co-working space with a fitness studio to promote healthy living. For those with young families, co-working spaces that provide day-care as part of membership would go far. London’s first Ofsted-registered full-time nursery and co-working space is Cuckooz Nest.

Cuckooz Nest. Image courtesy of Kontor.

The next step for food halls…

Flexibility is essential to the successful evolution of the food hall. Some of what we’ve spoken about today is big-picture. Development is tricky business but one thing we can say for sure is that at all levels, if you are responding to–or creating–a community, you need to know your market.

Whether it’s offering a tight yet optimised set of offerings, or a wide selection of vendors—F&B, general retail, hospitality and more. Do your research and find out what your market demands. We have almost 30 years’ experience helping clients to work out what’s next. We have a broad range of partners who are leading voices in place making and mixed use development who we collaborate with to make sure each project we work on, whether planning out a food hall, market or mixed use scheme, is appropriate for the local audience. It’s a fundamental point that so many people, surprisingly overlook. But get this right, and you can improve the fortunes of your project to no end.