A New York Times article by Joe Gose from 2017 charted the maturation of the food court – host to traditional fast-food chains and located within or adjacent to a mall or department store – into the food hall which typically mixes local, artisanal stalls and producers operating independently, in an aesthetically pleasing or historically significant building, such as this one – the Foodhallen in Rotterdam.
Image courtesy of Mike van den Bos
According to Gose’s definitions, a food hall has some retail but the on-site eating experience is the main draw. A food court – conceived as a means of preventing shoppers from leaving the mall in search of sustenance – exists largely in order to keep shoppers shopping, not as a feature or destination in its own right. Here is a typical example.
Image courtesy of Wes Branch
These definitions function as a good rule of thumb in the UK and North America; in conversations with our clients in Hong Kong and beyond, we’ve noticed that the term food court has a broader application.
Image courtesy of L YS
Food courts such as this one, above, managed by Singapore’s Food Republic host independent operators rather than managing a number of concepts and are raising the design stakes in order to transform into destinations in their own right that sell specialised, traditional hawker dishes in an elevated, indoor setting. As we’re talking about the tropics, being indoors with AC is an important consideration.
Image courtesy of Ethan Hu
We believe food and drink are going to lead the renaissance of retail. We’re seeing department stores turning into food halls, or food-led, mixed-use destinations, including Hammonds of Hull, set to launch in Hull city centre this summer, designed by CADA and with the F&B under the aegis of Des McDonald whose track record includes the Ivy, Soho House, Selfridges and Eataly. Locals and visitors to the city will enjoy a blend of dining, organic grocery, retail, music and cultural events in the former House of Fraser site, one of the city’s most iconic buildings and a local landmark.
Image: CADA Design
Similar developments are cropping up in cities and towns all over the UK as opportunities arise that answer consumer demand for high quality, accessible out of home experiences and dovetail with councils’ desire to regenerate their areas, using the food hall as a powerful means of attracting customers and boosting engagement. We’ll look forward to sharing more on Hull and other global projects of ours in the coming months.

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