The recent bankruptcy filings of Sbarro, Quiznos and Hot Dog on a Stick had some observers lamenting on the sorry state of food courts and regional malls.
The Sbarro bankruptcy was largely blamed on the chain having most of its locations in mall food courts as mall traffic continued to erode. Some believe customers are looking for a higher-quality menu and atmosphere than the chains provide, more like that represented by the fast-casual trend led by Chipotle and Panera Bread.
Still, a revamp could make food courts a surefire differentiator for malls against online shopping, some say. As part of a $325 million expansion, the food hall at Mall of America is being upgraded with a vision of merging the typical food court experience with that of sit-down restaurants.
"You'll still be able to go to the different offerings and venues, but the seating areas will be broken up. It won't just be this open sea of seating like you have at a traditional food court," Kurt Hagen, SVP of development for Triple Five, the mall owner, told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. "And the quality and offerings, I think we're going to take it up a notch on that end as well."
The space will feature eight to nine grab-and-go restaurants with "more unique and higher quality offerings" than typical food court fare, three or four fast-casual restaurants with their own interior seating, and two or three sit-down spots. A dish washing area will enable restaurants to use reusable plates, bowls and utensils instead of disposable plastic.
Another reinvention with a local focus is occurring with Food Network's Food Court Wars, now in its second year. Each episode visits a new city with the mall looking to "open a brand-new 'local' eatery in the food court that offers a fresh region-specific menu." Entrepreneurs vie for a chance to open their own food court restaurant, rent-free for a year, plus $10,000 in investment capital.
"In posher cities, you're gonna get a little better experience because people are willing to pay more," Tyler Florence, the host of the show, told the Miami Herald last year. "But it's pretty consistent from coast to coast. Right now, there's kind of these homogenous, bland offerings. I want to make the food court sexy!"
Which of the following would most help regional malls increase the appeal of food courts?