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Are Food Halls the Future of Restaurants?

Food halls, which help keep overhead costs lower for brands, are growing in popularity as alternatives to sit-down dining experiences.

By 1851 Staff1851 Staff Contributions
Updated 9:09AM 03/29/22

Food halls have been around for decades, but throughout the years they have decreased in popularity as dine-in restaurants and more private experiences prevailed. However, the demand for food halls is on the rise again as more people look for ways to enjoy a variety of options. Food halls also present a unique opportunity for business owners as the industry continues to struggle through an economic comeback following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar to food trucks, food halls provide the opportunity for aspiring restaurateurs and business owners to open up shop and also provide benefits for restaurants that may be harder to find in a traditional, stand-alone eatery.

According to TouchBistro, food halls offer several advantages over stand-alone eateries, including lower startup costs, shared expenses, exposure, consistent food traffic, infrastructure and less risk. Plus, restaurants that are part of a food hall are able to get up and running faster than in a stand-alone restaurant and often have more flexible terms in contracts. 

Food halls are appealing to diners because they have several eatery options to choose from and can introduce customers to a variety of brands that they may not otherwise encounter. While food halls were once a fading trend, they have come back to life and are giving consumers and business owners new opportunities to try something new and be part of the restaurant industry’s comeback from the COVID-19 pandemic.

One example of a food hall looking to restore its former glory is Chicago’s Revival Food Hall,  a collection of chef-driven eateries owned by 16’ on Center (16OC) in 2016. Like so many, it struggled through the initial onset of the pandemic, as restaurants around the country closed their doors amid nationwide lockdowns. However, the establishment is currently adding new concepts and rethinking the ways it can interact with diners. Even with so many changes to the way it serves customers, Revival Food Hall has always maintained a focus on serving its customers well. 

“At Revival, we’ve always kind of pushed to be beacons of hospitality to the guests of the Loop, so that mission remains,” Tim Wickes, the director of food hall operations for 16OC, told Restaurant Business Online in its Menu Feed podcast. “Of course, with the pandemic, we pivoted service models multiple times … but we’ve noticed that when most people are working back downtown, that they tend to dine out every time that they’re working in the Loop. So on us, it’s a little more pressure, but people want that social interaction, and so we’ve got to deliver that hospitality as we always have, but more so an emphasis on seeing people, maybe a little bit less.

Wickes added that another pivot the company has made is in releasing an app, “kind of a one-stop-shop for catering food to offices, delivering food to you at your home office. … But as you can imagine over the last two years, we’ve changed models multiple times, from ghost kitchen to delivery-only, over and over. Always when we’re thinking about eating .. it’s got to be a hospitable experience.”

Meanwhile, food halls are popping up everywhere, and can be found in several cities across the country, including Chicago, San Diego, New York, New Orleans, Denver, Washington, D.C., and more.