Food halls are everywhere nowadays, from Florence's Mercato Centrale to Lisbon's Time Out Mercado da Ribeira, there is a good chance you stumbled upon one of these gigantic cafeteria-style public markets, where - under the same roof - you can taste different types of foods, see different chefs at work and even buy groceries. Food halls are doing more than just serving meals to hungry locals and tourists: they are designed as a curated experience, where guests can not only enjoy top-notch street-style foods, but fully grasp an authentic flair of the city they are in.
Why are food halls all the rage right now?
First of all, our food habits have drastically changed and food halls’ success has been going hand in hand with how the consumers demand has evolved. Quality-conscious consumers are constantly looking to eat differently every day, while fitting it into their busy schedules. They want to be able to choose from a variety of dishes and products on a daily basis, like to be able to choose from a list of high quality ingredients and try world cuisines.
Another reason why food halls have been successful lately are tourists. Tourists on-the-go want to get the most out of their journey in terms of visits and local experiences, which obviously include food, in a limited amount of time. Ordering a “sample platter” with the city’s best food while mingling with locals and browsing through aisles of local goods eliminates this issue and packs the most experiential value into one visit.
Locals too can take advantage from food halls. In addition to offering a variety of cuisines, they serve as grocery markets and often sell fresh and locally-sourced products, as well as serve as modern public squares where people can spend a night and hang out with their friends.
The #foodie culture also contributed to the success of food halls
A foodie is defined as someone who pays attention not only to what they eat but also from where it comes from. By offering fresh food and a variety of experiences grounded in authenticity, consumers directly associate food halls with healthy and high-quality dining. Moreover, foodies have famously risen to the status of social mavens and - although highly annoying for some - a nice picture on their Instagram feed speaks a thousand words in terms of marketing power of these new food meccas. Food halls have then been capitalizing on their social media appeal: with a huge focus on appealing designs and plating, free wifi or open-kitchen concepts calling for on-the-go snaps.
New opportunities for chefs and entrepreneurs
In a highly competitive marketplace, food halls have also proved to offer opportunities for food entrepreneurs and chefs to test drive different business models and culinary experiences. Designed to organically attract a lot more foot traffic into their premises, food halls have not only removed some of the barriers to entry into the restaurant business, it also allows food entrepreneurs to start serving a lot more customers, at a fraction of the regular startup costs. Jonathan Butler, co-founder of Smorgasburg - the largest open-air food market in the U.S. located in Brooklyn, New York - in a Vox article says:
We think of ourselves as the biggest small business incubator in New York City. We’re a platform for entrepreneurship. In some ways, the most impressive thing we’ve done is we’ve democratized and changed the economics of starting a food business.
Jonathan Butler - co-founder of Smorgasburg in New York City
There are many food halls around the world today. Chains are expanding and new ones are constantly created. They have become so popular that their number is expected to triple between 2015 and 2020 and you for sure do not want to miss out on this experience. So when you are traveling, make sure you visit the one closest to you.