Crafting a food hall on a budget

brgr food layout

From coast to coast, food halls are booming. In New York City, Denver, Atlanta and Phoenix, there’s an influx of these trendy dining concepts—most fueled by multimillion-dollar renovations. But is it possible for noncommercial operators to invoke the spirit of a food hall on a smaller budget?

Put the pieces together

food hall open

It’s certainly not easy. “It’s all about the experience. The food, the decor, the theme, the music—the whole place has got to fit the food hall theme,” says Isidoro Albanese, a restaurateur in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Last year, he converted his Italian restaurant, Bellizzi, into local Exit 4 Food Hall. Eschewing the national chains of a mall food court, Exit 4 mimics the food halls of New York City, featuring chef-driven, healthy, local food, including a pasta bar, sushi, barbecue and paninis.

Think socially

food hall stations

Food halls are meeting places, so design is important, Albanese says. He suggests consulting a local architect to create a space that flows properly. Leaving plenty of room for seating is also crucial; 150 seats is a good target for a 5,000-square-foot project, he says. Albanese advises operators not to skimp on any experiential factors if they want to succeed, from furniture to the name. “You have to totally transform everything,” he says.

Still, there are ways to economize on money and time. Grouping together similar stations—like pasta, pizza and charcuterie stations—saves space, buildout costs and even labor, since one cashier can run all three. “It becomes a big win by doing it that way,” Albanese says. A station can also be designed around existing equipment, like a wood-fired oven.

Be cost-conscious

data finances glasses

But others say the most important aspect of a food hall doesn’t require new equipment. Last year, Northern Trust, a Chicago-based financial services company, converted its corporate cafeteria to one inspired by food trucks and food halls. It did so without any renovation or redesign, but by partnering with a startup that enlists rotating vendors to sell different styles of food, such as sushi, tacos and lobster rolls.

“We weren’t ready to invest millions in the look and feel of the food hall,” says Martin Clarke, global head of corporate services at Northern Trust. The cafeteria already had a multistation format, so vendors could just drop into existing spaces. So instead of drawing attention to the design, food became the focus. “A traditional cafeteria might do different menus each day, but they don’t have different styles of food at different stations every single day,” Clarke says. “That’s what makes it different for our staff.”

Assess success

food hall owners

So far, the new format has been well received, and Clarke says the revamped cafeteria is making money. “Clearly, [the startup] and their business model is a real disruptor in the marketplace right now,” he says.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Amherst-Pelham Regional School District in Amherst, Mass., is updating its lunch debt policy to no longer single out students, MassLive reports.

Under the new policy, students with lunch debt will be given the same meals as their peers, regardless of how much they owe. School officials will also be communicating directly with parents of students who have accumulated debt instead of through the students themselves.

The updated policy comes just before U.S. school districts will be required to publicly list their lunch debt policies, per new USDA requirements starting July 1...

Menu Development
eureka

Since California’s state motto is “Eureka!” it seems fitting that a recent conversation with the director of hospitality at San Diego’s Palomar Health led to the biggest aha moment I’ve had in a long time.

I called Jim Metzger in late April with the purpose of discussing Palomar’s recent commitment to the goal of making 60% of its total menu plant-based by this summer. It seemed a lofty number, and I was curious how the public health system planned to get there.

But my personal eureka didn’t come while we were talking about how Palomar had cleaned up the impulse-buy zones...

Industry News & Opinion

Labeling foods with indulgent buzzwords such as “sweet sizzlin’” and “crispy” can lead consumers to make healthier food choices , according to a recent study out of Stanford University .

In the fall 2016 study, researchers labeled vegetables in one of the school’s dining halls using terms from four categories: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent.

The green beans, for example, were listed as “green beans” for basic, “light ‘n’ low-carb green beans and shallots” for healthy restrictive, “healthy energy boosting green beans and shallots” for healthy...

Ideas and Innovation
sparkling water

Our carbonated soft drink sales at Earls.67 reflect a national trend; we’re continually down on carbonated soft drink sales by 8% to 9% on an annual basis,” says Cameron Bogue, beverage director at the contemporary-casual chain Earls Kitchen + Bar.

The issue with spa water

Many operators are intrigued with the offering, but they are learning that infused water can’t be offered at a cost to guests unless there is added value beyond cut-up fruit. Bogue says, “I was adamant that I didn’t want to charge for spa water.”

Agua fresca alternatives

At the original location of

...

FSD Resources