“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” So said famously by Charles M. Schulz. And the insight endures. Despite all the threats e-commerce has been imposing on brick-and-mortar retail, the shopping centre food court remains as compelling as ever…
India has always been a country with diverse cuisines right from north to the south and east to west. Indians have developed their palates for tastes ranging from spicy to bland, from sweet to sour, from monotony to variety. And it is this versatility that the architecture of a food court – open seating encircled by several foodservice stands – appears to reflect.
The open architecture also typically offers a wide-angled view of the mall’s tenants, hopefully leading to additional or impulse purchases.
For an enclosed shopping centre to be successful, the food court must occupy a minimum of 15 per cent of the entire mall space. It must have a good mix of multiple cuisines and the brands must be rated well in terms of their popularity, quality and the menu variety they offer.
Food courts are usually positioned on the top floor, ensuring that shoppers navigate through the retail areas to get to them.
Food malls are now focusing on pulling crowds by introducing international brands, including the best ones from across the globe. Several international brands have already made their way in India, including the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, Nandos, Gloria Jeans Coffee, McDonald’s, KFC, to name just a few.
The eating out trend has been growing exponentially in India for the past few years and has evolved from just an occasion-driven activity. This rise of the eating out trend is expected to propel the foodservice industry to a market size of US$ 78 billion by 2018, according to the National Restaurant Association of India’s India Food Service Report.
The reasons for the evolution can be attributed to many factors, including entry of global QSR chains, urbanisation, changing lifestyles, greater exposure through travel, cooking shows and the internet, increasing discretionary incomes and thus a higher propensity to spend, and food courts becoming convening points for social gatherings and meetings.
Food courts need to develop innovative concepts to sustain the footfalls. Developers can take a cue from a concept developed by Gujarat Government on state bus stands, which have been converted into mall-like structures with brick-and-mortar stores, food malls and multiplexes. Branded as ‘Ved Transcube Plaza’, this format is expected to be replicated in almost all Tier II and III cities across Gujarat.
Ved Transcube Plazas feature streets with western architecture, Victorian-style lamps, American wooden seating and wooden flooring, among other things. The plazas also incorporate activities such as showing short animation films at fixed intervals during the day, using one wall of the food court as the screen. That’s entertainment clubbed with food.
Similarly, food courts also need to upgrade themselves technologically as the ones in developed markets, many of which give customers audio tokens that ping once the order is ready. Digital displays of menus are already in evidence, facilitating no-fuss self-service.
For foodservice companies, the food court has proven to be of the best sources to create visibility for the brands, be it national or international. As food courts are generally a mix of all restaurant formats — starting right from QSR, casual dining to fine dining, fast casual and kiosks — they typically attract a mix of all kinds of customers.
“Food courts are universal revenue generators. No matter how badly a mall is performing, food courts will pull crowds on their own steam. For this reason, there is no likelihood of rentals for food courts increasing. Along with anchors, these represent the factor that brings in assured footfalls, and no mall developer would risk making food court occupancy less tenable and attractive by raising rental costs,” says a report from Jones Lang LaSalle.
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Designed with a touch of modern and a traditional décor, Select CityWalk in New Delhi houses one of the top food courts in India – ‘My Square’. This format is a joint venture between Select CityWalk and Everstone Capital to promote differentiated dining environments at various locations, including a mix of shopping centres and high streets.
It is well known that India’s consumer spending is dominated by the progressive middle class. And with rising disposable incomes, spends on food, entertainment and leisure activities are continually rising. More and more Indians are now eating out, although the percentage of income spent on dining out is still low compared to many countries. In India, on an average, an individual currently eats out once in two weeks, experts believe this metric will change dramatically in the near future.
Regional General Manager, Gloria Jean’s Coffee International, Tony White shares: “Domestic coffee consumption in India has increased significantly over the past 10 years, but there is still ample scope for growth, especially in terms of franchised operations. Gloria Jean’s Coffee’s world class franchise model has proved very successful, with more than 1,000 coffee houses across 39 countries today. We saw an opportunity to translate this success to the Indian market under the master franchise business model with Citymax Hospitality.”
As many as 30 foreign food chains are currently queuing up to enter India. A majority of them are Asian restaurateurs that operate small-format chains. These are mostly pizza and yogurt chains, quick service restaurants and food-on the-move concepts.
Some of those set to enter India are Loon Tao, Berrylite, Shawarma Xpress, Ci Gusta, Kenny Roger Roasters and Sarpino’s Pizzeria. The Indian shopping centre food court is set to become even more dynamic and diverse.