Insights from the first Food Hall-specific workshop in the UK

January 1, 2024
min read

We hosted an intimate event specifically for the Food Hall market, bringing together half of all Food Hall brands in the UK.

There were two panels: 

  • How to Make Food Halls Thrive: Operations, Tech & Marketing
  • Food Hall Opportunities: Now and the Future

Here are some insights from both panels 😀

Panel 1: How to Make Food Halls Thrive: Operations, Tech & Marketing

The first panel discussion included Simon Champion (CEO, Boxpark), Stefan Marjanovic (Director of Product & Data, Sessions) and Abby Moore - Managing Director, New Century. The session was moderated by Josh Smith (Managing Director - Mr Yum UK).

  • There are approximately 80 Food halls open in the UK currently. The category growing at pace with as many as 20 more in late stages of planning and development.
  • Large flagship food halls dominate the UK market, with sizes ranging from 15,000 to 50,000 square feet. The number of food halls is expected to increase, with 12 out of 21 currently in development being over 20,000 square feet.
  • There have been only three closures in the food hall space over the past 18 months, indicating a stable market.
  • The opportunity for food halls lie in focusing heavily on brands and incorporating a unique value-add to attract customers. Data is used for menu curation, and customers are willing to share their data if they perceive a benefit or enhanced experience.
  • Managing a food hall presents challenges such as balancing guest experience with technology and staff engagement, ensuring vendor satisfaction as well as curation, and maintaining adequate staffing levels.
  • Key lessons learned from the discussion include the difficulties of incorporating each individual trader's ideas, the importance of strong leadership, and finding the right balance between established operators and new ideas. Curation of menu offerings and staying attuned to trends are crucial.
  • Refreshing concepts regularly is vital to meet evolving customer preferences. Flexibility is necessary to make bold changes and introduce freshness, which drives brand loyalty and repeat business.
  • Qualifying vendors involves considering factors such as food quality, affordability, business acumen, character, entrepreneurship, and openness to coaching. Mixed-use sites (e.g. New Century is a music venue as well as Food Hall) can also impact vendor selection.
  • Vegan-only traders are not sustainable but ensuring that each trader has a vegan option on the menu is. 
  • The panellists shared their successes with hosting events and digital segmentation based on customer preferences. The discussion also touched upon the influence of a beverage-focused (wet lead) versus a food-focused approach.
  • Some operations are not suitable for providing runners to tables, as this can be costly and impact the bottom line.
  • Other challenges that were flagged included: speed of service and capacity issues.
  • Tips and tricks:
  • Emphasize unique value-adds and use customer data for menu curation to enhance the customer experience.
  • Strong directional leadership is necessary in managing a food hall, considering the challenges of incorporating traders' ideas.
  • Strike a balance between established operators and new ideas to drive growth and maintain brand popularity.
  • Stay flexible and make bold changes to meet customer preferences and foster brand loyalty.
  • Develop key criteria for vendor selection, considering factors like food quality, affordability, business acumen, character, and entrepreneurship.
  • Consider the impact of mixed-use sites on vendor selection and overall operations.
  • Explore opportunities for events and digital segmentation based on customer preferences.
  • Evaluate the cost-effectiveness of providing runners to tables and balance the focus between food and beverages.
  • Address line speed and capacity issues to optimize operations and maximize revenue.

Panel 2: Food Hall Opportunities: Now and the Future

This discussion focused on food hall opportunities in the UK, now and in the future. The panellists all come from different areas of the industry and combined, shared varied and valuable insights on the many factors that can influence the success of Food Halls, including operations, high-street regeneration and property consultancy for retail & leisure.

The second panel discussion included Hayden Ferriby (Director, Market Asset Management), Matt Bigland - Founder and CEO of Blend, Thomas Rose - Co-founder, P-THREE, Liam Monaghan - Events, Partnerships & Acquisitions, MarketPlace. This session was moderated by Simon Anderson of Ideas Food Consultancy.

Key takeaways:

  • Regional Expansion: Northern cities in the UK are embracing the concept of food halls, presenting opportunities for operators to enter these markets. Understanding the local nuances and political landscape of each city and council is crucial for success.
  • Embrace Local Authenticity: Food halls provide a platform to showcase and promote authentic DNA local cuisine. Highlighting local flavors and culinary offerings can attract customers and differentiate the food hall from traditional high street dining options.
    Multi-format Venues: Consider expanding into smaller spaces with high footfall. Look for opportunities to create food hall experiences in various formats, adapting to the available space and target demographics.
  • Demographics and Local DNA: Before entering a new city, it is essential to understand the local area demographics and the DNA of the city. Tailor the food hall concept to align with the preferences and needs of the target market.
  • Building Community Centers: Food halls have the potential to act as community centres, activating spaces and driving increased footfall. Engage with local authorities who have acquired mixed-use retail and commercial spaces, as they seek suitable operators to revitalize town centres.
  • Filling Off-Peak Times: Explore strategies to address the challenge of filling quieter periods, such as Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as lunchtime slots. Providing grab-and-go options and diversifying offerings can help attract customers during these times.
  • Overseas Expansion: Successful food hall operators can consider replicating their operations overseas, leveraging their expertise and concept to tap into international markets.
  • Funding and Landlord Opportunities: Securing funding for hospitality expansion can be challenging. Operators should explore options to attract private equity (PE) or venture capital (VC) investments. Landlords, on the other hand, should seek access to data and insights to better understand their customer base and curate the space for optimal tenant mix.
  • Curating vs. Filling Space: Operators should focus on curating the food hall space to offer a cohesive and diverse range of culinary experiences. Landlords, however, often prioritize filling the available space, so finding a balance between the two approaches is crucial.
  • Pricing Considerations: When determining pricing, operators should be mindful of the local market. Understanding the average cost of a "work" lunch in the area and offering competitive prices can attract customers to the food hall.

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