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Why food halls are the hottest new dining trend in the US

Not your mom and dad's mall food court
Camilla Marcus restaurant owner
Posted at 5:30 AM, Sep 15, 2023

The hottest trend in dining in 2023 is the "food hall." Think of them as a very updated version of a 1980s mall food court.

They are popping up across the country, but are they just another passing food trend, or are they here to stay?

Solution for people who can't agree on dinner

Food halls are soaring in popularity for a simple reason: in today's fast-paced, social-media-fueled world, many people can't agree on where to go for lunch or dinner.

But at a food hall, one friend can have some Latin street food while another enjoys a gourmet burger and another friend can have some fresh New Orleans Cajun cooking.

Aaron Mulder is the general manager of Element Eatery, a Cincinnati food hall that opened a year ago. He says if you want it, they probably have it.

"Macaroni and cheese, grain bowls, wings and barbecue, pizza, tacos, you name it," he said.

And Mulder says you can eat while watching a live band on weekend nights.

"This is a complete dining and entertainment experience," Mulder said.

Tiffany Brown and her husband own a booth called San Jeanetta's, where they cook up southern-style mac and cheese every day.

"Here, we try to sell elevated comfort food," she said. "Our goal was to give chef-quality food at a fast pace."

And L.R. Hunley, owner of Tela, a gourmet burger stall, said, "Everything here is made from scratch, gastropub style."

A meal costs less than $15 at most stalls, a nice break from rising restaurant prices.

And there's beer, plenty of beer. At the center of it all is the Robert James Tap Room and distillery with 48 draft beers, making the place come alive on weekends.

"We're very busy on Fridays and Saturdays," said taproom manager Rick Welker.

European concept comes to America

David Corsun is director of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management in Denver. He says the food hall concept, something Europeans have enjoyed for decades, if not centuries, gives consumers choice and speed.

"It's kind of a cool intermediate step between a food truck and a brick-and-mortar restaurant," he said. "It's the mall food court on steroids really, but with super high quality."

A recent report from Cushman and Wakefield shows there were about 220 food halls in 2019, and that since then, 120 more have opened. And it found that another 127 are under development.

Corsun says a food hall may not be right for every dining experience, of course.

"If it's a special occasion and you're taking the night off from doing your own cooking, you may want that full-service experience of a sit-down restaurant."

Ulysses Lutz, while enjoying lunch with his family, said a food hall is something everyone needs to try.

"What's not to like," he said.

So if one opens near you, give it a try, and that way you don't waste your money.

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