The advent of food trucks likely surprised many when it defied the fad label and established itself as a legitimate niche in the food and beverage industry. For guests, it created a completely unique experience and access to quality foods at reasonable prices. For food truck operators it offered less financial burden and overhead compared to a traditional brick and mortar. In turn it afforded operators an opportunity to take greater risks with their cuisine. Guests have learned they can find quality foods from stimulating concepts beyond the confines of four brick walls.
For the most part food trucks focus their menus toward pedestrian friendly “eat with your hands” food. While the cuisine can be original and interesting, it is still limited. Successful trucks can go on to grow into restaurants but ultimately they are few and far between. The movement however has not just been limited to food trucks and guests are not the only ones to have taken note of their popularity.
Food halls or premium food courts are riding the coat tails of the movement food trucks have started and are setting up to become the next big thing. You may have already seen one, and if you haven’t you probably will. Locations like Gotham West Market in New York and Union Market in Washington D.C. are popping up in major cities across the nation. It blends the comfort of a restaurant with the excitement and variety of food trucks. A happy median between the old school and new. Each location is different from the next but the essence of the concept remains the same: several food stalls with communal seating as diverse as the food stalls themselves. Often the food stalls have little to no back of house and a communal kitchen is used by all operators for receiving, storing (each have secured storage), food preparation, and ware wash. Leases can be arranged for short and long terms. The significance of this is that it creates a wheel house for chefs and emerging concepts. It ensures that the location will always be fresh, new, and vibrant.
The influence of food halls is reaching beyond the public domain. Colleges have been transforming their dining halls and food courts into “destinations”. They emulate food halls and even incorporate local food trucks in an effort to create the atmosphere that students are seeking.
In the corporate world, companies are recognizing the benefit food service can bring to enhance their culture. Food service has been progressively evolving from necessity towards amenity. Dining rooms are becoming multi-functional rooms encouraging socializing, impromptu meetings, and alternate work spaces. Requests for unique servery layouts that break from the traditional formats are becoming more the norm.
Major food service operators are recognizing the change in demand as well. Menus are beginning to offer what you might find in a food hall or from a food truck; specials that run gourmet fries with different seasonings and sauces or even a station devoted to meatballs from around the world. Servery stations are re-formatting their look to give character and personality to each spot as though they are business unto their own.
Food trucks and food halls have made a wonderful contribution towards a much needed renaissance in the food and beverage industry. They have expanded guests’ palates and elevated their expectations. They have supported the effort to break away from the traditional style of food service. In doing so, it has helped push everyone on to the same boat paddling away from the dated serveries and cafeterias that haunt our dreams with rigid plastic chairs, sterile steel surfaces, and the stale gray meatloaf.