At the beginning of the millennium, food halls occupied a very small niche of the United States restaurant industry. Numbering less than 50 in 2010, food halls counted some beloved institutions and tourist draws – think Pike Place Market in Seattle, Chelsea Market in New York City, or Eastern Market in Washington, DC – but were not a burgeoning retail segment.
In the last decade, however, food halls have exploded in popularity and forecasts call for continued fast-paced growth. There are now well over 300 food halls across the country. As of early 2023, 145 food halls are in development across the US, with developers betting big that people are eager for places to gather and socialize post-pandemic. Below we explore this culinary trend in more detail, including a review of business and legal considerations for owners, operators and vendors.
Not to be confused with mall food courts, food halls usually substitute national chains with a collection of local food vendors in an appealing setting, inviting customers to gather and enjoy high quality food at a relatively reasonable price. Attractions such as a bar, live music, artisanal shops and other activities are often present but food is the main draw.
There is no set blueprint for what makes a successful food hall. However, there are several considerations that potential developers and operators should keep in mind. Sites should have the potential for foot traffic at all times of the day, and the space should be attractive and allow for the efficient replacement of vendors. These elements have led developers to tend to seek out “industrial-inspired, mixed-use developments in urban areas.” Old warehouses and other similar buildings are thus a common target for redevelopment, but new construction buildings are not unheard of either. The number of vendors will depend