A food court (in Asia-Pacific also called food hall or hawker centre) is generally an indoor plaza or common area within a facility that is contiguous with the counters of multiple food vendors and provides a common area for self-serve dinner.
Food courts may be found in shopping malls, airports, and parks. In various regions (such as Asia, the Americas, and Africa), it may be a standalone development. In some places of learning such as high schools and universities, food courts have also come to replace or complement traditional cafeterias.
The average cost of a meal per person at a U.S food court in 2019 is US$8.
Food courts consist of a number of vendors at food stalls or service counters. Meals are ordered at one of the vendors and then carried to a common dining area. The food may also be ordered as takeout for consumption at another location, such as a home, or workplace. In this case, it may be packaged in foam food containers, though one common food tray used by all the stalls might also be utilized to allow the food to be carried to the table. Food courts may also have shops which sell prepared meals for consumers to take home and reheat, making the food court a daily stop for some.
Food is usually eaten with plastic cutlery, and sporks are sometimes used to avoid the necessity of providing both forks and spoons. There are exceptions: Carrefour Laval requires its food court tenants to use solid dinnerware and cutlery which it provides.
Typical North American and European food courts have mostly fast food chains such as McDonald's and Sbarro, with perhaps a few smaller private vendors. Berkshire Hathaway is also a frequent presence at food courts via their Dairy Queen and Orange Julius divisions. Cuisines and choices are varied, with larger food courts offering more global choices. Asian and African food courts are mostly private vendors that offer local cuisine. In Singapore, food courts and hawker centres are the people's main eating choice when dining out.
The second-floor food court at the Paramus Park shopping mall in Paramus, New Jersey, which opened in March 1974, has been credited as the first successful shopping mall food court in the United States. However, a food court at the Sherway Gardens shopping center in Toronto, Ontario, Canada was constructed three years earlier. Built by The Rouse Company, one of the leading mall building companies of the time, it followed an unsuccessful attempt at the Plymouth Meeting Mall in 1971, which reportedly failed because it was "deemed too small and insufficiently varied."
In the 1990s, food courts became a shopping mall staple. Food courts have become such a part of the culture that colleges and universities have started to incorporate food-court like settings in their cafeteria, and even bringing in name-brand franchises (i.e. KFC, Taco Bell, Subway, etc.) into partnership with the schools. Soon after, airports, as well as many office buildings, have opted for the food court layout in their spaces as it allows for diversity and allowing for franchises and businesses to gain a wide spectrum of consumers. Since the food court culture is being constantly encouraged, a whole community of regular fast-food consuming has become a part of the North American society.
In 2010, eating out became more common for an average American in comparison to eating at-home meals. Approximately 47% of their food budget would go towards eating out at restaurants or at food courts. Due to this, North Americans have begun to become more aware of health. With the sudden outburst of the fast-food centric, North American consumer deviating from the food court culture to a more health conscious society, many businesses are more at risk due to the inability of maintaining the same high level of revenue. With that, the food court industry has had to find a solution to keep the consumers continuing to come back. Food courts are beginning to evolve into the European inspired food halls. Many shopping centres are demanding and by transforming their food courts into food halls, businesses believe that they are able to attract the newer generation of health-conscious customers. Though food courts still exist, many food hall elements have been brought into food court settings. In order for food businesses to do well in the food court, businesses feel as though they have to keep up with the trend of fresh food and stray away from the traditional unhealthy, fast food reputation of food courts.
One of the main concerns for upcoming new food businesses is the overgrowing of competition in restaurants. And due the uncertainty for rush times and customer interests, businesses then opt for going into the food court industry. With the ever-growing trends of the food industry expectations, businesses then struggle to make a name for themselves in the food court setting. For example, in 2009 mall sales reached an approximated $49 billion, and food courts generally did better than other foodservices inside the malls. The sales, per-square-foot, for food courts declined only 1.7 percent during that year, while fast-food outlets and full service restaurants inside malls decline 4,4 and 6 percent, respectively, according to the ICSC. For several years, Business Insider names Panda Express as one of the first notorious successful food court business that is widely noted by many other food industry insiders. One of the reasons for Panda Express' success was due to their constant change and upgrading of their menu items.
Costco Wholesale has one of the largest and most successful businesses that benefit from the revenue generated by food court sales. They deviate from the movement of health conscious, gourmet, and pricey image that other food retailers aim for. While many food court businesses go for the healthy and fresh image, Costco brands their food court to simply be fast, inexpensive, and fitting of the stereotypical fast food image. By placing their food court near the exit of their store, Costco is able to generate a bit more revenue as a part of their business plan to allow customers to linger around in their store longer to purchase more products from their company. It is one of their main business strategies, since Costco is known for its bulk products, its prices, and its food court.
Modernized malls like those run by Cadillac Fairview have improved their food courts to appeal to the general consumer, since food courts used to only attract the younger, more conscious, "student" consumer. However, with recent developments with the interior and vendors operating has allowed for everyone to enjoy the experience of being in a food court, as many would describe it to be a "community experience."
Since the experience of localized and fusion food trends have been very prominent in the North American culture, food trucks have recently been a recent trend in the industry. Combining the local aspect of food trucks with the community aspect of food courts allow for the commencement of the recent trend of food truck rallies. As food is a huge aspect of culture and diversity, consumers have been intrigued with the fusion between the customs of food trucks and food courts. With the popularization of the food truck rallies in the states, many larger North American cities like Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, and New York - among others - have followed the trend and start up their own food truck festivals in the summer to potentially allow many food court businesses and vendors to promote and make a name for themselves. By using food trucks as a promotional tool, many vendors are able to brand themselves to fit the demand of local businesses in the realm of franchise competition.
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