Food is, to put is simply, something that matters. For those of us involved in designing shopping centres, there are very interesting questions to be asked about the role, power and requirements of in-mall dining. I’ve worked on projects across the UK, Europe, Latin America, Asia and now Africa and there are subtle yet important differences worth recognising as our world becomes increasingly connected.
In Asia, food and dining are frequently a much more significant part of the space and mix. Food is a destination, and, in China for example, ratios are frequently double European levels and even as high as 40% of total space in one project we are designing. Food is fundamental to making malls family destinations and that is what developers want.
Asia – and China in particular – is very different in terms of the quality of dining format and experience. And alongside the focus on quality, there is also a tremendous variety of offer. Traditionally in the UK, the food and drink offer has been quite functional albeit with exceptions like the champagne bar at Westfield. In Asia and Latin America, we are seeing the very highest level of dining within retail centres. The offer and range is terrific. That’s a key difference and I would expect to see some of that thinking coming across more to the UK and Europe.
In Latin America and Brazil specifically, security is a driving factor behind in-mall dining with many customers preferring the safe environment that comes with dining within a shopping centre. That’s one of the major influences and it’s interesting to appreciate these differences between countries and continents.
Taking a closer look at what’s happening in the Asian sub-continent, refurbishment and repositioning is the mainstay of the market in India – there is currently little new build taking place. We are working on three schemes where the brief is to add more food and introduce more quality. Owners are using food as a key differentiator in a competitive market and so designing great dining spaces and having a quality food offer is making the difference between centres that are busy and succeeding and those that are struggling. Again, there is a strong emphasis on families and what appeals to them. An attractive food offer and a great environment in which people can enjoy it is what our clients want.
And what about that central question and arguably the most important of all – what can food do for footfall and, ultimately, for profitability within shopping centres? Well, the food offers in city centre malls in Asia are making a massive contribution. The people that are getting it right are seeing a boom from office workers coming in to eat during the day and then a vibrant night time trade created by the quality of the offer and the overall food, leisure and entertainment mix. Some of these schemes are really doing it properly – the offer is tremendous and the impact it has on the overall vibrancy of the centre is obvious.
So next time you sit down to a meal in a UK or international shopping centre, take a look around. It’s revealing to see today’s trends in in-mall design and how customers react to different choices of food offer and environment. Great design paired with great food is always an attractive combination in my opinion.
Stuart Rough is Group Chairman at Broadway Malyan
These comments were first used by Estates Gazette in its Retail & Leisure supplement (5 September 2015)