When did shopping centre become a food destination for a meal out?

(15 /01 /2015)

Let me take you back a few years, ok, more than a few years but you get my drift…shopping centres were open five and a half days a week with late-night trading on Thursday and shops open for only a few hours on Saturday morning.  Saturday mornings in particular were busy!  This was prime grocery-shopping time and the only time that school-aged kids could be dragged around for haircuts or to buy new shoes.  In these days, shopping centres featured a carvery, a coffee shop or two and perhaps an ice-creamery.  Food courts didn’t exist – no McDonalds or KFC (oh the horror!) and the food establishments that did feature, were dotted throughout the centre.  The larger department stores like Myer or Coles had their own cafeterias where you could select from the self-serve “Ikea-style production line” or have a meal made and brought out to you.  Eating out while shopping was a rare occasion for most of us and I well remember exchanging dining experiences with friends at school.

My how things have changed!  These days, every shopping centre you visit has at least one food court offering a myriad of food options – big name fast food outlets, Asian, Mexican, sushi.  New centres like the massive Westfield shopping developments or revamped Indooroopilly Shopping Centre in Brisbane, now boast food halls where customers can indulge their desires for organic fresh fruit and vegetables, gourmet meats, freshly made juices and artisan café meals made from local produce.  These food halls are designed to offer an upscale, memorable shopping experience – who’d have thought?  A shopping centre targeting the rich?  And that’s exactly what shopping centres are now doing – regardless of whether you have a beer or champagne budget, customers are bound to find a food style that meets their needs.

But it gets better – classy restaurants and groovy pubs are now co-locating within and around the perimeter of shopping centres.  So instead of heading to the main restaurant strips, customers are now patronising venues at their local shopping centre for their girls’ lunch or date night dinner.  Shopping centres are now constantly busy and parking always seems impossible to find!

So why the change?  What made shopping centre development managers move away from offering a small number of eateries to creating their own foodie hubs?  It’s all about the numbers! Michael Whiteman from Baum+Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants in New York says that shops with food can double the length of time that customers spend shopping – the longer they linger, the more they spend and the greater the profit potential for every tenant.  Food courts, halls and outside restaurants guarantee centres stay busy, creating buzz and enticing new customers to “pop in” and spend some money.

And this change in approach to offering food is working!  Shopping centres throughout the world are bringing in restaurant consultants to design the best mix of food venues to attract their desired target markets.  Even the not-so-humble hardware store has followed suite with both Bunnings and Masters hosting cafes overlooking a children’s playground or garden centre.  I have to admit, I’m more likely to wander the aisles longer and buy products that I don’t really need while sipping a well-made, steaming latte.

The days of self-serve coffee and cake at the Myer Cafeteria might be long-gone, but an artisan lunch followed by a few hours of chic shopping and a gourmet dinner at my local shopping centre sounds like a pretty good alternative…want to join me?

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