One such trend which has become a veritable crowd magnet is the food court. The significance of dining out as an important form of entertainment is immense, and mall developers in India are taking all possible measures to embrace innovative ways of tempting the consumer to food courts. This makes the food court a win-win experience for all – the mall, the food court operator, restaurant owners and most of all, customers.
In the last few years, they have emerged as one of the major and consistent sources of revenue for malls. On an average, food courts contribute almost 8-10 percent of the total mall revenue and in the case of malls with great offerings in their food courts, this number can even go as high as 15 percent. But with Covid-19 outspread, the crowd puller USP of food courts is now a matter of concern.
The future of the food court is linked to the pandemic at the moment. However, Aman Arora, Co-Founder, Director & CMO of Keventers feels that there is no reason to believe that it wouldn’t bounce back. “We have gone through various cycles of lockdowns and each time we have opened the food court to the public, we have seen our outlets bounce back,” he commented.
Archit Singhal, director at Chai Lelo said that the pandemic has caused a lot of change in consumer eating habits and the way they choose their outing. All malls which are following safety checks are considered safer than standalone markets where very few checks are there to monitor the crowd. “Food courts are emerging as a growing opportunity for big brands to capture limited real estate and thus drive footfall to these places,” Singhal commented. Chai Lelo has three locations in food courts and all of them are showing better responses compared to standalone outlets.
Getting a digital makeover
Food courts in the malls are also getting a digital makeover as pandemic has forced operators to adopt the zero-touch policy. DLF, which operates half a dozen malls in NCR, has also updated its ‘Lukout’ app for providing real-time foot traffic, real-time notifications on safety and cleanliness, booking of time slots and golden hours to visit malls. For mall developers, technology platforms bring transparency in revenue, real-time visibility on the performance of the food court and a mechanism to significantly increase the reach of food courts.
It was only last year when many food outlet owners landed into an argument with the mall developers and owners in order to relax the rentals or opt for a sign-out. This disruption was linked to the lockdown when there was absolutely no footfall.
However, the charm of a food court is getting back on the business as many new launches are taking place recently with restaurants opting for their new openings at several food courts in malls, airports, etc.
The recent addition to the food court eco system is Pop n Hop launched by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) at the Ajmeri Gate side of the New Delhi Railway Station, in collaboration with the PKS Hospitality Group of Chennai.
“Since food courts are generally the busiest hubs, they were affected in the initial phase of the pandemic along with the entire F&B industry taking a hit. However, things have changed for the better and following the QSR format, food courts have now gained immense confidence of customers and have bounced back even stronger. The level of hygiene and safety precautions being followed by the operators is evident thus providing the required reassurance to the patrons and enabling them to relish quality food without any paranoia,” Mihraz Ebrahim Managing Director, PKS Hospitality commented.
The launch of a multi-cuisine food court has brought ten national and international brands such as KFC, Domino’s, Haldiram’s, Wow Momo, Doner and Burger, Mughal Lane, Roll Station, and others under one roof.
“It’s tough but as slowly and gradually we are entering into the era of contactless food ordering, self-ordering kiosks can be a game-changer for many food courts helping them building trust and faith among people keeping safety precautions as the utmost priority,” Mohit Ahuja Owner Shakespeare Cafe Punjabi Bagh mentioned.
At the malls’ food and beverage outlets, operators have now implemented several new sanitization and social-distancing guidelines within the staff as well as guests. Along with the use of masks and face shields for all employees, plates come in a sanitized paper bag along with sanitized cutlery and napkins. With an attempt to provide a safe dining experience through contactless menus, routine hygiene audits and cashless payments, the operators are gaining back the customers’ confidence.