As restaurant real estate across the nation becomes harder to come by and malls throughout America suffer from less interest, mall owners and restaurateurs may have found a happy solution: placing restaurants in mall spaces to drive new traffic.
Until recently, commercial shopping malls only offered select dining options, usually limited to major fast food chains and a few larger sit-down dining chains, such as Cheesecake Factory or Olive Garden. But now smaller chains and independent restaurants are moving into the mall scene. Mall restaurant spaces offer the chance to reach a diverse array of diners and bigger spaces to accommodate them. Rather than a small intimated 50-seat eatery in a commercial shopping district, many mall restaurants can accommodate hundreds. This gives restaurateurs room to experiment with space and menu planning. Better yet, there is always foot traffic and often other entertainment venues, offering the opportunity to entice passerbys.
Malls, for their part, are often looking to revitalize what was once a staple and standard for American retail. Now, as more people shop online, big box stores are often overlooked. By offering the addition of unique dining experiences, mall owners are hoping to attract new business to stores too, as more and more people seek experiences and destinations, rather than just cookie cutter shopping and dining options.
“It’s happening across the country and in all different types of markets,” International Council of Shopping Centers spokesman Jesse Tron confirms to Food News Feed. “It’s not necessarily a move away from national names, as much as a more keen interest in newer concepts.”
Part of the interest in malls with dining options stems from the recession. Although people shopped less, they continued to dine out. Some malls are catching on and making dining the primary reason for attracting customers, who may or may not do some shopping while they are there. For restaurant groups, the spaciousness of malls offers the chance to create full experiences, whether the restaurants are celebrity chef driven, a chance for an expanding chain to attract new interest, and even farm to table options and trying out new experiences. The additional space allows for plentiful outdoor seating and the opportunity to host events that showcases both mall offerings, special events and private parties.
And although malls were once home only to well-known national chains looking to grow even further, the opportunity remains the same for smaller chains and restaurant groups to expand their brand further and reach more consumers. This is especially important as the culture becomes more interested in food, whether it’s regional branding or bringing in cultural awareness from further afield.
And for new restaurant owners, having a built in consumer base helps to mitigate some of the traditional risk of opening a neighborhood joint, which relies on foot traffic that may or may not exist.
The built-in lifestyle elements of an existing mall location has become a viable solution for both restaurant and mall owners and may be something to look at. After all, many chains are predominately recognizable for their locations in retail, including Sbarro Pizza and The Cheesecake Factory. It’s anyone’s guess who could be the next major player.