With the boom of chain restaurants coming to an end, a new way of dining is emerging in full force. As leading high-street mainstays like Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s are shutting down all over the UK, the independent food hall is taking their place, giving a communal dining space for people to enjoy a variety of cuisines. The food hall has been a rising trend in the UK over the last couple of years now and many major cities are enjoying the benefits of having more independent businesses coming to the forefront of the culinary scene. Here in Sheffield we have already seen two food halls thrive as both Kommune and Cutlery Works are paving the way for how dining out should be done. With more and more people flocking to food halls and the demand for them becoming higher and higher the question is—why are food halls now so successful?
The point of a food hall is that there are many chefs and types of cuisine in one place, giving people a massive choice and opportunity to try new food. With the world getting smaller and smaller as technology and travel are readily accessible, the demand for world food has sky rocketed. More and more people want to try the food they see from other countries and as their minds are opened up to the splendour of less UK centric food, the higher the demand is for places like food halls which feature a whole multitude of cuisines.
But it isn’t just the food that makes them so successful it is also the atmosphere and sense of community that they bring about. With long dining tables and open spaces, food halls feel like a grown up school cafeteria, creating a communal space for a big mix of people to interact and enjoy food, a pastime that has been ingrained in our social behaviour and conventions for centuries. The food hall is much like a food festival or a street market, where food is the main unifying factor between people of all backgrounds—connecting away from the usual constraints of everyday interaction. The fact that food halls are successful in major cities right now makes this aspect come to light even more, as anonymity is lost by the sociable and friendly atmosphere and people can enjoy a relaxed dining experience while feeling a part of something.
This sense of community is also felt amongst those that make the food hall happen. Street chefs, kitchen chefs, vendors and restaurateurs all come together to bring their unique culinary experience creating a hot-bed of good food. The food hall also gives a new and fresh opportunity for chefs as they can be in charge of their own stall within a larger organisation. Where before many street food chefs and vendors had to traipse around street markets and festivals all year round, they now have the option of a fixed place, somewhere to enjoy the same atmosphere of those festivals and markets with the comfort of a permanent or semi-permanent stall. Those chefs that want to strike out on their own have a new way in which to do it to without the tribulations that owning your own restaurant might bring. It creates a food haven in which chefs can still collaborate but in the most individualistic way.
With all these great aspects, it’s no wonder that food halls are popping up across the country. But does this mean that chain restaurants will begin to suffer even more because of it? Chain restaurants market themselves as being able to offer good quality food at a low price compared to that of more fine dining restaurants. They also market themselves as a step up from fast food restaurants in that the food is of better quality and you get the luxury of an intimate table in a nice restaurant. However, food halls are now providing these things as well and are also giving the customer a lot more variety. You no longer have to dine out and look at the same menu over and over again from chain to chain. The food hall is representing the more independent food scene that people are starting to recognise and enjoy.
So, whether this means that the decimation of the high-street chain restaurant is in sight, we have no true idea, but one thing we do know is that food halls are growing in number and dining out will never be the same again!