The rise of food halls in the GCC
20 Feb 2023
Encompassing a premium dining experience in a market setting, the food hall concept showcases a range of independent specialty outlets, all under one roof. Food Forward Consulting examines food halls, the fancier version of food courts but with an authentic twist.
The reasons why food halls are popular in the GCC
The GCC mall culture contributed to making food halls the go-to destinations for all-around leisure and entertainment and has played a major role in its success.
Furthermore, tourists helped popularize food halls. With a limited amount of time, travelers usually want to get the most out of their trip, in terms of attractions and local experiences, including food.
Thanks to food halls, they are able to gain the ultimate experiential value from a single visit by sampling the best cuisine that the city has to offer, mingling with locals, and perusing aisles of locally produced goods.
Moreover, Food halls have tapped into their social media appeal with an emphasis on eye-catching designs and plating, free WIFI, and open-kitchen concepts.
Food halls a platform for GCC entrepreneurs
In a highly competitive industry, food halls in the GCC have proved themselves to be ideal for restaurateurs and chefs to test-drive different business models and culinary experiences.
Conceived to organically draw a lot more foot traffic into their premises, food halls have not only removed some of the entry obstacles into the food business but also allowed restaurateurs to serve more customers, at a fraction of the usual startup costs.
Besides, the concept's appeal comes from the fact that it gives restaurants safety in numbers, allowing them to share expenses and profit from a large audience.
Experiential food halls
Food halls provide customers with a variety of international cuisines cooked with fresh ingredients in a market-like setting. QSR fans benefit from the simple and quick ordering processes, whilst aficionados can personally speak with up-and-coming chefs. Since there are no middlemen between them and the cook, health-conscious clients can also learn more about the dishes’ origin.
More than merely selling food to locals and tourists, food halls in the GCC are now regarded as a curated experience where customers can savor not only excellent food but also get a true sense of the local culture.
Upscale chef-driven food halls
Forget the 1990s shopping mall food courts; today's food halls provide chef-driven cuisine and a seamless customer experience.
GCC consumers are seeking an experiential culinary experience rather than commoditized ones. That is why most food halls have implemented live cooking stations as it also entices people to understand popular cuisine.
Expo 2020 Dubai, for example, opted for the food hall model to allow visitors to experience the region’s culinary heritage and unique takes on international cuisines. The “Rising Flavours” food hall featured a rich gastronomical variety of dishes from UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. It also had a rotating line-up of culinary pods, featuring a cast of renowned chefs such as UAE-based Spanish pastry chef Carmen Rueda; KSA’s first female executive chef Douha Al Otaishan; the world's first Arab pit master and founder of The Mattar Farm Hattem Mattar; Turkish chef Zulfikar Cambaz; and Bahraini restaurateur Roaya Saleh.
Hybrid digital food hall
While most food halls in the GCC include restaurant-style table runners and premium dinnerware, some of them, have gone a step further by offering cards that can be swiped at various stations, with customers paying the total amount due at a central cashier station.
Cutting-edge technology is being leveraged in the form of self-ordering kiosks where customers order food from one or several stands, pay altogether, and then pick up the various items from each place.
Some food halls even evolved beyond the realm of the physical space into the virtual, powered by online ordering, with the ease of delivery as the ultimate experience.
At Dubai's City Centre Me'aisem, the UAE-based retail giant Majid Al Futtaim unveiled its first hybrid digital food hall model in 2022 with other locations in the pipeline. Blurring the line between digital and physical dining experiences, Halla Food enables customers to place a single online order from a number of virtual restaurants. The hybrid concept offers customers a contactless digital experience through technology and automation. Customers can place their orders online, through delivery apps, or at the restaurant by scanning a QR code, or by using the self-service kiosks.
Food halls have taken over a portion of the fast-casual market and are providing a new, growing business model for the industry. While these concepts are not direct competitors of emerging fast-casual concepts, they are however disrupting the industry by meeting customers’ high expectations for convenience and quality. Food halls in the GCC are predicted to expand further to include a greater variety, creative menus, cutting-edge technology, and entertainment.