Time to reinvent the food court?

A recent RetailWire panel discussion about food courts brought a strong response. Here’s my take:

Without painting every regional mall with a broad brush, it’s clear that many food courts have not evolved nearly as fast as customers’ tastes. You can picture the “typical” food court group of tenants with your eyes closed: The steam-table Chinese food, the tenants selling “teriyaki” or “bourbon” chicken that are indistinguishable from each other, perhaps a pizza place, a Cinnabon and somebody selling cheese steak subs. Occasionally you might find a national fast-food franchise, such as McDonalds, Taco Bell or Arbys. (Does it sound like I have spent too much time in food courts?)

Meanwhile, many of the trends driving the restaurant or fast-casual business are being ignored. Where is the “locavore” offering? What about a healthier sandwich and salad outlet? Isn’t there a growing market for Thai or Indian food?

Most mall operators have broadened their food offerings outside of the food court, from Five Guys to Panera to Starbucks and so forth. Why leave the food court as a culinary and nutritional dead zone?

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