CBRE, a leading international property consultant, reports that food court has been an essential part of the mall-going experience and one of the magnets to draw traffic to malls. It is common to see food courts packed with office workers during lunch breaks then replaced by students hanging out after school for dinner. As food courts generally offer quick and affordable meals, they have been the perfect destinations for those looking for budget-friendly alternatives to the restaurants in a shopping mall.
With the growth of food delivery services, consumer behaviour has shifted online, leading to fewer visits to brick-and-mortar stores. Ms. Jariya Thumtrongkitkul, Head of Advisory and Transaction Services – Retail, CBRE Thailand, said, “While general food court operators have managed to maintain footfall via improving the atmosphere and services, major ones are more keen on serving customers a new dining experience at food courts to differentiate themselves from others by leasing space in their food courts to a variety of Bangkok’s most renowned street food vendors to drive more customer traffic.”
Bangkok’s reputation as one of the world’s top street food cities is undeniable. Euromonitor International reported that the overall street food market in Thailand was worth THB 276 billion in 2017 and is expected to increase to THB 340 billion by 2021 or an average growth rate of 5.3% per year.
Despite the growth of the Thai street food market, these vendors often lack professional management and may face difficulties in approaching customers due to inferior locations and staggered hours of operation. To combine street food vendors in a food court model could thus lead to a win-win situation in which retail developers could bring in more footfall while street food vendors could strengthen their businesses in the long run, according to CBRE Research.
In 2014, Central Pattana (CPN) introduced “Eathai” at Central Embassy, a rather upscale food court, offering 56 Thai food booths ranging from famous restaurants to street food joints from all four regions across the country. In 2018, CPN then launched “foodwOrld” at CentralwOrld, offering more than 600 unique Thai menus for customers to experience Thai food from famous restaurants and street food stalls. The Mall Group also launched “Gourmet Eats” at the Mall Ngamwongwan with stores listed in the Michelin Guide in July 2019. In September 2019, MBK partnered up with Samyan Mitrtown to operate the Samyan Mitrtown food court with more than 17 renowned street food restaurants. I’m Chinatown, the newly opened on-site retail component of a mixed-use project developed by Grand Uniland, has also offered famous street food from vendors all over Bangkok, especially from the Chinatown area to attract both locals and tourist customers on the ground floor and second floor since January 2020.
In the post-COVID-19 era when more safety and hygiene standards will be needed, it would be interesting to see how food court operators will adapt. CBRE Research expects that redesigned seating arrangements, creating new ambience, setting up a private group corner and installing plastic screens might not be enough in the long run. Food courts will have to also adapt to compete with the ever-changing retail landscape and consumers’ behaviour.