Humans are inherently social beings. They crave social engagement as a part of an innate desire and are always searching for an opportunity to catch up, relax and unwind after a stressful day. To fulfill this particular desire, they tend to gravitate towards social activities like shopping, eating out, and conversing in open spaces. In the olden days, agoras and bazaars were all the rage, but in today’s urbanized world shopping malls, food courts, restaurants, and movie theatres emulate that desire for social engagement. Food is a necessity and a luxury, making it a great point of social engagement. That is why one interesting concept, in particular, to study here is of a food court (now evolved into a ‘food hall’). In 2019 and 2020, food courts became artisanal, experimental, and trendier, transforming into food halls. Then the pandemic hit us in 2020 expediting this transition and giving birth to the concept of ‘virtual food courts/halls’, where different vendors present in physical food courts came online on a singular platform, where food was being prepared in a highly optimized and well-planned ghost/cloud kitchen with the sole purpose of delivery and take-outs. In this way, food and beverage vendors that were a part of food courts had to pivot and digitize their operations. In simple words, a food court transitioned into a food hall and the food hall transitioned into a ‘virtual food court/hall’.

Kitchen Planning

Image Credits:  The Telegraph

How does the concept of a ‘virtual food court/hall’ function? How has it become more relevant in today’s post-pandemic world?

Imagine you’re a family of 4, and each member wants to order a different dish for dinner at the comfort of their home. One member wants a Pan Asian dish, one member wants a Malabari dish, one wants a Burger and one wants a Mughlai dish. In normal circumstances, if the family was out they could have managed to successfully order their preferred dishes in a food court or a food hall, as that is one food and beverage set-up where different options are offered by different vendors. But, how does one emulate this concept to satisfy the multi-cuisine demands of the family and deliver their order at their home? The answer is a ‘Virtual food court/hall’. Virtual food halls consist of multiple food and beverage vendors that offer delivery and take-out only. In such a scenario, these vendors are provided with turnkey commercial kitchen spaces with all the necessary infrastructure, optimized for takeout and delivery.

Virtual food courts were gathering momentum, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, because of people’s changing preference of dining in the comfort of their homes and relying on take-outs. The pandemic acted as a catalyst to fasten the process of the food and beverage industry to make the concept of a virtual food court more mainstream. Due to public awareness and acceptability of this new concept, in the post-pandemic world, ‘virtual food courts/halls’ are here to stay.

Simultaneously, as lockdown restrictions relax, giving way for us all to step out of their homes and resume all our social engagement activities, it is safe to say that physical food courts/halls will once again become popular. This time with a certain amount of changes in physical design to accommodate safety and health measures. Food courts/halls will continue to attract a large number of crowds because they provide the ability for everyone to grab a quick bite at an affordable price. Here’s how physical food courts/halls will look in the post-COVID 19 eras:

1) Heavy dependency on technology

  • POS Systems
  • IoT tech End-to-end contactless solutions
  • Digital menus and payments using QR codes, Google Lens and whatsapp
  • Applications to provide customers with real-time information
  • Cloud-based software in kitchen planning to streamline operations

2) Health & Safety Measures

  • Temperature check for staff and guests
  • Sanitization of tables, chairs, partitions at a regular interval
  • Plastic or Glass partition on common food area tables
  • Following strict social distancing protocols

3) Hybrid Dining

  • It will become common to expect physical spaces to run on a 50% capacity as the other 50% may still insist on take-outs and delivery.
  • Indoor and Outdoor dining options to people visiting the physical spaces

Food courts/halls have the luxury to be flexible, accommodating customers in the physical and virtual space, thanks to systematic kitchen planning strategies. Commercial kitchens that operate in food courts/halls are compact and highly optimized, demanding an efficient commercial kitchen plan. Unlike traditional restaurants and specialty food set-ups, food court/hall vendors provide their customers with a limited range of options on their menu. Yes, there is a diversity when it comes to choosing cuisines, but options offered by each vendor are limited. While planning the layouts for kitchens all operations must be tailored to prepare the selective dishes on the limited menu. Every aspect of the kitchen area while planning, right from the ventilation systems, to refrigeration, to cooking ranges, everything is customized as per the requirements of this set-up.

COVID Impact on restaurants

Image Credits: Salad Plate

If you’re a food court vendor that needs assistance with kitchen planning, it’s best to get in touch with the experts. HPG Consulting has successfully guided its clients when it comes to commercial kitchen planning and design for their food and beverage set-ups. This consulting group believes in adapting to change and incorporating strategies that fulfill their client’s short-term and long-term goals. In a post-COVID-19 world, where food and beverage businesses are expected to adapt and evolve to an ever-shifting landscape which can be daunting for a business, HPG’s consultants approach this problem by offering their clients a methodical and pragmatic solution. The goal is to equip the client with the right strategies for their business.

To learn more about kitchen planning projects in the post-covid era, reach out to a consultant at HPG today.