The Food Hall Experience

Mental Floss’ Leigh Raper has very strong feelings about the Sherman Oaks Galleria (mall) food court, featured in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She says it represented ”the teen ideal of community, freedom, and independence.”

It is good to remember this was from a time when theaters were in the mall, not in our hands, and no one had a mobile phone.

The earliest food courts. 

Our tireless toiler friends over at Wikipedia tell us a food court is generally an indoor common area with multiple food vendors, a common seating area, and self-service.

World Food History says early food courts used a cafeteria-based, clean up after yourself model. They were poorly decorated, sterile, harshly lit and extremely noisy, like their young fast food cousins.

James W. Rouse coined the term “shopping mall” in the 1960s. His philosophy for his malls was based on the idea of community. He wanted to create places where people could linger over what he saw as community picnics in his food courts.

Crank it up!

With coffee shops, cafes, and even convenience stores all chasing Americans’ growing desire to eat and drink in public, Amazon has built an amazing store with not one, but four different restaurants, which they are describing as a “food hall experience.”

In addition to being a grocery store (and doesn’t that suddenly sound dated?), the new Whole Foods store (their 500th) has omelet stations, fruit and vegetable “butchers” who cut produce to order, 100 beers and 1,000 wines, 150 bulk scoop bins, a flower shop, and a detox juice bar.

The crown jewel is their rooftop food court, complete with perhaps the first rooftop food truck.

Food is only part of the rooftop experience. There’s stadium seating for televised big-screen sporting events and movies; open-mike nights for comedians and musicians; trivia nights; artist gallery nights; and Zumba and sunrise yoga classes.

Did I mention “meet-the-maker” events with the owners and artisans behind the products sold in-store, and one-on-one cooking experiences with local chefs and farmers?

All this entertainment makes the new Whole Foods seem more like sunset at Key West’s Mallory Square than your mom’s grocery store.

We even saw an article that speculated if this goes over as big as they think, Amazon will consider buying and converting empty Sears stores.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for this site about Amazon buying Whole Foods. In it, I said others had speculated that the reasons behind this decision were distribution, logistics, customer data, and more touchpoints. My comment then was “Any way you look it at it, it will be interesting to watch what happens.” 

Here’s how they did it. 

They’ve got a lot of money and a willingness to spend it. Even better, they are not grocery experts – they are people experts, trend readers, and brilliant strategists.

Fans saw Whole Foods as purveyors of fresh, top-quality produce, deli items, and prepared foods. Amazon took that and jazzed up the score, transforming a mere grocery store into a “food hall experience.”

Some very smart people put together a bunch of loose puzzle pieces and came up with a solution that will likely trigger a copycat chase. Again, it will be interesting to watch what happens.

What sorts of evolutionary breakthroughs is your company exploring these days? Which categories is your business reinventing? 

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