The Evolving Relationship Between Retail and Dining

23 November, 2018

The face of retail as we know it is changing. Thanks to a combination of factors, including the rise and rise of online shopping and the current Brexit-influenced economic uncertainty, many traditional retail outlets, from the high street to shopping malls, are struggling to survive and, as has been well documented in the press, some have even closed their doors completely. Restaurants have also been suffering in much the same way, with many now fighting for customers with online and home delivery giants such as Amazon, Uber Eats and Deliveroo.

At the same time as we are seeing this seachange in the retail sector we’re also seeing a shift in the way people eat, largely driven by millennials and the advent of social media. Modern diners are now favouring a fast-casual approach to eating, alongside wanting more choice and seeking out communal experiences.

In response leaseholders and landowners are looking for new ways to bring people back to the bricks and mortar retail shops and similarly owners and operators are having to rethink how they position themselves and adapt their offerings to attract customers. They have accepted that they cannot compete with online shoppers, but have realised they can compete on the overall experience by creating destinations for individuals and families to go to not only shop, but also to eat and be entertained. Although retail and food have always gone in hand – the need to feed hungry shoppers is nothing new – this is now being elevated and re-imagined. As a result we are seeing the development of new and innovative food and beverage offerings on the high street and beyond – offerings that are often not solely about the food but also about the experience as a whole.

From department stores and retail shops installing high-profile restaurants and chefs (see Brasserie of Light at Selfridges and the Arket cafes) to vacant spaces being made available for food pop-ups there’s many ways in which the high street is upping its game, but maybe the most interesting is the rise of a new-wave of food halls and courts and permanent street food markets. With a carefully curated set of operators – generally not your readily identifiable high street brands – these food halls fulfil the remit of providing exciting, communal eating experiences and most importantly for the notoriously fickle millenials, give plenty of choice.

In London, Market Halls are leading the way when it comes to re-imagining what a food hall or court can be with its newly opened venue in Victoria, which is less like a makeshift collection of street food traders and more a space populated by small, fully equipped restaurants. With its impressive list of traders, which includes new branches for street food stalwarts such as Monty’s Deli and Breddos Tacos, alongside new outposts for established restaurants such as Roti King, Koya, Baozi Inn and The Marksman Public House, it is a definite destination in its own right. Backed up with ample seating and plenty of staff keeping everything clean and tidy, not to mention the well-designed open and airy space, this sets a new standard for the traditional food court. Market Halls will be opening a third food court in 2019 (the first is in Fulham) in the old BHS building on London’s Oxford Street – right in the middle of the capital’s busiest shopping precinct, and this is likely to be just as successful as its other branches.

Other examples of elevated food halls and street food hubs in London include Boxpark in Shoreditch and Croydon (and soon to open in Wembley) and Mercado Metropolitano. Even street food market collective Kerb (which already operates 7 street food markets in London) is opening an indoor market in Seven Dials in a former retail space – it will feature 26 traders and is due to open in mid-2019.


Food outlets are also an integral component to many new retail and office developments. Two such recently opened examples are Bloomberg Arcade in the City of London and Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross – both of which have placed a strong emphasis on having a carefully considered and interesting food and beverage option to draw customers in.

The Hart brothers’ group is one of the operators who have opened in the aforementioned Coal Drops Yard (CDY) – with four new restaurants no less! Co-founder James Hart has said that this mixed usage development appealed as it was pitched as a boutique shopping destination and it meant the group could expand without losing its uniqueness and the personal touches that had made it successful in the first place. With regards to the current poor state of the high street, Hart sees it is a failure of creativity that has led to the problems on the high street, and believes the developers behind CDY have set a benchmark in how to re-imagine consumer spaces. As he puts it ‘people are attracted to spaces that feel real, with more soul and more passion. I hope the high street and wider restaurant community will move in that direction.’

These days it seems that no new retail, office or even housing development is complete without an interesting and comprehensive food offering and it’s a trend we’re seeing not only in London, but also being replicated in other UK cities and well as cities world-wide. With the key to bringing life back to the bricks and mortar retail sector seeming to be all about getting the right mix of retailers, leisure options and restaurants, with which to attract the required footfall and deliver an exciting experience for shoppers that can be sustained alongside rise of the digital age – it’s clear that these elevated and re-imagined food and beverage options are going to continue be an important part of this vision.


Restaurants at Coal Drops Yard:

Casa Pastor
Plaza Pastor
The Drop
Coal Office
Bodega Rita’s

Restaurants at Bloomberg Arcade:

Ahi Poke
Bleecker Burger