Food Courts


Over time, I've reviewed and evaluated both good and bad food courts and food operations for the shopping center industry and independent and chain food operators. In addition, I have been an expert advisor and witness in legal actions regarding food courts. Lastly, I have written a book entitled Restaurant and Fast Food Site Selection which includes a chapter on malls and food courts. Here are a few of my current opinions on the subject.

1. Food courts need pedestrian traffic; they often cannot create sufficient action by themselves. Food courts should be placed where people will logically congregate or certainly pass.

2. Food courts are generative, but in an unusual way. They usually generate the majority of their traffic during normal dining periods, when the body's computer signals its time for chow. Thus, food courts should not be looked at as a generator for a wing of a shopping center or mall. While they will generate traffic at their peak periods, they usually will not generate much traffic during their non-peak periods. Remember, a considerable amount of food court sales come from "impulse" decision making.

Food Courts - the Food Operator's Perspective

Much has been said and written about food courts from the shopping center developer and individual food tenant point of view. However, little has been written about collective concerns and the pros and cons of food courts. As a consultant to shopping center developers, retailers, and restaurants, I am uniquely qualified to respond to this topic. Additionally, I set up the original Kentucky Fried Chicken development department in the latter 60s. Finally, I have recently written a book entitled, Restaurant and Fast Food Site Selection which will be published by John Wiley & Sons by the end of the year. The book reflects my over 33 years addressing food location opportunities and problems. From both the developer/owner and food operator's perspective, food courts have not been a panacea.

It is important to understand that food courts were established, not to help the fast food industry, but rather to address the shopping center industry's desire to add fast food facilities to shopping centers. Developers and owners did not want to provide the space to individual operators to which they were accustom. Common seating was the answer. Furthermore, the objective was to capture more rent, and hopefully, overage percentage rentals. In some cases, they succeeded, while in others, they failed.


There is an old axiom in the food business that says that strong sales cure all. However, there are times when that is not entirely true. In the last several years, declining customer mall traffic and frugal shoppers have put this axiom to the test. Surprisingly, few have been tested more than the franchisee of a major franchise food company. Nationally known franchise units, with instant recognition, appear to be excellent for food courts. What you may not know is that flat or declining sales affect them more than the other non-franchise units, even if they have high sales levels. Many of our franchise clients are frustrated with food courts, while our mall clients are upset with franchise operator's menu changes. What is the cause of this deteriorating relationship?
The landlord, at the onset, is usually delighted to have a national or well-known regional franchise food operator in his or her food court. The name recognition, image, potentially high sales, limited menu, operating consistency, product quality, cleanliness, value, good service, trained employees and generally well-rounded operations normally make the franchise operator a good tenant. It is important to note that the franchise operator is answerable to both food court management and the franchise company. The franchise operator must meet operating standards set and monitored by the franchisor.