Hotels starting to join food hall trend

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The City Kitchen food hall at the Row NYC hotel.
The City Kitchen food hall at the Row NYC hotel. Photo Credit: TW photo by Johanna Jainchill

It's no surprise that the hottest restaurant trend of the last decade, the food hall, is making its way into hotel design.

According to real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield, the U.S. food hall market will triple in size by 2020, growing from 70 in 2015 to a projected 300 by the end of 2020.

Food halls (food courts comprising of local artisan restaurants) have been slower to pop up in hotels, mostly because they generally require a lot of space. New York's first one was the Todd English Food Hall in the Plaza Hotel. But as City Kitchen -- the food hall in Times Square's Row NYC -- shows, the concept is very well-suited to hotels, even in a 3,500 square-foot form.

City Kitchen offers seven outposts of some favorite New York City eateries including Luke's Lobster, Brooklyn's Dough donut shop and Whitman's burgers.  

What really stood out during my evening noshing at City Kitchen was how much sense it makes to offer a variety of food options and prices to hotel guests. Hotels, especially in cities, generally offer one or maybe two places to eat, which can be pricey or just don't have the diversity a group or family needs. I watched one family of four at City Kitchen each select a different eatery for their meal and thought that maybe they wanted to share and sample. Nope, they just each had a different hankering.

A Luke's Lobster lobster roll at the City Kitchen food hall.
A Luke's Lobster lobster roll at the City Kitchen food hall. Photo Credit: TW photo by Johanna Jainchill

As for my dining partner and I, who have both long lived in New York, we couldn't decide between some spots we know and love and others we'd never had a chance to try. We settled on the always fun lobster roll from Luke's with a blueberry lemonade, a fresh and delicious yellowtail roll from Azuki, and the spiced lamb shawarma from the outpost of the Lebanese Ilili Box, washed down with a 961 Lager, a Lebanese beer.

Whitman's is famous for its burgers and cheesesteak, but I was impressed with its healthier options, especially its shredded brussels sprouts salad with dried cranberries and feta cheese. And of course, dinner had to be followed with a lemon poppy and passionfruit donut from Dough.

Next time, I'll have to make room for the popular Kuro-Obi ramen and fish tacos at Gabriela's Taqueria, a favorite from Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Heidi Avedisian, founder of White Ink Construction (the firm that came up with the branding concepts for both Row NYC and City Kitchen), said that when it came to picking the food hall vendors, the idea was that they be symbiotic with the hotel's brand, the tagline for which is "More New York than New York." To do so, her team wanted the seven vendors to represent the breadth of the city.

"I looked to broader New York to find those concepts," she said. "Where's the best taco? What's hot right now? We kind of pulled from all over. ...The geographic tapestry of the vendors played really well into the brand."

Avedisian knew that mix needed to have appeal beyond the hotel guests.

"To really make it work and be legit you have to be legit with New Yorkers," she said. "The locals have to want it and like it. And that's what happened."

Today, 85% of traffic comes from outside hotel, a mix of tourists and locals.

As food halls proliferate, it's hard to imagine more hotels won't go for some version of them, especially as they look beyond what has been the traditional hotel F&B formula, with some properties even doing away with room service.

"It's reflective of what people want and it's less risky in a lot of ways," Avedisian said. "It just makes a lot of sense: it's flexible and people want variety."

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