One attraction still drawing shoppers to malls: Food

You might’ve noticed more and more mall food courts are changing, ditching fast food chains for local eateries. And that’s not an accident.

Mall owners say they’ve been steadily increasing the percentage of retail square footage at any given property dedicated to food and beverage, creating new food halls. The push to make these changes is compelling, industry experts have told CNBC. The goal is to drive traffic to the property and keep shoppers lingering longer.

“Every landlord today is thinking about increasing the percentage of [gross leaseable area] to food,” Naveen Jaggi, head of the retail advisory business in the Americas at commercial real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, told CNBC. “The old model of having a food court … it was a precursor to having a food hall.”

Food halls, unlike food courts, often include a bar, which can appeal to a younger audience. Some mall owners, like Washington Prime Group, are going as far as adding their own craft breweries. Gone are traditional fast food chains like Wendy’s, Subway and Burger King. Instead, there’s an emphasis within food halls on local restaurateurs, healthier options and eclectic fare.

Forty percent of consumers today will pick a mall or shopping center to visit primarily based on the restaurants located there, according to a new report from JLL. And younger shoppers are turning to new brands like Sweetgreen, Bareburger and Cava Grill for a meal. McDonald’s won’t cut it.

Further, customers who eat at the mall will then spend 35 additional minutes, on average, browsing stores than the person who doesn’t eat there, JLL found in surveying retail properties across the globe. That’s good news for landlords and tenants.

JLL said it also sees the biggest spikes in foot traffic at those retailers’ stores situated right near the food options, making it an attractive strip of real estate.

“What we are hearing from millennials is they want authentic dining experiences,” Jaggi said. “There’s a direct parallel between the quality of food and time spent in a mall.”

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