Most modern shopping malls provide visitors with amenities such as public restrooms, information kiosks, gift wrapping services and supervised child care. One of the most popular communal elements of a shopping mall, however, is a collection of diverse restaurants known as a food court. This area provides mall visitors with an array of eateries, from local franchises to specialized chains. Venues typically operate side-by-side, with a centralized communal dining area to accommodate customers.
A food court is generally located near one of the larger "anchor stores" in a shopping mall, or else in a location convenient for truck deliveries. The location tends to make it a destination point, encouraging shoppers to browse smaller stores and kiosks along the route. While some specialty food vendors may rent more centralized spaces, most full-service restaurant owners prefer the pool of potential customers created in a food court.
Although many shopping malls have full-service theme restaurants elsewhere, the food court offers customers the opportunity to sample many different styles of fast food. One spouse may want Chinese food, for example, while the other may have a preference for Italian food. Children often want different types of food than their parents, so this feature allows each family member to purchase different meals at different locations and still eat together in a communal dining area.
Food vendors who offer exotic or international entrees often find it easier to operate a smaller outlet at a food court rather than invest in a stand-alone building or independent restaurant elsewhere in the mall. Customers are often more willing to sample unusual or ethnic foods when all of the options are grouped together. It is not unusual for employees to offer free samples of their products to potential customers walking through the area.
A mall food court may also offer specialty foods such as gourmet cookies, fruit smoothies, coffee drinks, soft pretzels or premium ice cream. These specialty stores may not attract many customers on their own, but when located next to other restaurants, their sales tend to increase significantly. Individual eateries tend to benefit from a type of synergy, as customers of one venue seek out side dishes, desserts or beverages from another.
Some popular chain restaurants offer customers the same menu items found in their larger stores, but others may offer a more restricted menu because of limited storage or preparation space. Many food court restaurants also limit their offerings to items that can be served in a short amount of time, such as sandwiches, fried side items and pre-baked goods. Condiments, disposable utensils, napkins and other items are generally located in a service line designed for efficient fast food service.
A food court is often one of the most popular destinations for casual shoppers who want to spend several hours in a bustling shopping mall. It may also be the only local outlet for certain specialty or ethnic foods, which creates a different kind of attraction for restaurant owners.