Hospitality Trends in Markets and Food Halls
Experience-based destinations bring new design challenges.
For the past three years Metroplis’s publisher and editor in chief Susan S. Szenasy has been moderating a series of discussions with industry leaders on important issues surrounding human-centered design. On November 15, 2016, she talked with experts in hospitality design and brand architecture from ICRAVE, Delaware North, and Bluestone Lane about emerging models of mixed-use spaces. Hybrid spaces, like markets and food halls, combine elements of food, retail, and community into immersive experiences. Whether partnering with local artists to incorporate city culture, providing engaging programming, or presenting new formats for retail and entertainment, there are myriad ways design teams can evolve the lifestyle destination concept. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Susan S. Szenasy, publisher/editor in chief, Metropolis magazine (SSS): In the world of hospitality design the conversation has shifted to real estate, culture, attitudes towards health and food, and a sense of connectivity in an otherwise disconnected world. As strategists at the forefront of this shift who are redefining markets, as well as rethinking and creating design that supports those changes, how do you approach mixed-use spaces?
Jesse MacDougall, creative director, strategy and brand architecture, ICRAVE (JM): With our experience in hospitality and insight into what works in the commercial space, we are able to involve ourselves with developers, concessioners, and transit hubs, cross-pollinating their ideas to bring a hospitality ethos to a variety of spaces. We can create the atmosphere that different concepts will simultaneously thrive in, resulting in a space that you experience and a brand that you can carry home with you. We’re shifting how we describe ourselves as architects, interior designers, graphic designers, and strategists, and calling this overarching involvement experience design.
SSS: It’s interesting for an interior architecture firm to talk about experience design as you look at an evolving market with a complex set of behaviors, needs, and demands. Elizabeth, what are your views on hospitality design?
Elizabeth Von Lehe, managing director, strategy and brand architecture, ICRAVE (EVL): Hospitality design considers all of the touchpoints and takes it down to the human scale. Good hospitality design is not just the grand sweep—it’s the full experience arc, considering opportunities for interaction, building community, and creating something memorable. We bring intention to the full user experience, even in places like airports, hospitals, and stadiums that were once not traditional for hospitality design. Working hand in hand with excellent visionaries across our company, we employ smart choices through the full life cycle of a project’s development.
SSS: Let’s talk about the case of the New Orleans Airport.
Vito Buscemi, vice president of brands and concept, Delaware North (VB): We try to fit a design that works into a given environment. This is where a partner like ICRAVE comes in to create the experiential design piece. New Orleans is one of the greatest culinary cities in the country, so how do you bring that experience to customers right as they get off the plane? Next, what types of service styles do you use? With technology these days, the ways for folks to interact with food service is endless, but you need to be cautious about maintaining a personal touch. The third concept is merchandising: cooking food, assembling food, and displaying food. If you think about the greatest food experiences you’ve had, it’s usually where the food has hit you and you were engulfed in it. The fourth area is execution. You can have phenomenal design, but if you can’t function in it, it will be a frustrating experience for the customer. And finally, you have quality. We are now able to bring quality in so many different formats because we no longer have to associate food courts with processed foods. Our challenge is to create a whole package and successfully take it from one end to the other in these big public spaces.
EVL: The application in an airport is so relevant, since designing these spaces is really about creating an authentic reflection of place. You need an assortment of culinary experiences, interior design, and spatial experiences that give you a unique sense of the flavor of the city.
JM: When we talk about the airport format or a transit hub, we always talk about the visitor to New Orleans, or the visitor to Austin or New York City. One of the things we often forget is that most of the people who travel to LaGuardia are actually New Yorkers. So, we always try to ask whether a New Yorker will think a space is phony, and whether someone will tire of a pedantic expression of their own home city. It’s actually about the people who are moving through a space the most and catering to what their needs are in that time.
SSS: You are working to tap into what is authentic to New Orleans and define the city to the rest of the world. How do you find that information? Who are your collaborators?
EVL: The best way to answer that would be to talk about the process in general since it applies not just to New Orleans, but also to a variety of residential developments. As strategists, we look at the market and work with groups like Retailworx to see what kind of brands are available that speak to our market research and the user groups we are trying to reach.
SSS: With our current real estate market, we are looking at amenities and how much to give to the tenants. Jonathan, how does the equation work?
Jonathan Krieger, founder & ceo, Retailworx; vice president, Robert K. Futterman and Associates; co-founder, Bluestone Lane (JK): Let’s take this office building. The percentage of this office building relative to retail is the same as the ground floor relative to the rest of the building. We could put a bank or a pharmacy on the ground floor because they would pay the most rent, but then the ground floor lacks the appropriate energy to attract new, creative office tenants. It’s therefore the tenant who has demanded something different in what’s underneath these buildings, whether it’s an office building or a residential building. Landlords have started to recognize that it’s not about the last dollar, but about the best tenant. This is part of the reason we are seeing so many new creative food and beverage, fitness, and wellness concepts popping up.
JM: Hospitality is all about facilitating dialogue, and as it moves into other sectors, operators and landlords will be committed to taking more active roles in their communication with tenants. That dialogue may be about bringing in a brand that is relevant to the tenant-shift they want to promote and about finding ways for a building or facility to incubate those types of ideas and tailor commercial offerings. While they are always going to be following the bottom line, they are finding new and creative ways to dissect the premiums.
JK: They can increase the value of what is upstairs by having something better downstairs.
SSS: What psychographic are we talking about, here?
EVL: Who are the people who are starting companies and want to open offices, drive traffic, and try new models? They tend to have common characteristics. There is a psychographic sphere of wanting a different kind of dining experience, customization, and a different lifestyle approach that is so often associated with being a millennial. In reality, though, it’s a larger market shift that we are seeing across the board.
JK: Core urban centers, especially, have similar tastes, habits, and financial and culinary preferences in terms of the market. It’s a global cultural shift.
SSS: Elizabeth, you talk not just about food, but about local expression that defines a place. Where do you find the special connections in the places you’re researching?
EVL: We look to partners and artists that are of the place we want to work with. It’s authentic creation by creators of the very locations. And there is a movement in our culture where people are more willing to take risks and are more forward thinking. They are far less interested in large national brands and more in something that reflects where they are from.
SSS: What shifts are happening now that are disruptive to the old models?
JK: Companies lose relevance and go bankrupt more quickly than ever because the experience got stale, or the quality dropped off. There needs to be the evolution of a concept and brand, and maintaining the integrity of every component of a business from wherever it started.
VB: Even in our sporting business where we began, we started reaching out into the future of sports and the dramatic changes taking place there. From the design aspect of stadiums, it could be a much smaller footprint, creating a better environment and use of space in urban areas.
EVL: It’s the analogy we’ve used for stadiums and casinos: these gigantic expenditures of gigantic spaces that are single purpose. The old model can’t last—it has to evolve. Creating a big space that can cover the lunch rush is great, but not as good as a vibrant market that can operate all day and serve different kinds of people.
SSS: With so much fresh food being brought into cities, how do urban food deserts fit into the equation?
JM: It would be amazing for ICRAVE to work with an operator who’s working on delivering the mentality of tasting the right foods, looking for the right ingredients, and engaging with quality products in a place where that’s less obvious. A lot of the work we do is to use bigger food management companies to go into elementary schools to build a marketplace available to the parents as well, so that families can learn how to arrange their lives around nutritious, value-driven options.
JK: Part of this has to do with education and part of it has to do with the consumer. Until the consumer realizes that fast food is basically poison, you are not going to get the demand and, as a result, you are not going to get the operators to invest. I think the real question is how to educate markets that are unaware of how unhealthy the food is that they are eating.
VB: Historically as well, waves of immigrants moving into lower-income neighborhoods offers another way to develop great food culture and spark new interest in different areas.
JM: There is an obligation on the part of luxury grocery brands, too, to create experience-driven grocery across the united states. With their reach in distribution, they can adopt community-sorted agriculture programs to get nutritious foods into the hands of the people who need them most. They can also create market-type experiences on the ground where it counts instead of in remote, financially impenetrable corners of cities.
Audience: Are developers ever willing to take a financial hit in order to provide fresh food to communities that don’t normally have access to it?
VB: City-sponsored markets are a great way to bring low cost food to urban settings. Community-based, action-based solutions are going to be more successful because they provide both a place to shop and a place to start businesses and work.
EVL: There is a difference in scale between a landlord and a developer. When you’re working at the scale of powerful, forward-thinking developers, you can have a bigger vision. By addressing entire neighborhoods, you can employ a more complicated business plan and make choices for individual locations that serve the community.
SSS: There is an enormous disenfranchised population in the United States and we need to develop ideas about how healthy foods can reach the people who really need it. This moment, with such access to information and connectivity, is very important in how we define the new world all around us.
Vito Buscemi, vice president of Brands and Concept, Delaware North
Jonathan Krieger, founder & CEO, Retailworx, vice president, Robert K. Futterman and Associates, co-founder, Bluestone Lane
Jesse MacDougall, creative director, Strategy and Brand Architecture, ICRAVE
Elizabeth Von Lehe, managing director, Strategy and Brand Architecture, ICRAVE
Susan S. Szenasy, publisher and editor in chief, Metropolis magazine
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