Hungry shoppers miss out as malls cut food courts for higher rents

Shopping centre operators are scaling down or eliminating stalls serving fast meals to maximise income from retailers which can paymore

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 4:39am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 5:07am

Hungry shoppers may face longer waits in future if they want to fill up at shopping centre food courts, assuming they can find one.

The popular food courts, which offer fast meals at affordable prices, are either being scaled down or closed to make way for shops that can generate higher sales and pay more in rent.

The 23,000-square-foot, 500-seat City'super food court at Sun Hung Kai Properties' apm, next to Kwun Tong MTR station, is the latest to be scaled down. It has been moved to another floor to make way for international fashion brand H&M, with its seating capacity more than halved. It now occupies 15,000 sq ft, with just 215 seats, on the second level.

"Food courts have previously been a magnet to draw shoppers but are gradually being edged out by soaring rents," said Jeanette Chan, the real estate consultancy JLL's regional director for Hong Kong.

Chan said mall operators preferred to maximise the space available to retailers, which were willing to pay much higher rents and could generate better sales per square foot.

Metro City Plaza in Tseung Kwan O, owned by Henderson Land Development, closed its 20,000 sq ft food court recently, and will offer the space to restaurants.

Maureen Fung Sau-yim, the general manager of Sun Hung Kai Properties' leasing department, said the opening of H&M marked the completion of the HK$100 million renovation of apm levels one to four.

"We expect sales in the first four levels will jump fourfold after H&M opened its doors for business on Thursday," Fung said.

Before the food court was relocated, she said each shop had its own kitchen, which required lots of space. "Now, a central kitchen has been installed in the new food court. It is not only saves space but is also cost-effective," Fung said.

Michele Woo, the head of the retail department at Cushman & Wakefield, said mall operators would consider scaling down or closing food courts when improving their properties.

"A food court normally caters to the mass market, which may not match the mall's image after renovation," Woo said.

For instance, Pacific Place in Admiralty closed its food court during a makeover in 2008.

But not every shopping mall has adopted the same strategy.

Vernon Ma Wai-lock, the marketing manager for Times Square in Causeway Bay, said its food court was the same size following the recent renovation. It still has 10 operators and more than 200 seats.

"We would like to offer a total experience for our customers as they come here for shopping, dining and watching movies," Ma said. "At the same time, there are two office buildings at Times Square and that will generate demand in our food court."