Food halls are popular because of the variety they offer. From serving international cuisine to highlight local dishes, food halls differ from food courts in that the latter mostly incorporates fast food chains as part of their choices. With food halls continuously coming up with options that cater to diverse palates, what’s the best way to come up with the ideal merchant mix? 

My South Hall, the recent collaboration between The Bistro Group and chef Josh Boutwood located at S Maison , is an example of how to navigate the tricky terrain of skillfully making culinary choices that appeal to customers. With hip and modern interiors characterized by orange-and-teal accents, wooden touches, and comfortable couches, the food hall offers a dining experience that is both classic and contemporary at once. Boutwood wanted the concept to showcase the different culinary heritages in the Philippines, serving authentic dishes and maintaining high quality service.

“Honestly, it’s more like what we enjoy eating. This whole spread here is food that I’d love to eat when I’m not cooking,” says Boutwood.

In selecting the merchant mix of My South Hall, Boutwood notes that besides considering what he, his friends, and his family loved to eat, he also took into account what was popular, market-relevant, and “now,” giving the hall both a personal touch and a level of relatability.

Roasted chicken from Chinese-driven tenant Roast’d

The evolution of food halls can be best attributed to the kind of merchants working in the scene—what best perks the tastebuds of diners and what will make their dining experience memorable enough to make sure they keep coming back.

The hall’s Japanese food selection includes Tabemashou’s sushi, skewers, ramen, and its recently added tempuras. One of Boutwood’s go-to comfort food is Chinese, and so he added Roast’d’s Chinese-style roasts of pork, duck, and chicken and Golden Treasures’ noodles, rice, and dumplings to the roster. Other merchants present include all-American establishment Chix and an Italian standout in Roma. Boutwood also thought it best to put in beverage choices such as juices from South Korean fresh fruit juice bar Juicy (which boasts over 800 outlets in its homeland) and Taiwanese milktea from WCKD.

“I’ve lived here long enough [to know that] my palate is more Filipino than Western,” says Boutwood who has been in the country for more than 10 years now. This was integral to his decision-making process when he selected the tenants. He also wanted to make sure that the market understands the food they serve. 

Seoul Hotpot’s chuck eye and Angus beef sirloin hotpot
Wckd’s “Ulteamate” beverage is flavored with fresh tea leaves and topped with tapioca pearls, grass jelly, and pudding

While hardly a form of brave experimentation, Boutwood points out that the flavor profiles available in the merchants’ dishes are custom-made to suit Filipinos’ tastebuds. He defines the Filipino palate as sophisticated with a level of comfort, and that their way of eating is not just about sustenance and pleasure but solace as well.

Concepts in food halls are moving towards a future where more diverse dishes will be introduced to the market. It is the nature of trends to die, and so keeping up with market behavior is key to driving growth of not just food halls but also any dining establishment. With eating habits and food preferences constantly changing, food that’s fresh, flavorful, and convenient will continuously be in demand. 

The evolution of food halls can be best attributed to the kind of attitude the merchants encourage among themselves —that is, how to understand customers’ tastes and how to make dining experiences memorable enough to keep customers coming back and naturally take tentative steps into the future of food halls.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive all the tools and solutions entrepreneurs need to stay updated on the latest news in the industry