The Evolution of Dining Halls

Upscale dining halls are shopping mall food court’s younger, hipper cousin, and they are popping up all over South Florida. Shopping centers such as Brickell City Centre and Aventura Mall have recently opened their own upscale dining halls. Very soon, downtown Miami will join the upscale food court trend when the former Miami Center for Architecture & Design (MCAD) building (310 SE 1st St.) will open as a dining hall. Learning from Miami invites you to take a look at the history of food courts and the evolution of upscale dining halls.

Sharing a meal in a communal space is nothing new—the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, which is well over 500 years old, is one of the world’s oldest indoor markets. Fast-forward to the early 1900s, and the great department stores that presided over downtown shopping streets in the United States had a variety of full-service restaurants

When shoppers moved from the urban centers to the suburbs in the post-World War II boom in the U.S., the retailers followed. By 1954, 93 suburban shopping malls had been built around the country’s 20 largest cities and another 25 were on the way. The enclosed suburban mall had to build the retail experience from the ground up since it didn’t have the benefit of the existing businesses or infrastructure of the downtown shops. These malls included restaurants, some in the department stores were similar to their urban counterparts, while others offered choices like a Morrison’s cafeteria, or the food counter at the Woolworth’s Five and Dime. The restaurants were more of a convenience to suddenly hungry shoppers rather than their own destination. Woolworth’s counter in particular was an early quick-service concept, in today’s restaurant industry parlance, but it does point toward the food courts that were yet to come.


Mall developer James Rouse was best known for coining the term “shopping mall” and for creating the mall food court. He built the first food court at the Plymouth Meeting Mall in Pennsylvania in 1971. Rouse’s concept was to create community picnics–open areas where hungry shoppers could eat and stay longer at his malls. Presently, consumers are shopping more online and less at malls. In order to attract customers, some malls are remodeling their food courts into dining halls.

In the case of the food hall, it helps that there are a plethora of empty storefronts to choose from. The options are increasing as American malls and big-box stores continue to close. Consumerism has become more and more disconnected and internet-oriented and there’s a need for an experience. Consumers actually want to buy something from the person who made it and to listen to the story behind it. Ultimately, malls could benefit from approaching their food options more creatively to draw retail shoppers.

The biggest draw, for consumers, is the food. Unlike traditional food courts, these venues offer up a different kind of experience. For tourists and locals alike, they provide a melting pot of some of a city’s best and up-and-coming cuisines, all for a good price and with a pleasant atmosphere. Who knows what the future holds for upscale dining halls? Dining halls could just be another passing food trend, or they could potentially be a stepping stone for up-and-coming chefs to begin their careers.


BuiltHalifax. (2014, May 29). A brief History of the Food Court. Retrieved from

Gose, J. (2017, September 12). The Food Court Matures Into the Food Hall. Retrieved from


-Ursa Gil

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