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No Reservations

Eateries are on the grow, and mall owners are fueling the fire

A new research report by The NPD Group unveiled information I already knew:  the restaurant space is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, the total restaurant count in the U.S. increased by 4,442 units over last year, according to NPD’s recent restaurant census Fall 2012 ReCount.

That’s no small potatoes.

Some 616,008 eateries now dot the country, representing a .7% increase over last year, with the biggest growth coming from the quick-serve segment (up 1% over last year, or an added 4,037 units).

The total chain restaurant count grew to 276,238, or a 1.1% increase compared to last year’s count. Independent restaurant units remained stable at a total count of 339,770, a slight increase of .4%, found NPD, which is the second consecutive increase for independents since 2009.

What is most significant in our own industry segment – retail real estate – is the impact that this growing category has on other tenants, and on a shopping center’s overall traffic counts. Smart mall owners are spending way more time and energy on beefing up their restaurant offerings. The super-savvy build veritable restaurant rows, creating dining districts irresistible to patrons who have an appetite for options when they go out.

Today’s mall food purveyors are a far cry from the interior food courts of yesterday. Sure, those still exist – and leverage the convenience factor – but the current recipe for success involves replacing underperforming retail tenants with a sit-down restaurant, or bringing in a high-end eatery as a mall anchor. Mall owners seemingly have no reservations about putting restaurants at or near the top of their leasing must-have lists.

In my own hometown of Baton Rouge, La., a restaurant district adjacent to the open-air wing of Mall of Louisiana is frequently packed, particularly on Wednesday-Sunday evenings. Nearby town center Perkins Rowe has several major dining attractions, namely Texas de Brazil, Kona Grill and California Pizza Kitchen, that keep patrons coming and adjacent retailers happy.

I doubt a lineup of restaurants would do much to rescue a doomed property, but the category is clearly elevating viable shopping centers that need to create a sense of community, encourage gathering and, of course, fill empty spaces.


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