Comment: Courting Food: Addressing barriers to entry in malls

Hitesh Mirani on the challenges facing independent restaurants in shopping malls

Hitesh Mirani.
Hitesh Mirani.

Are shopping trends changing with the digital age? Yes. Are people going to stop going to shopping malls? No. Not in a place like Dubai, where it’s too hot be outside for at least 40% of the year.

And, before, after or indeed while they shop, visitors often choose to eat.

The amount of mall space offered by major shopping malls for F&B concepts in Dubai has more than doubled in the last decade and will only continue to grow to meet the demands of the avid shopper who is used to being spoilt for choice when it comes to cuisine options when dining in a mall. It’s never too difficult to find a person walking around a food court with his or her gaze slightly upwards scanning the menus of various QSRs thinking, “I wonder what I’m going to eat today.”

From a restaurateur stand point, more choice creates more competition but also more opportunity. The mall becomes a dining destination and more choice creates more room for home-grown brands with the ‘X’ factor to stand their ground amidst several popular franchises.

For any unique casual dining, QSR or impulse food concept to make its mark, perhaps there is no other avenue that assures higher footfall all year round.

So, those are the positives. But there are two main barriers before the next F&B showstopper enters a major league shopping mall. For starters, much like banks will disburse more loans to people with assets, it is very common for regional malls to give preference to brands that are already successful in other major malls. Secondly, rent and other lease commitments can make a new brand hesitant to take the plunge. It’s common for entrepreneurs with solid concepts to abandon a project due to high rent costs and the risks that they carry. 

Having said that, let’s not forget that every popular F&B franchise today was a single store at some point in time, much like every high traffic mall today was once just a building site. They battled their way through all these challenges and found a way.

My current role of a leasing advisor with Cityland Mall, an upcoming regional mega mall next to Global Village, allows me to work with many restaurateurs, large and small. I am also constantly on the lookout for those unique concepts that want to make their breakthrough into the shopping mall scene and be the next big thing in the F&B sector. Whether you own a casual dining concept, a quick grab-and go outlet, or can entice shoppers with a juice blend, smoothie, ice-cream, or health food; then shopping malls must be on your agenda.

Hitesh Mirani is an F&B leasing consultant specialising in shopping centres at McArthur + Company. Call him on +97156-4039291 or email him at

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