Hannah Thompson about new brands, consumer demand and new mall trends
The recent leisure extension at Silverburn, Glasgow, and the new WestQuay centre in Southampton are at opposite ends of the country. How do you approach different regions?
We look at the local customer demand, the quantity of existing restaurant offers available in and near the scheme, and we talk to operators about their demand for a particular area.
What's the thought process behind introducing new restaurant brands into centres?
It's key to have proven and recognised brands, but it is also important to promote and support new concepts to keep the overall offer interesting and different. They could be the 'next big thing'.
What sort of groups work best for retail centres: fast food, higher-end or grab-and-go?
It's about understanding how consumers use the existing offer and identifying what is missing. Customers in malls will eat on impulse: they want pretzels and frozen yogurt; or they need a quick lunch, which might be Pret, Leon or Five Guys. They might have come for a day out and want a full dine-in experience, say at Carluccio's or Zizzi, and they might be on their own, as a couple, or with a family where everyone wants to eat something different. Everything goes, but quality is key.
How do customers use restaurants in shopping centres differently from in town centres?
Our customers demand a wide variety of food offers across all day parts. Historically, people frequented malls to shop, but increasingly the food offer is driving up dwell time and attracting people who just want to eat. The greater the variety of food on offer, the more likely they are to visit both when shopping and when out socially.
Would you ever consider setting up an independent restaurant group at a big shopping centre?
Absolutely. If their offer and service is good enough, they will grow to be successful and provide the next generation of brands.
What's the most challenging thing about your job?
Getting the landlord to design appropriate restaurant spaces into their schemes.
What's the most exciting thing?
Working with restaurateurs to create fabulous dining spaces.
How did you come to be doing this role in particular?
I have worked in the restaurant industry for 30 years in a variety of operational roles. I have run my own restaurant business and consulted on many others. While working as a consultant, I ended up negotiating with Hammerson on behalf of the tenant, and then Hammerson offered me work.
What do you think are the most exciting new brands today?
There are so many, and my answer would differ depending on where I was in the country. Sharing and small plates are on trend with street food, but being able to eat when and what you want will become more fundamental.