The impact of local food culture on residential markets

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Associate FCSI member John Reed of Customized Culinary Solutions looks at the relationship between a local foodie culture and residential development

While reading a recent article by Katy McLaughlin in the Wall Street Journal, ‘Foodie cities: real estate for the restaurant set’, I was intrigued by the discussion focusing on the relationship between food and culture that is expanding into the residential and commercial real-estate markets.

Consumers are becoming increasingly involved in food and the emotional influence it has on their day-to-day life. Food and people are more interconnected and the effects of this on lifestyle choices are now highly influential. A foodie’s living choices are being influenced by their eating, drinking, cooking and entertaining preferences. Some individuals are searching out homes close to their favourite markets, dining places and food-driven social activities. A few people with the money are building homes that have all of the amenities they need to facilitate their eating and dining habits. City dwellers are choosing to live close to a foodservice establishment, whether a cornerstone of their building complex or within a certain walking distance. This demand for food focused amenities close by has considerable impact on the design aspect of the food service facility.

The social issues of supporting a local community and its businesses, as well as thinking about sustainability and having minimal impact on the local environment, are all factors influencing the designer. These customers who may wish to walk, ride their bike or use other means of public transport to get to a food activity are changing the way we need to think about a foodservice space. These “foodies” are also expecting a certain level of raw or ready-to-go ingredients from a local source. Even the daily operation of the restaurant has an impact on their immediate “micro-community”.

We have also seen this influence in hospital foodservice and food’s holistic aspects. Similar connections between good food and learning have driven educational institutions to push food quality and variety as a key part of the recruiting tool.

So how is this trend affecting the design and ultimately the managerial needs of future restaurants? We need to make sure the design investigation portion of any concept is thorough. This is especially true if you are challenged with designing a foodie-focused operation as a cornerstone of these new communities.

There are many factors to consider, but the big picture is the shift away from a larger geographic focused operation to scaling down and returning to the neighbourhood. In this arena, a large town or city may be too big for consideration. These future operations should be designed to be part of this ‘micro’ neighbourhood and be firmly rooted in the community. These communities could be on the entry floor of a new apartment complex or part of the rejuvenation of a city centre. This conscious decision to connect to an immediate locality needs to flow through the operation. Even large national chains and large regional chains have tried to bring a sense of their surroundings to the décor, but they are still larger corporate entities where great graphics and props don’t really make you feel at home.

Consider the following:

  • Using reclaimed local building elements and recycled materials in the decor
  • Incorporate community causes and local preservation in operational procedures
  • Repurpose a building that brings back a sense of community involvement
  • Make accommodations for activities that are locally focused such as cycling culture and stroller spaces for families, as well as creating a multi-purpose space for use by the community for local events.

The following factors are also important:

Shifting space needs

The ratio of space allotted to the dining area to food production space is shifting. Local customers may have less need for a dining area. They now prefer more prepared meals and ingredients to be picked up to be consumed somewhere else. The customer is now only around the corner and can pick-something up on the way home or grab it to go so they can attend a local event happening close by.

The return of the local market place

It is important to incorporate packing and production spaces for prepared meal components such as sides, specialty sauces and fresh-cuts of meat. This carries over to beverages where you can design beer and wine draft systems so they can be offered to go, for example, a growler service for beer.

Green is good

The continued use of green technology through highly energy-efficient and low carbon-profile equipment will still be the key to long-term design success. Consideration for roof top gardens and even hydroponic solutions are viable.

All in all the cost of this may be higher than initially envisioned by the end user, but early, well-planned design that connects the overall project management team with these shifts in culture, will ensure that a food-focused neighbourhood operation will last longer than its predecessors.

John Reed CEC, CCA, ACE is the owner of Customized Culinary Solutions in Skokie, Illinois