Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – I remember spending a lot of time at the food court at my local mall when I was growing up.
When I was a teenager, my mom would drop me off at the mall on a Saturday afternoon to meet some friends. For hours we would browse the aisles of what were then the coolest and hippest retailers in the mall, drooling over dresses and sweaters we couldn’t afford.
But we’d always spend our hard-earned babysitting dollars at the food court — and sometimes on movie tickets.
Even now, when I shop with my mom or family members who live just north of Tampa, we still make time for Chinese food or a chicken sandwich at the food court.
The Mall at University Town Center, which will open is Sarasota County in just a few short weeks, doesn’t have a food court.
Several upscale chain restaurants, including Brio Tuscan Grill and the Cheesecake Factory, line the entrance to Sarasota’s new luxury retail center. A handful of others, such as a Cold Stone Creamery, Yo! Sushi and Rise Pies, will be on the second story, near the anchoring department stores at each end of the mall.
But there is no food court.
“Mall operators like Taubman Centers have been moving away from food courts in recent years. It’s been the trend for higher-end shopping centers lately,” said Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail analyst. “It’s the fast-food nature of a food court that high-end shoppers don’t like.”
Taubman, the Michigan-based mall operator behind the Mall at UTC, has a blend of centers across the country, some with food courts and some without. Both the Mall at Millenia in Orlando and International Plaza in Tampa have food courts and a handful of sit-down restaurants.
Meanwhile other mall operators, like Westfield Group, the owner of Southgate Mall, and Sarasota Square Mall, have reinvented the food court concept in recent years.
At the Australian mall owner’s flagship center in the Los Angeles market, Westfield Century City, there’s a brand new indoor/outdoor food court.
“It’s one of the nicest food courts I’ve ever seen,” Green said.
California is home to other innovative approaches: Santa Monica Place, a luxury outdoor mall in Santa Monica owned by Macerich, has a food court on the roof where shoppers can look out over the beach while they dine.
The retail center underwent a three-year renovation in 2008 and reopened as a outdoor lifestyle center in 2010.
In Detroit, one mall revamped its food court to include local restaurants run by local chefs.
“But most of the stronger Taubman Centers don’t have food courts,” Green said. “This is probably because the Mall at UTC won’t be as big of a tourist-centric mall as their property in Orlando.”
Either way, I was surprised to see no court in the new mall.
I’ll just have to find a new social spot (maybe over craft brews at BB Burger & Beer Joint) inside the UTC.