Cornell Study Finds Distinct Consumer Preferences for Shopping Center Food-Service Options

Shopping mall operators must take into account consumers' food-service preferences as malls are redeveloped in the current economic landscape. A new study from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research connects customer demographics to consumers' preferences for the arrangement and types of food outlets at shopping malls. The study, "Customer Preferences for Restaurant Brands, Cuisine, and Food Court Configurations in Shopping Centers," by Wayne J. Taylor and Rohit Verma, analyzes the mall restaurant preferences of a national sample of 1,737 U.S. residents.

"We know that shopping centers must respond to local and regional preferences, but our national sample does two things. First, it highlights trends in restaurant preferences, and, second, it demonstrates how to study those trends," says Verma, a professor at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. "Our approach was to compare six specific mall food-service configurations to see which one was most popular."

Verma and Taylor found that the most popular configuration combined a moderate-size food court with several casual and fast-casual restaurants. Least popular was an arrangement that had only table-service restaurants and no food court.
"We were able to isolate different demographic groups based on our respondents' cuisine and restaurant preferences," adds Taylor, a marketing analyst for the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. "For instance, we found one group that heavily patronized quick-service restaurants (QSR), but another group strongly preferred casual and quick-casual restaurant concepts, rather than the QSRs."

Verma and Taylor note that America's shopping malls are being reinvented to attract customers by mixing greater opportunities for entertainment along with retail concepts. Because this was a national sample, familiar national restaurant brands were highest rated. Thus, the authors suggest that local and regional mall operators research which restaurant concepts to offer in their own mall, based on their customers' demographics and preferences. With that analysis, mall operators can determine their best mix of local and national restaurants, QSR and table-service concepts, and the configuration of those restaurants.

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