There are several factors to be taken into consideration before we start to design a food court, the first factor being what sort of building it will be located in.
A big suburban shopping center will require a design different from a smaller mall located in the CBD – where most of the foot-traffic comes between 12 and 2pm – which will also be different from an airport food court, where time can also be a constrain with several peaks occurring at different times. The "surroundings" of the food court will influence its size, shape and the location of the area within the building.
The size for a food court is usually delineated by two main measurable elements: a proportion of the leasable space in the building is and the catchment area of the development – to be taken into consideration on the first design concept. There are other non-quantitative factors which will also influence the project, such as planned expansions and mix variations which will be taken into account from day one. With some historical activities in the retail industry facing drastic reductions in trading revenues and store area, young women's clothing is losing space quickly to online transactions and other activities are just disappearing Hospitality and entertainment are options lessors will look into fill up the gaps.
Location of a food court : Take an airport, where you have some time to kill either waiting for your flight or for an arrival. After walking a long stretch from the car-park and checking the arrivals and departures screens, customers typically wander around for a bit, walking by the traditional book shop, t-shirt store, or gift and souvenir before stopping by the gate and waiting. As food courts attract more customers than traditional retail shops and offer seating, it would be unwisely to locate it in front of the departure or arrivals gates as it would retain customers away from the other shops, decreasing revenue and in consequence, rentals. It would also certainly contribute to create a congestion in key areas of the airport. Spreading up people evenly through a transport hub helps with security, air conditioning balance and comfortable transit. Same basic rules apply to places and the big difference would be: customers typically do not have two main destinations as in an airport.
Shapes : Corridor, cul-de-sac, square, crescent, I'm sure you have come across food courts of all configurations and forms. The typical "corridor" type with services lined on both sides can be cost effective for the developer but it's boring and inconvenient for customers and operators. Concentration of services tend to reduce installation and maintenance costs but can also bite the developer back once that required to make an alteration to accommodate a new operator. Cul-de-sac can also be kind on installation costs but it does not leave room for expansion or changes; the mall is landlocked and the only way to expand is taking down other tenancies. Our big old square is roomy, versatile, bit harder to clean and costly to install, but alterations are less painful.
In recent years and on amalgamation and adaptation of existing buildings intoalls and food courts, we observed the tendency of clusters of smaller food courts. Sometimes dictated by technical restrictions or incapacity of the building on accommodating a large number of people in a single area, the clusters have a bit of a charm as they do not look as busy or as noisy as big areas do. The right mix of operators can put together similar customers creating a more friendly and "personalized" environment.
Another golden rule is to try as much as possible to keep the food court outline simple; just avoid "interesting" shapes, as it can make the interaction and crossing of services complicated, which will increase installation price and create difficult maintenance. Keep the backbone of the food court design plain and simple and the project will flow naturally.