The Canteen and Street Food trend taking Manchester by storm

All across the U.K. street food and canteen-style dining is making a comeback - and it’s better than ever before with expertly crafted and vibrant food made with love from local independent businesses. Foodcourts used to be drab squares in shopping centres where the only food available was from a number of fast-food vendors - remember sitting under fluorescent lights on plastic chairs as the hubbub of KFC, McDonalds and Greggs buzzed around you? Well, as the old style of foodcourts became less and less desirable, ingenious restauranteurs up and down the country have been reviving communal-eating spaces and creating sleek and fashionable food centres that bring in the best of the best in local independent food and drink businesses.

Gone are the characterless food courts of shopping centres past - in come trendy, refurbished designer spaces that are equally known for creating a vibe as they are for serving great food and drink. Often found inside repurposed industrial spaces - artists have transformed old and dusty warehouses into vibrant and creative venues where forecourts become bustling market squares packed full of stalls selling food, drink, arts and crafts and much, much more.

Independent spaces, for local people

Whilst spaces like these are becoming popular across the U.K., each has a distinctive spirit and style reflective of its city - in these spaces independent artists and hospitality businesses come together to make unique venues that showcase their city's creative scene. These spaces really are made from the ground up, by local businesses for local people, and this is why they are often such a huge success - they breathe new life into the hospitality sector by making eating and drinking an event again. Visitors go to these revitalised food halls to enjoy craft beer, artisan baked goods and top-tier foods from global cuisines - and you may even be treated to music from a local band or DJ.

This new style of canteen dining has quickly become a staple in city calendars and regularly attracts droves of people keen to soak in the exciting ambience. There is a buzz around these places - a feeling something akin to a festival - visit and you will find that it is so much more than going out for dinner - it really is an event, an experience with a communal spirit that manages to combine food, drink, art and music. And what’s more, it’s independent businesses that are making it all happen. What’s not to love?  

Manchester embraces the foodhall revival

Ingenious as ever, Manchester was one of the first cities to get in on the foodhall revolution. A city proud of its independent vendors, Manchester was well primed to launch a stream of trendy canteen venues. Manchester now has a number of them - each immensely popular and regularly drawing in large crowds most nights of the week. One of the most talked-about is HATCH, the city’s award-winning ‘food drink and retail destination. A place to shop, eat and drink, 7 days a week with over 30 independent traders.’ Built out of shipping containers, HATCH has become known as a trendy spot that frequently rotates vendors, with the best local independents lining up to grab a spot and make the most of the eager crowds. Located under the Mancunian Way on Oxford Road, street food mixes hand in hand with fine dining, and craft breweries with wine bars. HATCH brings together food, drink, music, art and independent retail outlets - they even have a florist! Adding to an already festival-like atmosphere, HATCH is also known for hosting music events on till late - be sure to pack your dancing shoes!

The search for good GRUB

Dubbed ‘Manchester’s biggest and friendliest street food event’, GRUB is another of the city’s success stories. Open Wednesday to Sunday at The Red Bank Project, GRUB is known to draw in the vegan crowd and is famous for its ‘Plant-Powered Sundays, Europe’s first weekly vegan street food event.’ Visit on Sunday and you’ll find crowds lining up to get a taste of Manchester’s tastiest meat-free food, vegan craft beer and organic wines. Every corner of GRUB is Instagrammable. Soak in the atmosphere, eat with friends and family and listen to the local DJs.

Another reason GRUB is so popular is due to the organisation’s sustainability promises - an important thing in our climate-conscious community. GRUB has made a number of moves to make its market as sustainable as possible, including asking all vendors to bring a vegan option to the menu. GRUB vows not to use unsustainable heaters, to use eco-friendly cleaning products and even to build all furniture using upscaled and recycled materials. They also promote travelling by bike, with storage, and have made gardens to help sustain bees and other endangered insects. GRUB combines great independent food and drink whilst promoting eco-consciousness and sustainability - what’s not to like? There’s no wonder it's packed out every weekend!

Other successful Manchester foodhall venues are Mackie Mayor - another great selection of independent vendors in the Grade II-listed former Smithfield market. Near Oxford Road station, you can find SOCIETY boasting craft beer and five independent kitchens serving Pan-Asian, Korean, Italian, American and Indian. We’ve outlined our favourite foodhalls in the great city of Manchester, but we know that there’s bound to be plenty more popping up, perhaps even as you’re reading this! Each of the examples is a huge success - each is a crowd-pleaser where customers keep on coming back for more. So, let’s dive into why people love these spaces.

Variety without compromising on quality

The number one reason why these places are so popular is to do with the variety of food and drink on offer. Visit GRUB, SOCIETY or HATCH and you’re bound to find heaps of vendors selling food and drink from all over the world - this means even the pickiest eaters can find something to eat. We all know somebody who has a hard time finding something to eat - with all of the delicious cuisines on offer at places like GRUB, there is bound to be something for them to eat - and to love! It also means that those of us stuck in a routine of eating the same few meals day in day out have an opportunity to try new foods without having to hunt down a new restaurant. You may never think to look for a South-Indian Dosa restaurant, but walk past the stall and smell the delicious food on offer and you’ll find yourself up for trying new cuisines. These spaces open us up to so many types of food that we may not have even known existed, broadening our tastebuds for even the most experienced food lovers. It also means that those picky eaters can finally go out to eat with their friends - and this brings us to the second reason these places are so popular - they’re social spaces.

A place to bring friends, and make friends

Finding a restaurant that can cater to everyone’s tastes can be a nightmare. One person wants Italian, the other Indian and all the while you’re craving Chinese. Even if you did find a restaurant to cater to all these tastes - this is traditionally a marker that the food may not be of the best quality - (an argument could be made that any restaurant covering every popular cuisine would be better off perfecting one!) But in these revitalised foodhalls we have the luxury of having access to all of these cuisines cooked by independent vendors who have spent years perfecting their craft. This makes eating out as a group easier than ever before. When we once may have avoided eating out with friends for fear of negotiating what type of food to eat, these new eating spaces take that worry away - we turn up together, eat whatever we want, save the stress and enjoy the time we have together.

The social aspect of these trendy foodhalls is felt on a much wider scale, too. Head on down to HATCH and you will find heaps of people eating and chatting, friends among friends, and even among strangers. The festival-like vibe created by these places relaxes people, and so they are great spaces to meet people - (the beer might be something to do with this, too!) The social aspect of somewhere like GRUB is a far cry from the traditional restaurant which, in comparison, can feel stuffy and overly formal. These new spaces might not be fine dining, but the people who love these places go because they want an experience that is different to a restaurant - they go because they like the feeling of being in a hub of excitement, eating among people - something completely opposite to restaurant dining in which we are so often isolated from other diners - how often do you chat to the people at the next table? But of course, there is a reason we love restaurant dining too - that way of eating will never die out, but, these trendy open spaces like GRUB and HATCH offer something new, something exciting, and, crucially, something more sociable.

Communal eating is part of our history

In society’s long, long history, private eating is a relatively new thing. Traditionally, people have always eaten together, whether it be in large home gatherings or in communal market squares similar to the new wave of foodhalls. Eating together is an important part of our social development, so much so that research from the University of Oxford tells us that communal eating is crucial to forming relationships, teaches how to bond with people, and generally makes us feel happier and more satisfied with our lives. There is no wonder then that we feel better connected after eating with our friends - dinner time might be the only time many people have to sit down and talk to other people without distractions. Talking about our day is key to our ability to process our hectic lives, and whilst we are more connected than ever virtually through social apps, there is nothing quite like face-to-face communication.

Despite the clear benefits of communal eating, eating alone has been becoming the standard for some time in the U.K. Surveys reveal that the average adult eats almost half of their meals alone, this is largely to do with our hectic lives and busy work schedules wherein many people eat ‘on the go’, with busy workers skipping meals entirely. Clearly, this is not healthy. Many people report a lacking sense of community - many more people don’t know their own neighbours, whilst two-thirds report that they’ve never shared food with them. Perhaps most surprising is that nearly 40 percent of adults in the UK share only one meal with their parents every six months! Even in shared houses, people report that differing work schedules make it difficult to sit down and eat a meal together. So, despite the clear benefits of sharing a meal, we in the U.K. are severely lacking in communal eating, and this is a leading factor in people feeling isolated and lacking community engagement. There is no wonder that social hubs like GRUB and HATCH are becoming so popular - whether people know it or not, they are fulfilling a need for social eating by going to these places. People are discovering a sense of connection again.

A Community space

It is not only the customers who get a sense of community from places like GRUB, SOCIETY and HATCH. The vendors themselves form a community of independent businesses - whether it be in the hospitality sector, music, or even indie retailers selling a wide range of handmade products. These are spaces where independent workers come together to make a stronger whole - and this is why Brigad loves them! We too support independent workers coming together to form a community - why have one success story when we can have a dozen? Because, in essence, this is what these spaces achieve. There is no single winner here, all independent vendors and workers get to share in the popularity of these places without forfeiting their brand’s identity. These new spaces are great successes, and they are going to continue to be successful because they’ve given people an exciting new option in their calenders, something combining food, drink and entertainment into one neat and stylish package. Manchester’s new wave of foodhalls are undoubtedly only the first of many - this style of dining is set to continue as vendors and consumers alike learn the benefits of communal eating once again.