as entertainment becomes mainstream for most retail centers, the food component must be reexamined. The integration of innovative food concepts will become increasingly important to the success of entertainment retail. As David Malmuth, senior vice president of TrizecHahn, recently said, "Food is the soul of the new retail entertainment experience."

No longer relegated only to the food court, restaurants are found throughout the center, sometimes in between retailers. They serve as destinations, as third-level draws and even as quasi-anchor tenants. Unlike traditional malls, which typically assign 15% of space to food, entertainment centers can allocate 30% or more of space to food.

Of course, food has always been a part of the retail experience. But today's retail guest ( we prefer "guest" over "shopper") is far more demanding when it comes to what type of restaurant at what time of day and for what kind of experience. Furthermore, the need to generate alternative traffic patterns to attract guests at all times of the day or night increases the need for a greater mix of food experiences.

One restaurant broker recently said, "I am busier than I have ever been, and I'm finally getting the respect I deserve." His comment suggests that retail developers are beginning to recognize the importance of food as a key component to entertainment retail. In addition, food is one tenant category that the Internet will have little impact on - when was the last time you had dinner on the web?

Still, theme restaurants have failed to live up to expectations. Planet Hollywood's recent filing for bankruptcy has caused everyone to proclaim the death of theme restaurants. And yet, Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe continue to draw huge crowds with long lines. So what gives?

What's happening is a natural evolution of the experience economy. Regardless of what you may think, Planet Hollywood must be credited for being the first to recognize a void in the restaurant business. Consumers have always sought and will continue to seek unique dining experiences. Planet Hollywood - although a pioneer in many ways - simply forgot it was in the restaurant business.

This does not mean that consumers no longer want an entertaining dining experience. The success of Dave & Busters, Jillian's and Rainforest Cafe provides testament that entertainment and food does work.

I prefer to call the next generation of restaurants Innovative Restaurant Concepts (IRCs) rather than theme restaurants, since the focus is on innovation and food rather than "theme." The theme restaurant segment quickly (and painfully) learned that it must focus on the food first. The hot concepts of tomorrow must execute a consistent and seamless operation that connects food, service, brand and experience.

The dilemma for savvy retail developers is determining who's going to be around and what kind of concepts they should seek out, since restaurant space is costly to set up and difficult to retrofit.

The competition for imaginative restaurants is heating up as over 70 million sq. ft. of new entertainment centers rise out of the ground. "Developers need to create great locations for these concepts within their centers," says Tom Parker, principal of North Potomac, Md.-based EIR Development Co. "In the restaurant business there's an old axiom that says you can pay too much for a good site, but you can never pay too little for a poor site."

Got food? If you don't you better go get some ... because that's exactly what will keep the consumer coming back. After all, isn't that what this is all about, getting people out their homes and into your center?