Picture a throng of shoppers who have barely recovered from the gastronomic excess of Thanksgiving dinner as they tear through a mall hours later, searching for doorbuster sales in the middle of the night.
You might think the mall food court would be the last place those shoppers cared to visit. Think again.
Food court restaurants at the Northshore Mall in Peabody have spent weeks preparing for the expected Black Friday mob. Shortly after midnight Friday morning, most of its 12 eateries planned to flip on their lights, fire up the coffee makers, and prepare to supply sustenance to shoppers worn out from very-early-morning bargain-hunting.
“People are out at hours they are not used to being awake for,” said Lauren Dalis, director of mall marketing. “It is really important to stay fueled.”
When the mall doors first open at 12:30 a.m. on Black Friday, shoppers head directly for their favorite stores without pausing for a snack, vendors say. But around 1:30 or 2 o’clock, the food court becomes a popular destination for regrouping, strategizing, and, sometimes, a little bit of culinary chaos.
‘They’ll be eating pizza at 4 a.m., a salad at 7 a.m.’
“They’ll be eating pizza at 4 a.m., a salad at 7 a.m.,” Dalis said. “It definitely confuses them a little bit in terms of what they’re hungry for.”
There are plenty of choices to suit a shopper’s whim, including conventional fare such as lattes and Boston Kremes from Dunkin’ Donuts, soy-soaked noodles from Master Wok, and turkey sandwiches at Au Bon Pain.
Regina Pizzeria plans to capitalize on the early shopping frenzy with a handful of special menu items that cross its signature pizza with traditional breakfast foods. Black Friday topping combinations include eggs and cheese, and eggs and Canadian bacon, said Anthony Buccieri, chief operating officer for the chain.
The pizzeria manager was allowed in the mall at around 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, to preheat the pizza ovens and remove the dough from the refrigerator, Buccieri said.
McDonald’s also catered to those who might have a hankering for late-night breakfast. Egg McMuffins, along with the rest of the restaurant’s breakfast menu, were available from the moment the restaurant opened at 12:30 a.m., owner and operator Steve Rima said.
“Absolutely everything from the menu is available to boot,” Rima said. “And maybe even an eggnog shake.”
Preparing for the onslaught of hungry shoppers takes lots of planning, vendors said.
At Regina Pizzeria, Buccieri used last year’s sales as a benchmark for how much dough and cheese and toppings to stock.
Rima, who owns four McDonald’s locations, reshuffled employee schedules to make sure the mall location would be heavily staffed for the Friday throngs. Starting Friday, he said, a manager will be positioned in front of the store, guiding would-be diners to the best line and maximizing McDonald’s chances of scoring their business.
“If they see a slog of people, they’ll go somewhere else,” Rima said.
D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches has been at work for weeks, getting ready to serve both customers and mall employees. Over the past month, Northshore D’Angelo employees have been hosting samplings for other mall stores, meeting with managers, and taking catering orders from their retail neighbors, said marketing specialist Laura McHugh.
For Friday, D’Angelo scheduled more than twice as many workers as usual to meet the dual demands of shoppers and workers, McHugh said.
Over the course of the day, food court diners will come in waves, drifting in after a few hours of shopping and darting back out when another store opens or a new sale goes into effect, Buccieri said.
This irregular stream of customers means that Black Friday may not be the most lucrative day for food court business, Buccieri said. But the real point, he said, is the enjoyment of watching excited shoppers celebrating deals and happy children munching on pizza at 3 in the morning.
“You don’t make as much money,” Buccieri said. “It’s just about the spirit of Christmas.”
Sarah Shemkus can be reached at email@example.com.