photo courtesy

Timothy Lambrech

art biknik

If you’ve traversed downtown Reykjavík in recent months, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the multiple construction areas that divide the city. It may come as a surprise, but many of these construction sites are the site of the new Matol (food hall in English). This fast-growing global dining trend has not overtaken Iceland, and Reykjavik, a city of just 120,000, will also boast two food hall options (8 in total).

gig economy culture

Our food hall obsession reflects our changing attitudes towards eating. For our parents’ generation, dining out was a special occasion, and the significance of the experience was reflected in the service, the environment, and the price. Consider slipping it in to hide the hefty price tag. Our shifts in work, socializing, parenting, travel and spending priorities have resulted in a casual dining culture that mirrors other sweeping social shifts such as the gig economy. It offers a dining experience that meets many of the same criteria that drive interest in apps such as. That means fast service, low prices, and plenty of choice.

Especially for Iceland, this approach to eating makes a lot of sense. Food halls provide a convenient way to quickly and efficiently feed a large number of people in a relatively small space. With 1.9 million tourists expected to visit the country in 2023, this is a problem the country cannot afford to ignore. Mathöll also popped up outside the capital last year, opening two in South Iceland, one in Hveragerdi and another in Selfoss.

Everyone’s taste?

If done right, there is definitely something fun about the food hall experience. It’s thrilling to go somewhere with a group of friends for the night without worrying about arriving on time for a confirmed number or reservation. With so many different restaurants on offer, even picky eaters can easily find something. The relaxed atmosphere means that natural social interaction occurs with the friendly table next to you. Some food halls take a full canteen approach, with large communal tables where strangers sit side by side.

Photo by Art Vinick

The drawbacks are pretty blatant, though. The noise levels in these locations can quickly become overwhelming. Because the crowds of people shouting orders, looking for a table, trying to hear the hustle and bustle of dozens of other diners doing the same. No more dedicated wait staff means the job of clearing tables is generally left to her one or her two depressed-looking bussers. No pressure to make a reservation, but the flip side is that there is no way to reserve a table. As a result, people will hover next to you like hawks as you eat, finding your place the moment you swipe your seat. Get away.

Still, construction continues on the building, and food halls are opening one after another. Iceland has a history of taking ideas and running them far beyond where it seemed reasonable to stop (see also The Puffin Shop, The 2008 Financial Crisis, The Full History of Vikings). It remains to be seen if food halls are a trend that will continue or if they are waiting for another bubble to burst.

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