"You eat Sbarro not because you want Sbarro, but because it is the food that is available at the moment you want some food," Neil Irwin wrote at the time in The New York Times. "Other fast-food chains may offer mediocre food, but their real estate strategies are less exposed to the epic decline in foot traffic in the nation's malls."
Cinnabon's president, Joe Guith, said Cinnabon wasn't necessarily a place you'd get in the car to go to, but more of a place you'd stop at when you're walking by.
"We're an impulse brand," Guith told Business Insider. "We work where the people are."
To survive most of these brands are re-locating to areas of high foot traffic:
While many East Coast customers may associate Panda Express with samples of orange chicken handed out in the mall food court, for the past two decades, the chain has focused on opening more stand-alone locations — today just 2% of its locations are in malls.
In 2015, Sbarro announced it would debut a trendy fast-casual concept with made-to-order pizzas, pasta, and salads. Cinnabon and Jamba Juice are both investing in smaller, kiosk-like locations in high-traffic areas such as college campuses, amusement parks, and airports.
"Having a flexible store format that can translate to different geographies and store formats will somewhat help mitigate" declining mall traffic, Colin Radke, an analyst at Wedbush, told Business Insider. "But those that are heavily exposed to malls, there's not much they can do."
Due to competition, the outlook is not good:
Even in high-traffic places like college campuses, people have more options than they would if they were within a mall. And with concerns that there are simply too many restaurants open in the US, food-court chains can't depend on customers stumbling upon locations.
There's also the issue of food quality. Opening new locations won't help brands that people associate with rewarmed pretzels or oversized tubs of fried mystery meat.