Would You Like Fries with that Sweater? Retailer and Restaurant Pairings

As retailers continue to embrace the omni channel retail experience, our blogging team explores consumer behavior behind the new trends. One topic we have followed lately is the convergence of retail and restaurants. For years restaurants have put roots down in highly-trafficked areas like shopping malls, tempting weary consumers to relax in their comfortable chairs and refuel with appetizing menus. However, it’s not just the suburban shopping mall seeing an influx of restaurants snapping up square footage. In the last three to four years, stand-alone retail entities have begun to expand or reinvent their existing space to accommodate the addition of upscale eateries to their portfolio.

As reported in Forbes late last year, retailers are really beginning to woo shoppers with food. Particularly in densely populated urban areas, retailers like Macy’s are adding destination restaurants such as the one at their Herald Square flagship store. In addition to a full-service Italian restaurant they offer several Starbucks throughout the store.

Nordstrom has long been offering full-service restaurant options in addition to coffee bars at most of their locations. These establishments are not just afterthoughts: it is not unusual for some of them in more upscale locations to catch the attention of food critics who in turn give them glowing reviews. Last year the Wall Street Journal reported on the decidedly upscale wine offerings at Manhattan department store restaurants.

The idea of breaking from a day of shopping to relax and eat almost harkens back to the glory days of the department store in the early 20th Century, before suburban shopping malls became ubiquitous and when urban centers were still considered an occasion to dress up and plan a special outing.

The well-known travel industry thought leader Fodor’s has blogged about its top five retail restaurant destinations, proving that a department store menu is not synonymous with stodgy. With menus that sound as if they have been designed by celebrity chefs, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, Holt Renfrew and Macys are all well represented as places to recharge after a hard day of shopping.

Offering food is not just an opportunity to feed weary shoppers and send them on their way. An onsite restaurant is a way to further express the retail brand, as evidenced by Café Kristall at Swarovski which features Austrian dishes such as wiener schnitzel. Eating has become an experience, and retailers are embracing the trend and the opportunity to deepen the connection between themselves and the customer. It seems that consumers keep upping the ante on the retail industry. Particularly Millennials, who drive a lot of the innovation as we wrote in an earlier blog, want the same upscale attention to their food as the purchases they make in the stores. It is only natural that they would turn to a brand they already love.

For retailers this trend means paying precise and unrelenting attention to detail and making sure that staff are trained to handle the customers from the retail floor all the way through to the tabletop. It also means designing stores so that the shopping and dining experiences enhance rather than compete with each other.

The day when we visit a store first for the food and secondarily for the merchandise may not be too far away. It is conceivable that customers could enter a store and spend a few minutes looking at a jacket on the floor, then head to their reserved table, and complete the purchase via tableside tablets as they sip Chardonnay and wait for their salads.

The saying “everything old is new again” certainly applies to retail. Yesterday’s tea rooms at Wanamker’s and Marshall Fields are evolving into carefully curated, well-designed, highly-promoted restaurants and not a moment too soon, as Millennials are expected to spend $200 billion annually by 2017.

Related topics: Restaurants, Retail