01 July 2016 10 min read

A range of US retailers are returning to a century-old retail practice to help them get ahead in the modern cyber world.

Hoping to get shoppers off their smartphones and back through their doors, retailers are establishing eateries in their physical stores.

But they do have to create the right experience to make it worthwhile for customers to get into their cars and driving, rather than clicking with ease online. They have to create an experience destination for consumers, not just a place for them to buy a new item.

In days gone by, many a venerable department store included a tearoom or restaurant in its offering, and some still do. Macy’s flagship store in New York, for example, is home to Stella 34 Trattoria, a modern Italian restaurant with Empire State Building views that serves upscale food and cocktails.

US retail expert, Warren Shoulberg, the editorial director for several US home furnishings business publications and a contributor to The Robin Report, recently noted, “Those first merchants of retailing knew what today’s generation is having to relearn – that retail stores are more than a place to buy stuff. They are the centrepieces of communities, focal points where people gathered for special occasions, to mark moments in their lives and to celebrate. And oh, while they were doing all of that, maybe they bought a new shirt or a frying pan.”

One US group hoping to relearn the wisdoms of the past benefit from embracing food is Urban Outfitters, a lifestyle specialty retailer. Last year, after releasing disappointing results for its third quarter, it announced the acquisition of the Vetri family group of restaurants. The group includes the award-winning Pizzeria Vetri, which was named the best pizza restaurant in the US by Food & Wine magazine.

“Spending on casual dining is expanding rapidly, and thus we believe there is tremendous opportunity to expand the Pizzeria Vetri concept,” Urban Outfitters CEO, Richard A. Hayne, noted at the time.

Urban Outfitters has since opened several pizza cafes inside its stores in a move that market commentators said is aimed at improving brand visibility and foot traffic. It’s expected to gain directly from restaurant revenues and indirectly from cross selling.

Also taking the leap is luxury home furnishings brand, Restoration Hardware (RH). It opened a café and a bar in its new and extravagant Chicago store in October and has plans to continue the concept in its other design galleries.

The Chicago store’s eatery, overseen by a celebrated chef, contains a café with a glass-and-steel skylight, wine vault and tasting room, and an espresso bar. It is part of RH’s plan to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor, home, retail and hospitality.

Moving in the same direction, Ikea recently said it would give all 41 of its US stores a restaurant makeover in a bid to make them stand-alone dining destinations.

In addition to a revamped menu, its restaurants will have three zones, each catering to different types of dining. The furniture used will be made by Ikea, so diners can test drive what else the retailer has to sell.

All eyes are now focused on who will be next to innovate by using dining to drive foot traffic.