12:08pm

Tue October 15, 2013
The Salt

Brooks Brothers Steakhouse: How's That For Tasteful Shopping?

Originally published on Tue October 15, 2013 1:41 pm

Here's a way to stop hungry shoppers from leaving the store for dinner.

Brooks Brothers, the 195-year-old luxury apparel company, is looking to open a restaurant next summer next to its flagship store in Manhattan, a company spokesman tells NPR. The New York Post reports that the restaurant will be a steakhouse — a fitting culinary accompaniment for the purveyor of fine business suits for the moneyed set, we think.

And it's not the only high-end retailer that's jumped into the food business. Ralph Lauren has a restaurant next to its location off Michigan Avenue in Chicago and another in Paris. (Ironically, the Chicago incarnation features French-inspired dishes like escargot, steak tartare and bouillabaisse, while Paris' menu has a whole page for burgers and steaks.)

Tommy Bahama, a lifestyle clothing line with a tropical twist, has restaurants in about a dozen stores, serving seared ahi tuna and rum mojitos. At some megasized locations of outdoor recreation retailer Bass Pro Shops, customers can order hand-breaded alligator and catfish at an attached seafood grill.

Restaurants can be a terrific traffic driver, says Rob Goldberg, Tommy Bahama's senior vice president of marketing — diners peruse the merchandise while waiting; shoppers might stick around for a drink.

They also give companies another way to express their brand: not just through the colors and feel of the clothing, but also through the flavor and aroma of food, Goldberg says. "For us, the restaurant is a really rich way to tell our lifestyle story because it touches all the senses."

Pairing clothing with food is nothing new: The former Marshall Fields in Chicago opened a restaurant on the seventh floor back in 1905, and other department stores like Macy's and Nordstrom also offer dining options. Even Ikea has a Swedish food market.

But these more recent ventures into dining are part of a larger trend in experiential brand management, says Eric Anderson, marketing professor at Northwestern University.

"A lot of retailers are focusing heavily on managing their brands through the customer experience," Anderson says. "It's no longer just the product they sell."

Examples of this are abundant. Anderson pointed to Whole Foods Market: It's not just a place where his students shop for groceries, he says — it's also where they go on dates.

Or there's outdoor retailer REI, whose flagship store in Seattle has a climbing wall. Or luxury automaker Bugatti, which launched a collection of men's clothing and accessories during Milan Fashion Week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Urban Outfitters Inc. — which owns its namesake hipster stores, as well as Anthropologie and house-and-garden store Terrain — is pursuing plans in a town near Philadelphia to build an entire shopping village. A local government official we spoke with says it's still just a concept, but the 6.5-acre site could include an Anthropologie, Terrain, boutique hotel, spa or exercise studio and several restaurants.

Granted, not every clothing company should be launching a diner, Anderson says. "If your core competence is in apparel, what business do you have running a restaurant?"

Still, the food venture has worked for Tommy Bahama, Goldberg says: Retail locations with a restaurant attached have, on average, a 20 to 25 percent lift in sales. He says people "try the restaurant on for size" before trying on, say, a shirt.

But he acknowledges the stakes are high — especially when it comes to food. Diners are unforgiving. One tasteless dish, rude server or long wait time could mean that a customer doesn't return to the food or the shirts.

"In a restaurant, we're making a product every 11 minutes with perishable goods," Goldberg says. "And every single plate is a reflection of your brand."

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