I grew up in the UK and have fond memories of BHS’s café and its fish and chips. It’s amazing how much our casual dining offers have improved over the last 30 years, but the change in the last few has been the most marked. The new variety, reach, value and range of offers in the UK, and all those we get to sample through traveling internationally, is very exciting.
The shift has been happening at all levels. We see the value offers, McDonald’s, KFC and the like, moving upmarket to meet changing consumer tastes, then there is the breadth of new casual dining offers that have national coverage, think Leon, Paul or Wagamama, alongside new trends, such as food markets, street food and pop-up operations. The food sector appears to be acting in the same way as fashion – value operators and new market entrants are upping their game, leading to a continuous cycle of new, fresh and relevant concepts.
Traditionally, department stores have often incorporated eateries, but there is a push now across most department store chains to refresh these, to up the ante. Major retailers are now picking up on this focus on food and looking to either improve their existing hospitality offers or develop new ones. Think Topshop Oxford Street with its Eat concession or the integration of Costa and Starbucks in Next’s out-of-town formats… the list is long. Last year Tesco bought Giraffe, an independent family chain, invested in Harris + Hoole and has now set up the company Tesco Family Dining to run its new carvery brand, Decks. Tesco is using these operations to develop its store formats (see Watford as an initial glimpse) and deliver a breadth of experience, rather than positioning everything in terms of price.
Shopping centres are also increasing their use of food as a draw – it’s not new, but the scale and its importance is changing. Developers have always set aside space for catering operations, but now they are seen as a key part of the strategy. Look at Westfield’s Market Place (in Stratford, Sydney and beyond) and how it enhances the destination experience that a shopping centre provides. The space allocated to food is growing. Where once it may have been 10% in the UK, Land Securities allowed up to 20% of its recent redevelopment of Trinity Leeds to be taken by restaurants, cafés or bars. This seems to be a glimpse into the future, though interestingly it is the norm in other parts of the world, especially Asia.
The re-allocation of space can be seen in a number of ways: trying to slow the customer down and create that total brand experience or gaining footfall lost to online shopping. While using cafés and restaurants to attract shoppers is not new, these spaces are becoming increasingly vital for retailers and brands looking to enliven the physical shopping experience. Of all the arguments, the aim to slow down the customer is the most compelling; as the internet speeds things up, there is the opportunity to fill some of that newly found free time… let’s give people new, sociable reasons to visit retail spaces.