“I’ll Have a Chandelier With That Margarita Please”

restaraunt-bars in shopping venuesPerhaps you’ve considered cozying up to the bar at a Nordstrom’s Blue Stove, or Macy’s Lakeshore Grill? Or, maybe last November, you sampled a Spiced 46 at a Neiman Marcus concept, Zodiac or Mariposa? Adding restaurant-bars to upscale shopping venues isn’t a new concept. But there’s no question about the destination – these businesses exist for shoppers, and food & beverage is there to supplement the shopping experience, and to keep shoppers within the store.

However, there are some interesting exceptions. Three times in the past year I’ve visited bar-restaurant-and-store combinations where the store may not be the primary destination for most customers. Their restaurants and bars aren’t hidden in a room on the third floor; rather, they’re front and center, often integrated within the retail areas.

Belly up to the bar with a Day of the Dead skeleton at Adobe Fonda in Tlaquepaque, adjacent to Guadalajara; and, if it appeals to you, purchase the skeleton and take it home. This bar-restaurant may be the bar-restaurant-retail concept. It goes without saying that the décor, replete with Mexican art, artifacts, dramatic lighting and furniture, exceeds the impression of a restaurant-only look and feel. Yet the quality of the food – authentic Mexican with international options – and a great bar make it more than just a tourist destination.

A recent visitor on TripAdvisor reported going in for shopping and staying for dining:

restaurant-bars and shopping“We went in for lunch and were thinking of shopping as we made our way back to the food area. The place is beautifully decorated and appointed. The big space is used well to add interest to the dining experience. Food was gourmet quality, all great.”

Closer to home, No Mas! Hacienda & Cantina, located in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill district since 2006, are marketed as “adjacent” but really they are integrated. No Mas! takes full advantage of its hacienda amigo – the hand-blown margarita glasses are for sale, as are the bar stools and the placemats, if you like them. Don’t like them? Next time you’re there, much of the décor and furniture may be new. And this is just one of the ways that a combined bar-restaurant-retail business can enhance the guest experience.

abc cocina

“The combined retail concept allows us to keep a fresh mix of décor, seating and lighting in the restaurant,” says Steve MacNeil, one of the No Mas! partners. “As an example, we have changed our bar chairs five times in seven years, as they have gone to other restaurant concepts; rather than replace them with the same, we chose to design new versions each time.” MacNeil and partner, Walt Bilinski, believe that either an excellent Mexican bar and restaurant, or a unique “artisan lighting, furnishings and gift store” would be a pull in the Castleberry arts area. But combined, they are something very special, and their business finds itself on many “top ten things to do in Atlanta” lists.

And the No Mas! Hacienda & Cantina involvement in bars and restaurants doesn’t stop at their own location. They’ve assisted more than 40 bars and restaurants with their décor packages, and you can even buy some of their unique items when you visit the Mondavi winery. They look at their cantina as a testing ground for bar and restaurant furniture.

This bar-restaurant-décor combination doesn’t have to have a Mexican theme to be successful. Nor do both operations need common ownership or management to create an enhanced experience for the guest. Recently, superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened his second restaurant, ABC Cocina, in Manhattan’s ABC Carpet & Home, a unique and special retail offering whose mission is “to serve by manifesting a shift in the retail paradigm — one in which beauty, experience and magic are composed onto a revolutionary platform of cause-related products that guide creative expression, celebrate individuality, and cultivate the actualization of home as the sacred space.”

The genius of Jean-Georges’ innovation is the way he’s integrated his James Beard award-winning ABC Kitchen (and the newer ABC Cocina) with the ABC philosophy, by relying on local ingredients and sustainable practices. This ensures that the ABC Carpet & Home customer is also a potential ABC Cocina or ABC Kitchen customer, and vice versa.

So, is the combination and integration of retail a trend? Probably not, but it’s a niche approach that may be worth exploring for developers, retailers and restaurateurs alike. Should bars and restaurants get into the retail business, beyond traditional souvenir sales? Maybe not. Steve MacNeil will tell you that it’s more complicated than it looks, and if you don’t have all of the expertise needed to manage both types of operations, you’ll have to acquire it somehow.

Finally, should you buy that $5.00 hand-blown margarita glass? Now you’re talking!