Snazzy restaurants have become fixtures in high-end retail stores over the past decade as merchants add amenities to lure customers away from online shopping sites and into brick-and-mortar stores. Most in-store eateries cater to a largely female clientele, but now a prestigious retailer, Brooks Brothers, is opening a restaurant designed to appeal to men. It’s Makers and Merchants, a three-story steakhouse set to open in Midtown Manhattan early next year.
Never been in a Brooks Brothers store? It’s the go-to spot for suits, ties and other classic menswear for everyone from recent Ivy League grads and wannabe Wall Street power brokers to bankers and other serious business types who favor traditional, unflashy clothing. The chain carries some women’s apparel and has grown to include roughly 250 retail and factory stores in the U.S. and another 250 outlets around the world. It’s not much of a stretch to say that it has never occurred to more than a handful of its customers, if that many, that a Brooks Brothers store would be a good place to grab a bite during their next shopping spree.
But a big-time steakhouse that fills a three-story, 15,000 sq. ft. space just around the corner from Brooks Brothers’ flagship store in New York City? Don’t bet against it. Steakhouses are often described as “clubby,” and shopping at Brooks Brothers means you’re probably already in the club.
The parent company expects big things. A spokesperson told the New York Post that Makers and Merchants “would serve as the prototype for a branded steakhouse line across the U.S.” The idea is to partner with a restaurant operator or restaurant management company and build it out from there.
Why not? There’s much to be said for opening a good restaurant inside of, or immediately next to, a prominent retail store. It can bring in customers and help keep them on site longer.
Consider: Clothier Ralph Lauren has operated RL Restaurant in Chicago since 1999. It’s located adjacent to the flagship Polo store on Chicago’s Miracle Mile. Celebrity chef David Burke’s David Burke at Bloomingdale’s (and sister concept Burke in a Box) has been going strong at that classic NYC department store since 2005. That’s the same year Rick Bayless opened Frontera Fresco in Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) in downtown Chicago. He’s since added units inside Macy’s suburban Chicago location in Skokie, IL, and at Macy’s Union Square in San Francisco. If these places were pop up-type gimmicks or loss leaders, they would have been shuttered long before now.
Why the longevity? The best argument comes from island wear clothing chain Tommy Bahama. Sales per square foot at the 13 Tommy Bahama units that offer sit-down dining are two and one-half times higher than sales at the chain’s 97 non-restaurant stores.
Tommy Bahama self-operates its restaurants, but many other retailers don’t. Restaurants are a tough business that requires constant attention to detail, and many, many retailers may be eager to hand off in-store restaurant operations to someone else.
Thus you may not have to be a celebrity chef like David Burke or Rick Bayless to get in on the retail/restaurant action. Stores with strong brands in your local market face the same problems as the high-profile companies we’ve written about here—getting customers who might otherwise shop and spend their dollars online to come into their stores. Restaurants are one way to do it; that’s why even Brooks Brothers is getting into the game. If you’re looking for a way to expand your restaurant’s footprint, try pitching a restaurant deal to a nearby retailer for whom it could make sense.