Food and hotel offerings in retail spaces: not revolutionary, but not decelerating either. What’s behind the phenomenon, and how can it be pushed further? 

The combination of retail and hospitality is not new, with department stores long integrating cafés and the infamous Swedish fast food incorporated into Ikea stores just two examples. And, more recently, with brands like Muji opening up hotels. Still, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In fact, more and more such combinations are popping up across the globe, from La Samaritaine’s retail-meets-hotel reboot in Paris, to Ferrari’s move to reinvest in its on-site restaurant while simultaneously launching a lifestyle store at its headquarters in Maranello, Italy. Here we talk to three experts about what the relationship means, and where it’s headed in the future.

At Browns Brook Street in in London’s Mayfair, a Dimore Studio-designed retail environment (below) is paired with Native at Browns (above), a closed-loop restaurant by the architects at Red Deer, known for their focus on sustainability. Photos: Bozho Gagovski

In a world where cutting-edge retailers are trying out new concepts and experiences, why do you think we’re still seeing this combination employed so often?

Kate Shephard, cofounder of creative consultancy The Future CollectiveAs we finally begin to enter a post-pandemic world, we’re craving IRL experiences that blend retail and hospitality more so than ever. Having been left with no other option than to shop online, we’ve learnt that shopping in this way can often feel very one-dimensional, linear and impersonal, and we’re keen to return to shopping in store for the overall physical, visceral and sensorial experience it naturally brings. 

There’s no doubt that weaving hospitality offers into the retail experience naturally creates longer dwell time, but I’m particularly inspired by developments like Nordstrom’s ‘rack-side dining’, which merges an F&B offer seamlessly into the fashion and footwear retail experience. I’m also interested in department stores that are extending the notion of hospitality further, like the cinema in Selfridges and the Cheval Blanc Paris hotel within La Samaritaine. I’m certain we’re going to see many more brands and retailers extending their brand experiences more than ever before.

Across the way from the brand-new Sybarite-designed Ferrari lifestyle store (below) at the company’s headquarters in Maranello, Italy, is another part of the automobile marque’s larger diversification project: the reinvention of Cavallino restaurant (above) by India Mahdavi. Photos: Danilo Scarpati, Paola Pansini

Ian Johnston, founder and creative director of research, strategy and design consultancy QuinineThe reason this combination is employed so often is because by including hospitality (essentially just food and beverages), retailers tap into good customer service, social experiences, hosting their customers, taking care of them, and providing comfort and familiarity. It leverages all those emotions to build better, stronger, more loyal, more trusting relationships with their customers.  

While adding food and beverage moments does work for some, it’s not that innovative, and it’s quite a lazy approach to increase dwell time. The focus should be on elevating their core offer. Hospitality (in the form of food and beverages) is often used as a bolt-on, and is rarely an extension or integral to making the customer’s visit a more meaningful brand experience. 

Laura Saunter, senior retail strategist at trend forecasting and analytics network WGSNWhile already fragile, the vulnerability of the physical store came sharply into question through COVID-19. In the UK alone, overall footfall reduced by 81.4 per cent as consumers shifted to e-commerce. Even with restrictions lifting and stores reopening, this wave of disruption has caused lasting shifts in consumer behaviour. Retailers are being forced to rethink the value of their physical spaces and reinvent them for a new landscape, one that combines less square footage and more online integration. Exceptional brand experiences still hold value, but must be compelling enough to make shoppers leave home when everything is so readily available online. Savvy brands are those who are repurposing their spaces to adapt to culture and align with purpose, giving people a compelling reason to shop, browse and stay for something beyond retail.

In Office AIO’s design for O Shop in Chengdu, China – which transforms from a shop- cum-café by day into a cocktail bar by night – the bar is tucked away behind mirrored panels until required. Photos: WEN Studio

Is it a clever strategy for almost any brand, or do you think it only works for specific brands? 

KS: It’s certainly a very clever strategy for brands and retailers seeking to elevate their in-store experience, increase dwell time and create more of a destination. The best examples that spring to mind are in the beauty, fashion and department store sectors, but that’s not to say we couldn’t see more brands in other sectors innovating more in this area. For example, it’s a relatively unexplored area for tech brands.

IJ: Putting a coffee shop or restaurant in a store is not a clever strategy – it may work for some, but not for everyone. But weaving a hospitality mindset through your whole experience is a clever strategy and will work for every brand, so long as it’s crafted in a way that’s appropriate. But it’s not always a coffee shop or food. 

When we take a look at the pure definition of ‘hospitality’, it says ‘the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers’. I really think that this is how we should be looking at it, unpacking what hospitality is. It’s a mindset, not necessarily a single moment, and it should be woven throughout the whole experience. When I think about that and relate it to retail, that absolutely downgrades functional and transactional experiences, and it upscales social, entertainment and educational experiences, and ultimately escapist missions, because those involve, entertain and engage people, and that’s what people are demanding – that’s the big shift. 

Many retailers, including Nike, Adidas, Apple, Levi’s and Samsung, are using their stores to host events, workshops, talks and clubs to create a meaningful sense of belonging and community. Similarly, in the Galaxy store in Tokyo, staff hosted me through a gamification of the customer journey. This really kept me entertained, encouraged social interactions and personalized the experience. These are truer executions of ‘hospitality’. Retailers need to be asking themselves what does hospitality mean to us, to our experience? How do they work together? I don’t think that these questions are being asked. 

LS: It’s important for brands to consider how design language can help a space flex between uses or adapt between formats to target different consumers. Flexibility will be even more key post-pandemic, as hospitality venues look to recoup lost revenue by maximizing on space. 

As the future of hospitality remains in question, brands need to think about how they can integrate food or dining concepts in store in a non-permanent way, such as only at certain times of the day. This level of multifunctionality will stand stores in better stead should future disruption arise. Activating a space according to consumers’ changing needs at different times of day will give reason to visit and overcome the inertia of the behaviours they adopted during the lockdown.  

Above and cover: Multi-brand fashion retailer Slowear’s Milan store by Visual Display turns into an aperitivo spot after hours, facilitated by a large product case that lifts out to become the bar counter. Photo: Alessandro Saletta for DSL Studio

Do you feel there’s potential to push this combination (retail + food experience or retail + hotel experience) further? 

KS: Certainly. The pandemic has sparked a whole host of unmet needs among consumers, many of which be met by retailers and brands branching out into other areas of hospitality and leisure. I’m certain that the winners will be those who meet many of the more practical and genuine needs of their customers. And this could be as simple as the kind of napping stations that Casper became famous for, or the facilities designed to entertain the whole family that surround Uniqlo Park. It’s all about being thoughtful and considered and demonstrating true empathy and care for the consumer.

When we imagine really broadly what our high streets and town centres are likely to become in the future, it’s entirely possible that they will be dominated by these hybrid experiences that celebrate the intersection of retail, hospitality and leisure. It’s an exciting time to be retail designers, as many of these solutions and concepts haven’t been invented yet.

IJ: As an easy option, the merging of the food and retail will continue to grow, but I’m not sure it can be pushed much further. If you define the purer essence of hospitality and retail, absolutely, that combination can be pushed way further. The ones that are going to be most successful are those that embody the qualities of hospitality rather than necessarily incorporating F&B experiences into their stores. If it’s a diversion, it’s not right.