Two pieces of conventional wisdom: No one shops at department stores anymore, and everything old is invariably new again. When you synthesize them, this means one thing: The department store restaurant is back! Not that it actually ever went away—Neiman Marcus cafés around the country still serve popovers and other nice ladies-who-lunch food and a meal at the Walnut Room at the State Street Macy’s in Chicago (formerly Marshall Field’s) is still a classic experience. But now department stores are opening new restaurants because it’s a thing.
The occasion for yesterday’s Wall Street Journal deep dive into the department store restaurant was the news that the new Nordstrom in midtown Manhattan will contain a staggering seven restaurants. While Nordstrom always had a café for weary shoppers to rest their feet and revive themselves with coffee, this is a whole new level, intended to draw in diners and maybe inspire them to become shoppers.
It’s not just limited to Nordstrom, either, or even New York. There are fancy department store restaurants all across the country, designed by fancy architects and serving fancy food prepared by fancy chefs. The Blue Box Cafe at Tiffany’s store on Fifth Avenue is a Tiffany-blue Instagram experience. Some of these restaurants, like Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bar, have even outlived the stores to which they were attached.
However—the department stores declined to say whether the restaurants were actually profitable or whether they actually did inspire customers to buy more merchandise. “Clearly shopping has become much more about experience over the last ten to 15 years,” Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom, told the WSJ. Restaurants, the philosophy goes, are part of that experience.