Could gastronomy be the savior of the department store?

On the second floor of Selfridges in London, between the concessions of Gabriella Cole Garments and Max Mara, you will find the new restaurant Adesse. The food here is exclusively plant-based, although you might not immediately clock it, as the menu makes no explicit mention of being vegan. Dishes range from a delicious avocado tikka with curry leaf yogurt to a jackfruit-based “crab cake”, which tastes less like a fishcake and more like a spring roll but is nevertheless delicious. “Lasagna” is neither hot nor lasagna in the traditional sense. It includes layers of raw zucchini and tomato with pistachio pesto and macadamia ricotta. Although full of flavor, it would probably disappoint anyone expecting a hearty pasta dish. Among other dishes, the spicy shiitake mushroom udon is rich and fragrant, and the pistachio hibiscus cheesecake is a comforting blanket of beauty.

As a plant-based fine dining restaurant in a department store, Adesse feels almost revolutionary — a far cry from the stuffy tea rooms and dining rooms that used to be the norm. But retail restaurants have undergone a sea change. The rise of e-commerce, which the pandemic has accelerated, has forced brick-and-mortar retailers to shake things up. Updating their food offerings has been key to that.

Adesse vegan restaurant at Selfridges in London

Vegetable bowl from Adesse with black lentils, quinoa, kale, seasonal vegetables and romesco

Adesse vegetable bowl with black lentils, quinoa, kale, seasonal vegetables and romesco © David Cotsworth

“I hate the words ‘department store’ because I think it’s a dying business,” says Sebastian Manes, director of buying and merchandising at Selfridges, which was recently taken over by Thai retailer Central Group and Austrian property company Signa in a £4billion deal, ending a nearly 20-year ownership under the Weston family. Selfridges is designed as a ‘social place’, where visitors come to be entertained. Hence the in-store cinema, the skate bowl and the temporary exhibitions. Restaurants are one of them. In an effort to appeal to a younger generation, a branch of Pizza Pilgrims opened in December with a focus on sustainability. Pizza dough is made from regenerative wheat. The upholstery is made from vegan leather. Adesse adheres to similar principles (in keeping with the store’s “Project Earth” campaign), but in a more upscale setting. Saks Fifth Avenue in New York

Saks Fifth Avenue in New York

Saks Fifth Avenue in New York

Some retail restaurants are designed primarily as pit stops where shoppers can fuel up and grab a bite to eat. Some are more ambitious and become destinations in their own right. When Saks Fifth Avenue in New York reopened in 2019 after a major renovation, its new restaurant banked on established names in fashion and style: a Philippe Starck-designed outpost of Parisian hotspot L’Avenue, run by the Costes family; it also targeted a celebrity guest list including Gigi Hadid, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. In November, Bergdorf Goodman reopened plant-based restaurant Palette, unveiling an exuberant, botanical design by Kit Kemp, who already has a reputation among New York’s style crowd as creative director of The Whitby and Crosby Street Hotel. .

Palette at Bergdorf Goodman

Palette at Bergdorf Goodman

Shoppers who dine in-store spend more time there and spend more. They also visit more frequently. Such is the value of the restaurants that Harrods is striving to establish itself as “a global dining destination”, says its restaurant manager, Ashley Saxton. The store recently opened a branch of Lebanese restaurant Em Sherif run by chef Mireille Hayek, and there are plans to launch a gourmet restaurant by Swedish three-Michelin star Björn Frantzén later this year. The two chefs will be “among friends,” says Saxton, joining a list that already includes Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton, Vineet Bhatia and Tom Kerridge.

Harrods aims to establish itself as

Harrods aims to establish itself as “a global foodie destination”

Seared tuna at Harrods Social by Jason Atherton

Seared tuna at Harrods Social by Jason Atherton

Some consumers, Saxton says, may experience an “emotional barrier” walking through a retail space to get to a restaurant. At Harvey Nichols, London, an elevator provides direct access to the dining room on the fifth floor, bypassing the shopping areas. Importantly, it runs until 11 p.m., maximizing dinner service for restaurants, which include Madhu’s Brasserie and Burger and Lobster. “It is important to be able to operate [in-store] restaurants like normal restaurants if you’re driving steps from outside,” says Saxton. “Over 60% of restaurant business is after 6 p.m.” Selfridges has transformed its Duke Street wing, which has its own entrance and elevator, adding Chinese restaurant Din Tai Fung to Pizza Pilgrims, EL&N and Bubble Magik in a fourth-floor dining room that stays open until 11:30 p.m.

Selfridges’ new owner, Central Group, has an established reputation for success with ‘in-store’ food. It has already transformed European department stores such as KaDeWe in Germany and Rinascente in Italy, and operates Bangkok’s fanciest food halls, including a flagship supermarket/restaurant complex at the Central World shopping mall that spans 8,200 m². With their appetizing displays, the luxury food halls offer a one-of-a-kind experience. I may be biased, but as a way to get people into the store, these temples of plentiful food are surely the way to go.