How Food & Culture is Transforming the Retail Experience

11/22/2019 12:01 PM | Cinnamon Thompson (Administrator)

It is no secret that the retail sector has undergone significant changes in the last decade, with no end in sight. As e-commerce becomes increasingly sophisticated, more consumers opt for shopping online and having the goods delivered to their home. As a result, restaurants will continue to move toward out-of-the-box experiences becoming part of people’s lifestyles. Our November panel discussed how this new focus on food and dining experiences is changing the face of retail across Southern California.

Our panel was moderated by Rachael Zanetos, Leasing Director of Mixed-Use Retail at Brookfield Properties retail group. Rachael’s 15 years of commercial real estate experience give her a comprehensive understanding of the Los Angeles market. Currently, she is responsible for overseeing notable downtown projects such as FIGat7th, Halo at Wells Fargo Center, and California Market Center. Rachael led a panel of three additional speakers, all in various roles within the restaurant and design industries. Panelists included: Mike Simms, founder of Simmzy’s and Tin Roof Bistro; Ziba Ghassemi, Vice President of Design - Airports at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, a global developer focused on making positive contributions to users and communities; and Sam Polk, co-founder and CEO of Everytable, a fresh-prepared food concept aimed at making healthy food affordable for everyone. All panelists came from different arenas of the restaurant and retail sectors, but many overlapping similarities were found in a topic that seems to unite everyone – food and dining.

What is Your Most Impactful Meal?

As each panelist introduced themselves, moderator Rachael Zanetos asked the icebreaker question “what was your most impactful meal?” Each panelist had completely different responses, but they all shared a common thread. The most impactful meal for each panelist had not only to do with an exceptional food choice, but also with the location. Panelists noted the city, restaurant space, setting and even ritual as characteristics that made their choice stand out as their most recent impactful meal. This common denominator of what makes a meal impactful was the core of the panel discussion. As retailers are turning to food to fill spaces, there is more competition than ever. Each restaurant must have a unique concept and sense of place in order to deliver a multisensory experience to remain competitive and keep customers coming back. Now more than ever, food is just a starting point. Making a meal or a dining experience truly impactful requires exceptional design, a welcoming location, and for multi-venue concepts, a robust supply chain that can replicate dishes consistently.

What Drives Consumer Demand?

Panelists noted that food culture has become more relevant than ever. The advent of social media with consumers photographing and sharing their food and restaurant experiences has not only created traffic and demand, but also shifted trends. Simms noted that his team now considers social media when making decisions about lighting design and table settings.  Design is noted as a key factor in what will drive a consumer to go from a first-time visitor to a repeat customer. Beyond design or marketing strategies, panelists all seemed to share the sentiment that the most important factor in determining long-term success is to know your customer. This will take some research to not only identify who your customer is, but also their preferences and how to target them. Understanding demographics to this degree is important not only for restaurants in the mixed-use retail environment of today’s economy, but in any business across all industries. Certain “homegrown” restaurant concepts may be established with the local preferences in mind and have a keener sense of who their customer is. Once the correct customer profile has been identified, creating a sense of place is the next most important strategy in a successful restaurant concept within a mixed-use setting. 

Strategizing design and curation of a restaurant concept must take into consideration the location and what the customer will be doing there. For example, in an airport, where food offerings are becoming more sophisticated, customers still want to be able to maintain contact with their gate. This requires open spaces, clear lines of sight, and the infrastructure to produce fresh, high quality meals that can be eaten on location or on the go. Other restaurant concepts might be more dependent on the leisure aspect of dining or an adjacency to a destination like the beach. The customer’s route should be taken into consideration when choosing a site, for example a location on a street that runs from parking areas to the beach ensures higher visibility via foot traffic. Despite the tendency for today’s consumers to be digitally connected, prime real estate is still heavily influenced by pedestrian foot traffic.

With new restaurant concepts becoming an ever more important part of our culture, there is a push on owners to be authentic and experiential. The potential of a restaurant lies largely in the ability to get customers to come in and to come back – that characteristic has not changed. What has changed is that great food and exceptional customer service are really just the first step into having a successful restaurant in today’s market of imaginative concepts.


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