E&S Extra

Editorial Director Joe Carbonara provides insights and commentary on the state of the foodservice equipment and supplies marketplace.


Experience Counts

Last month, home goods retailer Crate & Barrel announced plans to add a two-story, full-service restaurant to its store in Oak Brook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. In doing so, Crate & Barrel became the latest in a series of retailers investing in adding foodservice to its brick-and-mortar locations.

On the surface, Crate & Barrel’s decision seems logical for a variety of reasons. The company’s inventory centers on products that can help consumers turn their houses into homes where they entertain family and friends. And it’s no secret that retailers continue to struggle to draw customers to their brick-and-mortar locations while coming to grips with what it means to do business in an increasingly online world.

A closer examination of Crate & Barrel’s move, though, shows the company connecting to a broader trend that continues to shape all sorts of industries, most notably foodservice. Instead of simply trying to sell housewares, furnishings and decorative items to its customers, Crate & Barrel will now strive to give customers in its Oak Brook store a more memorable experience. To facilitate such an experience, the company is partnering with Chicago’s Cornerstone Restaurant Group to develop the two-story restaurant that will feature outdoor seating overlooking the scenic Oakbrook Center shopping mall. In addition, Bill Kim, the visionary behind some of Cornerstone’s most successful concepts, will develop the menu for Crate & Barrel.

“People want a memorable experience, and food is experiential,” noted David Portalatin of the NPD Group during Zoomba Group’s second Foodservice Equipment and Design Thought Leadership Summit. “Today’s consumer views their exchanges with companies or brands as an extension of who they are. The brand has to be experiential.”

Crate & Barrel’s move also shows another notable foodservice transition: Restaurants have become a real attraction. When visiting restaurants, “people can come in and have the experience they want,” said Joseph Szala of Vigor, also during the FED Summit. “It’s almost like an amusement park.”

To help create the visual and interactive appeal that serves as the cornerstone of the amusement park experience, foodservice operators from all industry segments continue to look for ways to enhance their food presentations. These presentations do more than highlight ingredients and culinary craftsmanship — they also communicate to the guest that they are about to experience something special.

And therein lies the key to growth, not only for operators but also for the entire supply chain. Growth will come when you are able to solve your clients’ problems or provide them with an experience they could not create on their own. In the absence of that, you are simply facilitating a transaction — selling a product for a price — and it’s hard to grow under those conditions.