Barnes & Noble to sell beer & wine in new concept stores

Photo: Wikipedia/Nightscream
Jun 28, 2016

Daphne Howland

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from Retail Dive, an e-newsletter and website providing a 60-second bird’s eye view of the latest retail news and trends

Barnes & Noble last week said it plans to introduce an elevated restaurant concept at four of its stores.

The restaurants will be led by an executive chef bringing food, beer, wine and tableside service with full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. The restaurants will be twice the size of B&N’s current in-store concessions first unveiled in the early 1990s, which feature Starbucks coffee and pastries. The first new concept store to open in Eastchester, NY includes outdoor seating, a fire pit and bocce court.

The news came while the retailer posted a loss in its fourth quarter and said it expects flattish same-store sales in the current year.

The National Restaurant Association calls retail-host restaurants one of the fastest-growing segments for restaurant food, expanding at an annual rate of close to six percent.

One reason the strategy fits with CEO Ronald Boire’s vision for Barnes & Noble — food service is a clear brick-and-mortar advantage.

“I know that there are two parts of retail that cannot be duplicated on the internet: one is food and dining and the other is entertainment,” Nick Egelanian, president of retail development consultants SiteWorks International, told Retail Dive.

Restaurant operations come with a host of considerations — health inspections, food spoilage, and sitting issues among them — that many retailers haven’t wrestled with. But Barnes & Noble believes its cafes experience has paid off.

“We have 588 restaurants today,” Mr. Boire told investors. “We know how to keep them clean, we know how to get product to them. It’s really about the creativity around the new menu and a new experience.”

The new concept stores will also foster the element of discovery that many book shoppers enjoy.

“I think when you walk in you’re going to see a lot more tables in a sense of curated experiences. So that you can go, ‘Oh, this is interesting,”’ said Jaime Carey, its COO who will lead the restaurant initiative. “I think that experience is going to be very exciting for our customers.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Barnes & Noble incorporating restaurants with beer and wine inside its stores? Can retail-host restaurants work as a differentiator for many physical stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Barnes & Noble restaurants with a focus on beer and wine would seem to reflect a focus on the evening shopper."
"By adding more food and alcohol, it takes me back to the coffee house concept. I think that is where the food idea at book stores originated anyway."
"If there is an industry that can co-mingle merchandise and food, it is the book industry."

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13 Comments on "Barnes & Noble to sell beer & wine in new concept stores"

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Jeff Hall

Barnes & Noble restaurants with a focus on beer and wine would seem to reflect a focus on the evening shopper. Does this align with the highest volumes of their customer traffic? If so, the concepts may prove to be a great way of encouraging customers to stay longer and spend more, while making the stores more interesting and experiential.

Gene Detroyer

It is always hard to find a seat at a Barnes & Noble Cafe. People go there for social purposes as much as anything else. Beer and wine just encourages that more and adds margin to a bottom line that is challenged. And what better way to replace square footage that is not producing the return it used to?

This is not dissimilar to Staples converting areas of their stores to shared office space ala Regus. The challenge is to utilize committed square footage in the best possible way that fits with your business. Both these ideas make sense.

Lee Kent

By adding more food and alcohol, it takes me back to the coffee house concept. I think that is where the food idea at book stores originated anyway. I would think they might want to focus on the experience a little more. Like having book readings and maybe some other type of theatrics … like the coffee houses of old.

I also question if evening shopping in book stores is a high-volume time but, with the right experiences that shoppers crave these days, they just might draw more in.

For my 2 cents

Naomi K. Shapiro

Hello restaurants. Goodbye books. Sounds like a good trade-off for Barnes & Noble, who recognizes this advantage of a brick-and-mortar store. However, I think there’s a big difference between a coffee shop and full-service (plus wine and beer), so I wish them luck. Their stores and locations are iconic, which will help patrons find and identify with the restaurants. Retail hosted restaurants can work if scale is taken into consideration.

Bob Amster

I love Lee Kent’s idea of including book readings in addition to the food offering. We have repeatedly agreed in this publication that retail needs to add entertainment or other diversity to its stores in order to remain relevant, or it will perish. Barnes & Noble’s decision to try the food, wine and beer component is the right decision. They can experiment with space allocation and menu pricing throughout the trial until they figure out the formula. When we had a Barnes & Noble store in our home town, people sat in the café and read something they had “borrowed” from the book shelf. That is another way to make buyers out of browsers.

Richard Layman
2 years 8 months ago

Lee Kent’s idea isn’t new. Go to an independent bookstore and see how they’ve been “counter-programming” in this manner for decades. Just like lifestyle centers are heavy on the programming and space activation, to remain relevant, Barnes & Noble needs to adjust. That being said, the Kramerbooks & Afterwords bookstore and cafe on Washington’s Dupont Circle has been in operation for more than 30 years, with 24-hour service on weekends.

Zel Bianco

I think it’s an excellent idea for Starbucks to offer beer and wine and it may add a level of excitement and enhance the shopper experience. Starbucks cafes have been running at status quo for years so I think this could be a good way to invigorate their cafes as long as they don’t alienate the shoppers who just want to have a simple cup of coffee and not be bothered by table service and the extra fuss. It will be interesting to see how Starbucks deals with the potential lack of seating and table service. In this case, wine and books go together well so I think this will be a good fit.

Shep Hyken

How do you turn buying a book into an event? Serve food and alcohol. Or, how do you get some additional sales from a restaurant? Put a book store next to (or in) it.

If there is an industry that can co-mingle merchandise and food, it is the book industry. I’m not going to buy a pair of jeans at the mall and hope they serve up a sandwich and glass of wine as part of the experience. That said, we see success with very high-end retailers offering wine, but they aren’t selling it. It is part of the experience. The merging of restaurants and retail works with select industries, but not all.

Dan Raftery

Makes sense to offer things that compliment the Barnes & Noble experience. Having survived the book store channel contraction, this retailer is wisely carving a new niche, built upon and for the loyal customer base they serve. That base is likely to expand.

Lee Peterson

It’s a great idea. The only question is: what took them so long? Cost? What’s the cost of going out of business? Book stores, coffee shops, record (music) stores all have centuries old reputations for being gathering spots. Only in the last 30 years did we turn them into innocuous big boxes.

Given the tectonic shift of functional retail to online, going back to some ancient fundamentals in the physical space is a winning proposition IMO. People talking to each other, seeing things, touching product, ensconced in a brand-right vibe (sound, smell) … C’mon, we can do it again!

Craig Sundstrom

While I wish them well, there is a world of difference between having a counter selling pastries and a full-service restaurant, so this really isn’t an expansion of an existing concept, as much as a new one. Of course I’m sure management knows this, but it’s problematic to simply extrapolate the results from “a little food was good, a lot will be better.” Or maybe this is a subtle way of getting out of selling books altogether. We’ll have to wait and see.

Verlin Youd

First, I applaud Barnes & Noble’s desire to continue to change, maybe pivot in today’s terminology, to adapt to the challenging market. A broader menu and accompanying experience is a reasonable extension of their current offer. I can definitely see book clubs, a trend that seems to continue to grow, being interested in a venue that includes wine and beer.

However, there are going to be challenges, including jumping into a strong set of competitors in the casual dining field, the acceptance of current B&N cafe clients who’ve become accustomed to today’s experience, and the operational changes necessary to deal with a far more complex menu and processes to go with it.

Steve Montgomery

Beverages and books have always gone together well. The initial beverage offer was coffee, which is a fit for B&N’s daytime crowd. The addition of food with beer and wine seems like a natural for an evening shopper.

"Barnes & Noble restaurants with a focus on beer and wine would seem to reflect a focus on the evening shopper."
"By adding more food and alcohol, it takes me back to the coffee house concept. I think that is where the food idea at book stores originated anyway."
"If there is an industry that can co-mingle merchandise and food, it is the book industry."

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