TORONTO — The Hudson’s Bay Company wants to lure both “die-hard foodies” and regular shoppers through an upscale revamping of 24 in-store restaurants, part of its wider strategy to reposition The Bay chain as a higher-end department store.
The chain — which has recently introduced numerous chic clothing brands in an effort to change its image — is partnering with posh restaurant operator Oliver & Bonacini and food services company Compass Group Canada.
The Bay said it wants the restaurants to attract “die-hard foodies” as well as provide higher quality options for shoppers during breakfast, lunch and dinner, Bonnie Brooks, chief executive of The Bay, said Wednesday
Customers won’t necessarily be paying more, because food will be sold at different price points, she added.
“We’re going to have a variety of what you could call ’good-better-best’ dining experiences. So there will be everything from deli and takeout and pasta bar, morning coffee, bakery, straight through to elegant dining,” she said in a telephone interview.
Brooks said some stores, including its flagship location near the Toronto Eaton Centre, will see their restaurants transform into sit-down service with waiters.
The restaurant at Toronto’s Queen and Yonge store is currently laid out cafeteria-style, where customers pick up a tray, line up at food stations and order food served from large platters.
The restaurants that will get makeovers are located across Canada, and include locations in larger cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg, as well as smaller cities such as Moncton, Regina, and Kelowna, B.C. She said executives have not yet decided whether to keep the restaurants’ existing names.
Toronto-based Oliver & Bonacini will focus on locations in major Canadian cities while Compass will handle technology and facelifts at smaller stores.
The Bay’s Toronto Queen Street store will get a new conference facility, a new ground-floor restaurant and hall which would sell food for retail and immediate consumption. The store’s eighth-floor Arcadian Court, a 1930s-era sit-down restaurant and banquet hall, will also be renovated.
Construction will begin in phases across Canada in April and should be complete in 16 months. Current employees will be offered jobs with the new operators. The Bay did not say how much money it would be spending in the renovations, but Brooks said the announcement was in the works for over a year and is unrelated to the company’s recent sale of its Zellers stores to U.S. retailer Target.
Retail analyst Kenric Tyghe of investment firm Raymond James Ltd. said the new look is a better use of restaurant space than the cafeteria or diner-style option, and the Oliver and Bonacini name and food quality could ultimately draw in more customers to Bay stores.
He explained that U.S. Macy’s locations, Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York, and Holt Renfrew in Toronto have cafes or restaurants that have become destinations in their own right, apart from the stores that house them.
“(Customers) are not specifically going to Holts to shop, but they are going to Holts cafe and they may or may not see something that catches their eye on the way out so its certainly not negative for traffic,” he said, adding that the increased number of people dining might not always lead to increased sales in other departments, but it can’t hurt.
“This (renovation) would breathe some life into what is under-used real estate,” Tyghe said.
Outside the restaurant in Toronto’s Queen Street location, customer Jade Jenkins said she buys other merchandise nine times out of ten times she eats inside The Bay. She prefers the sit-down service of the Arcadian Court compared to a cafeteria-style option.
“I wouldn’t normally do the help yourself thing just because if I’m going to eat out for lunch it’s going to have to be a nice experience,” she said, explaining she finds the food better quality at the sit-down restaurant and she doesn’t have to deal with the trays.
But she says she hopes The Bay should offer a variety of options, and not scrap the-self service.
“Some people don’t like to spend a ton of money and have that waiter. Some people want to do their own thing,” she said.
Norm Sommer said he prefers the convenience of the cafeteria-style restaurant during a shopping trip, but finds the food is more expensive than other, nicer restaurants in the area.
The cafeteria was serving a breaded veal cutlet with vegetables and rice for $7.69 plus tax. A fish entree was going for $10.99.
“The comfortable restaurants are disappearing, where you go and have a sandwich, and have a Coke. The liquor licence spells the end for me. I won’t be coming here if they get a waitered restaurant,” he said.