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December 4, 2012

Urban outfitters serves striped bass in bid for shoppers

Next month, Tommy Bahama is opening a restaurant at its new flagship store in Manhattan. Shoppers will be able to buy one of the chain's signature tropical print shirts, then order the macadamia-nut encrusted snapper.

More and more retailers are following the Tommy Bahama model these days, using food and drink to lure customers into stores as sales increasingly migrate online. Urban Outfitters, known for selling hipster threads in college towns, has served lamb merquez and striped bass at its Terrain home-and- garden store in Westport, Conn. J.C. Penney plans to add juice bars and coffee shops. Gap's Banana Republic has served cocktails to debut new clothing collections, while Ann's Loft brand held Friday happy hours.

Tommy Bahama has become a model for other retailers because its restaurant-stores generate 2 1/2 times the sales per square foot of the apparel chain's regular locations, Chief Executive Officer Terry Pillow said in an interview. Fellow CEOs often ask about the food-and-beverage business.

"They're fascinated first of all that we have it, and the second thing they're fascinated about is we run it ourselves and we've chosen not to license it," Pillow said.

Putting restaurants inside stores has a long history. In the 1900s, many department stores ran restaurants and tea rooms. Some even achieved iconic status and continue to serve customers today, including Chicago's Walnut Room at Macy's and the Zodiac restaurant at a Neiman Marcus store in Dallas. More recently, Nordstrom has tested a contemporary diner concept called Sixth Pine and added espresso bars.

Retailers are looking for ways to attract customers to their brick-and-mortar locations as the National Retail Federation forecasts online sales may rise to 16 percent of $586 billion in holiday revenue this season. Food is an opportunity as consumers show more interest in farmer's markets and amid the popularity of such cooking shows as cable network Bravo's "Top Chef."

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