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Barnes & Noble’s smart new restaurant concept has all the makings of a bestseller

9 February 2017

From The Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Go figure. The most impressive chain restaurant to land in the Twin Cities in — well, I can’t remember when — is located inside a bookstore.

Last fall, when Barnes & Noble announced plans to include Barnes & Noble Kitchen as a part of the relocation and reinvention of the company’s 25-year-old Galleria location, my knee-jerk response was “color me skeptical.” Anyone who encountered the dreary, prepackaged fare at the store’s somnolent, Starbucks-fueled cafe probably had the same reaction.

Color me corrected.

The bookseller is following the example of other retailers — including Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Restoration Hardware — that have recently discovered that good food served in an attractive setting can act as a powerful customer magnet. It’s hardly rocket science. Department stores have been doing the same thing for generations.

. . . .

A book club could easily convene over the shareable dishes, which echo Feeley’s straightforward approach to modernizing classics while using first-rate ingredients.

Kudos to the chunky, brimming-with-cilantro guacamole with crisp, salty tortilla chips (crank up the heat by adding a smoky tomatillo salsa), and the tahini-laced hummus, spread across sturdy house-baked lavash.

But top honors belong to the generous hunk of imported Italian burrata — mozzarella’s upper-tax-bracket sibling — that’s presented with toasted bread, a lively basil pistou and roasted tomatoes, the oven slowly but surely intensifying their flavor. Don’t miss it.

. . . .

Although it doesn’t quite feel that way, the restaurant is located in the basement (or “Valet Level” in Galleria-speak, which surely ranks as an all-time favorite Edina-based euphemism). The saving grace is a bank of windows, which contribute much-needed sunlight but unfortunately also offer a view that’s primarily parked cars. Remember, it’s a shopping mall, not an arboretum.

Link to the rest at Minneapolis Star-Tribune and thanks to WHM for the tip.

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19 Comments to “Barnes & Noble’s smart new restaurant concept has all the makings of a bestseller”

  1. Thanks, PG. I submitted this because I:

    a) was surprised that it got a mostly positive review for the food

    but also

    b) am not sure how this helps B&N’s bottom line — the margins in the restaurant business aren’t great, and it’s not clear to me how/if it will lead to higher book sales in significant enough numbers to do much for profits

    • Agreed, WHM. If you combine two low margin businesses – bookselling and restaurants – I’m not sure how you necessarily improve your chances of success.

      I’ve read that 60% of new restaurants do not make it past the first year, and 80% go under in five years.

    • I’m coming to look at this choice from a different perspective.

      Physical bookstores benefit from status-branding. “Look, I’m smart & educated, I go to bookstores.”) The right kind of restaurant can only reinforce that.

      Whether it ends up improving the finances is a little more dicey, but I’m beginning to come up with a justification.

      Sort of the virtue-signalling bumper sticker approach.

  2. McNally Robinson, Canada’s largest independent bookseller, has had the Prairie Ink restaurants for years. They have a pretty good menu.
    I just noticed, from their website, that they also kind of act as a vanity press but they will put your book on their shelves if they print it for you.
    I wonder if they have a separate indie section. Their store in Calgary closed a few years ago, so I can’t go satisfy my curiosity.

    http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/home

    • Was unaware and found this interesting. The menu for the restaurant = good.

      More importantly: their approach to vanity publishing with the automatic (nearly) consignment of one copy to bookshelf in store, to be replaced automatically, as purchased. Barnes and Noble should learn from that example. It would give them something special to offer self-publishers. They could finesse by making the shelf-space aspect limited to the individual store where you sign up–then giving you the option to pay a small shelving fee to kick start consignment in other stores… thus, you could go nationwide in placement of books.

      But it would require them to invest in in-store POD printing capabilities and… I doubt they’ll learn a thing….

      • I don’t see B&N opening up to print copies of self-pubbed titles anytime soon. They refused to work with my small press print titles way back in ’02 and when I tried again in about ’06, I think it was, they couldn’t have been less interested.

        If they refuse to work with small presses, what makes us think they’d be willing to work with indies? Or maybe they will and those titles will be hidden behind the bruschetta.

        • At one point, they were in bed with Author Solutions. Not sure if they still are connected. But it makes sense to get a sucker to pay Author Solutions a crap ton of money with the stipulation that one or two copies will be in a BN store. Maybe they will have to pay for premium space, too.

        • Don’t feel too bad, Deb. They wouldn’t carry my academic press title because “the print run was too small.” Even though it is the only book about a major regional topic (water policy and river law) and has gotten very positive academic and non-academic reviews. Won’t even special order it.

  3. Did B&N increase their footprint to create this restaurant or did they cannibalize their existing space? If the latter I’d be curious to find out how much space they actually have left for the, ya know, selling of books. Games, puzzles, Legos, calendars, the inevitable Nook display and now a restaurant. The space for this has to come from somewhere, after all.

    • The principle (& unsolvable) weakness of brick & mortar outlets is their severely limited (& transient) inventory compared to on-line.
      Further reducing shelf space to make room for a kitchen, tables, etc… only serves to highlight that weakness.
      I am also skeptical that a bookstore will serve up a better meal than a dedicated restaurant, or that management will be able to focus on the right priorities.

  4. tahini-laced hummus, spread across sturdy house-baked lavash.

    Yeah, I’d drive a hundred miles to sample that tasty treat. [sarcasm]

    Hey, there’s wine stains and crusted food on this book I WAS gonna buy… 🙁

    • That was my first thought – do people take the books from the book side into the restaurant side? Because then there would be stuff all over the books and that’s kind of gross. Especially if the customer who spilled didn’t buy the book.

  5. That Guacamole is $11, the Burrata is $15. The grilled chese is $14. A side of “Potato Puree” is $7. Drinks are $3.

    https://www.scribd.com/document/333759044/Barnes-Noble-Kitchen

    • The prices aren’t outrageous for a well-run bistro in a major metropolitan area if the food and service are top notch. But that all requires a disciplined execution plus the right location and neither of those are a given with B&N. There may be a few of these that can succeed. The one in the Twin Cities might actually work. But I don’t see how this concept can become a major profit center.

      • I strongly suspect someone on their board likes the idea, and that’s the only reason they’re pushing it forward. I also suspect (with no evidence) that, among other things, Boire took one look at it and said “this is not going to do the job we need to do”. Enough of that sort of thing and finally the board walked him out in a huff.

        The analogy I like to use for a business is that of the airplane. An airplane has to move forward at a certain minimum speed or it falls out of the sky. The same goes for business. Money needs to flow through a business at some minimum level, or the business isn’t viable. You have to get over those fixed minimums of rent, utilities, fees, payroll, etc, before you get airborne.

        B&N is seeing less and less money per day, and it’s in danger of stalling out and dropping to the ground, and B&N is a big plane – small bumps to revenue like this one aren’t going to fix the problem.

        Will this attract book buyers? Consider the article. Did they mention books, at all?

      • Lots of restaurants get off to a roaring start as foodies flock to sample their food.
        The real test comes later with the repeat business.

  6. It’s not a restaurant in a bookstore, it’s a restaurant in a parking garage. How soon will that thrill wear off? I give it three months.

  7. do they have a liquor license, for wine, say?

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