Shopping and dining go hand in hand, whether it's a quick lunch at the food court or capping off a day of retail therapy with dinner at a full-service restaurant. Shopping center developers are increasingly savvy to the fact that the right restaurant mix creates an environment that draws customers and keeps them on the property as much for food and entertainment as for merchandise.
rd+d talked with Ron Loch of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Taubman Centers, developer of award-winning retail environments in the United States and Asia, to find out what's new in the segment and what restaurants need to know to operate successfully within it.
rd+d: Give us some highlights of new developments you're working on and how restaurants fit in with these projects.
Loch: One thing we always do is to look for natural features in a site and play them up for the restaurant spaces. At the Mall of San Juan in Puerto Rico, we have views of a beautiful lagoon that runs between our site and the ocean. We've planned a cluster of restaurants that have water views and a large covered outdoor area that will have the ability to have a stage for music as well as a third-level pavilion that will have a different type of restaurant and bar experience. At the Mall at University Center in Sarasota, Fla., we have a focus on outdoor dining and garden-like environments for the restaurants. At City Creek Center in Salt Lake City we created a kind of restaurant row, a valet drop-off and pedestrian piazza that's flanked by multiple restaurants with alfresco dining, entertainment and special lighting. These types of features help make the centers destinations.
rd+d: What attracts so-called destination restaurants to a center?
Loch: The most successful operators always look for a few specific things. One is proximate parking. That sounds like a no-brainer, but there are many examples where a restaurant is quite a distance from parking and it's a challenge for users. We also incorporate valet parking and strong visibility from either primary roadways or access points into the site. We typically try to create an adjacency to entry points for our restaurants, as well. It's great visibility and adds vibrancy to the entrances.
rd+d: How many full-service restaurants is a new center now likely to include?
Loch: Success seems to come in masses, so we create a critical mass of restaurants in all of our projects. That means maybe four to six quality restaurants, which effectively serve as another anchor and also extends the hours for the property.
rd+d: Large chains have long dominated shopping center spaces. Is that still the case?
Loch: We contour the restaurant selection to be a good fit for the demographic of the center. Over the years we've gotten better at reading this. What used to be typical mall restaurants were large chains with a narrow range of price points and quality. That's now far more adaptable with a greater range of experience levels and price points. Also, we now incorporate local and regional concepts because they create strong points of differentiation.
rd+d: Who controls design decisions, you or the restaurant company?
Loch: It's a collaboration. Their design team would have someone overseeing design and construction and submitting drawings to our tenant coordination team. There's a series of reviews that occur, both design and technical. Those are generally very collaborative and it's a pretty quick process because it's important to keep things moving. The restaurants need to get their own building permit from the municipality. On top of that, we have our own sign criteria, which is generally a little stricter.