The Debenhams’ £25 million comprehensive refurbishment of its Oxford Street store has transformed its overall offering – including three new hospitality areas that mark a strong break with the past, and may come to be regarded by both customers and management as the ‘jewels in the crown’, helping to take the in-store experience to a much higher level.
In common with many other individual stores and shopping centres in the UK, the Food Services team at Debenhams – led by its Director, John Baker – has been studying the demographics of its customer base, as well as the examples set by stores and shopping centres elsewhere. Hospitality is well known to help to retain shoppers and therefore footfall, not only delivering revenue in its own right, but also in other parts of the retail environment.
The three new hospitality areas in Oxford Street seek to address the needs of both current shoppers throughout the store, and those of new or future shoppers – and it’s likely, of course, that the hospitality on offer will influence and attract new shoppers. And, if the offers deliver, they could even attract customers as a hospitality destination in their own right. The stakes, therefore, are high.
As can be seen from the atrium (above), the store has a fresh, up-to-date new style, and the new restaurant, café and bistro have been designed to complement that look, taking Debenhams’ in-store hospitality experience to a new level, seeking to be the best that London has to offer.
Lower Ground – W1 Bistro
Nestled amongst a new oasis for women on the department store’s basement floor, the W1 Bistro offers modern design features, informal table service, and a relaxing but stylish environment in which to enjoy food and drink.
The refreshment aims to be well-presented, light, healthy and tasty, even aspirational. Alongside an exclusive wine and cocktail list, the menu offers such contemporary dishes as crispy salt & pepper squid with a lime aioli, oak smoked salmon on sourdough with salsa verde, and a grilled halloumi, almond and courgette ribbon salad.
Though it’s still being carefully analysed to ensure it meets customer requirements, it’s clear already that customers are attracted to this area and the food – not to mention drinks – on offer.
Café on 2
A quick escalator ride up to the second floor finds a new hospitality area – Café on 2. Positioned alongside young fashion, this space delivers relaxed café style service, with multiple access points to the service counter ensuring service within two minutes.
Again with contemporary, relaxed styling to suit the fashion around it, it celebrates London’s dynamic food culture and takes inspiration from the best in artisan street markets, putting the emphasis on flavour and freshness.
In addition to premium tea and coffee and artisan pastries, menu highlights include creamy fish pie, delicious lamb hot pot, and savoury snacks like oven baked sausage rolls.
Digital menus also feature, encouraging shoppers to take a quick, enjoyable coffee break or a light lunch at their leisure.
Restaurant on 5
Debenhams’ Restaurant has truly been elevated – not just from its old location on the second floor up to fifth, but by a transformational visual, service and menu upgrade.
Re-created with families, children and tourists in mind, visitors can now enjoy a bright, spacious restaurant with contemporary fixtures & furniture (see above and below).
It remains a self-service restaurant, but the layout has been specifically designed to guarantee customers a smooth and swift service. For example coffee, tea and other drinks are available at every counter allowing for just one counter stop, and large digital menus on the back bars of each station make selection easy.
As well as an aesthetic overhaul, the menu has been re-created, using local and fresh produce wherever possible and a rigorous focus on quality. At the same time, there is food aimed specifically to suit children, whilst the overall menu aims to celebrate the ‘high notes’ of British cuisine.
John Baker, Director of Food Services, comments: “The 5th floor restaurant is a celebration of British culinary history and heritage, with an emphasis on iconic dishes both British visitors and tourists love.
“Fish has always been one of our best sellers so we’ve created a Fish & Chip Shop where fresh plaice, cod, scampi and salmon fishcakes will be available with thick-cut chips and mushy peas!
“Whether it’s a traditional English breakfast, a fruit scone with tea or a Sunday roast, customers can expect to find all the British classics on offer.”
The new restaurant seats over 250 people, with a range of service points – such as the (very popular) carvery counter, and the traditional fish and chips counter. But it’s not all ‘hearty’ food: there’s soups, a bespoke salad bar, and a bakery all offering quality hospitality.
Coffee on Ground
At the end of March, the hospitality facilities will be completed with the opening of a Coffee offering on the ground floor. This will be very much a ‘grab and go’ outlet: pastries, salads and more on offer to store customers and local workers or visitors.
What next for foodservice in Debenhams?
Debenhams investment in these hospitality services demonstrates not only that it recognises the profitable opportunity that foodservice offers in attracting customers and revenue in its own right, but also the additional or retained footfall that it delivers to the store as a whole.
The three (soon to be four) hospitality offerings are supported by a food development team that seeks to keep them attractive and therefore compelling for visitors – both as relaxing environments, and as enjoyable food and beverage offerings. The early evidence suggests that this ambition is being realised, and that Debenhams can now compete with rival offerings not just in Oxford Street, but in the wider area.
Oxford Street, of course, is a unique shopping destination: the mixture of traditional Debenhams customers, families and tourists is not replicated in other Debenhams stores. Which means that care must be taken in applying the experience and lessons from Oxford Street to other locations. Nonetheless, we can expect to see some of the successes and efficiencies spreading to other stores in the future as Debenhams seeks to replicate the hospitality successes of Oxford Street across the Group.