Crate & Barrel’s In-Store Restaurant Puts Merchandising On Menu

CHICAGO— Neela Montgomery, now early in her third year at the helm of Crate & Barrel, has launched a number of initiatives at the home furnishings and housewares retailer, but none so quirky as opening a restaurant where much more than food is offered for sale.

Montgomery is responsible for creating a number of working alliances for Crate & Barrel, including an online wedding registry with Zola, furniture rentals with Fernish, and a co-branding agreement with Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand Goop covering more than 50 products.

This summer, Crate & Barrel opened its first in-store restaurant at its location in Oakbrook Center in the north Chicago suburbs.

Called “The Table at Crate,” the full service restaurant offers guests meals and also the plates on which they are served, as well as the chairs they are sitting on and the table off which they are eating.

Servers have been trained to talk up the merchandising arrangement.

“We want our new restaurant associates to speak not only to what’s inside the bowl, but also the bowl itself,” Montgomery said.

“It’s not like everyone comes to us once a month,” she added. “Having a restaurant will help us drive more frequency and more traffic to the store and also create a different level of loyalty by having that experience with us together.”

The bi-level restaurant, which includes both indoor and outdoor space, provides “another avenue to showcase the latest Crate & Barrel products and entertaining inspiration,” the company said in a statement at the grand opening in July.

“As a longtime destination for all things home, we know that our customers love to entertain,” Montgomery said. “We share that passion and The Table at Crate creates a more immersive brand experience for our customers.”

The menu, developed by chef Bill Kim, takes a plant-centric approach while highlighting seasonal Midwestern fare.

One feature of the restaurant is that diners may savor their drinks as they browse through the aisles of the store.

Crate & Barrel is not the first home goods retailer to provide food for patrons. That distinction probably belongs to Ikea, which began serving Swedish meatballs to its customers in 1956. In addition, RH, formerly known as Restoration Hardware, has restaurants in several of its stores, including those in Chicago, New York City and California’s Napa Valley.

“Think about it— someone is much more likely to make a major furniture purchase if their spouse is there as well,” said Cathy Hotka of Cathy Hotka Associates, a retail marketing firm. “That’s what makes the restaurant concept so genius. Come in, have a look, consider your purchase over a meal; buy, and go. I’ll be surprised if this isn’t a hit.”

—Dave Schulz