Colombia’s “La Plaza De Andrés” a Powerful Example of Foodservice/ Retail Convergence

Combining a well-known brand with a dizzying array of groceries and traditional Colombian specialties in a single, massive space, La Plaza de Andrés represents yet another step in the emergence of the “destination food court.”

Offering both the immediacy of quick-service as well as the sense of theatre and discovery found in the most successful retail environments, the Bogota-based concept is the brainchild of Andrés Jaramillo, proprietor of two landmarks of the capital city’s dining scene, Andrés Carne de Res and its sister restaurant, Andrés DC. Both restaurants combine a focus on grilled meats with a presentation and outlet experience perhaps best described as “kaleidoscopic,” combining vast spaces (Andrés Carne de Res takes up nearly a full city block, while Andrés DC offers four floors of dining area) with fancifully garish décor, with neon lights, found objects, and antique posters stacked to the (quite high) ceilings.

One part food court, one part market, one part Disneyland

La Plaza de Andrés represents a continuation of this overall aesthetic in a quick-service “marketplace” format. Offerings are organized by station, including a coffee station, bakery, sandwich shop, a grill area, and many more, with separate bar station offering a wide variety of alcoholic drinks, with a unified traditional Colombian theme running throughout. Rather than simply choosing from a menu, dining becomes a much more interactive experience, shopping, essentially, reinforced by the presence of fresh breads, pastries, and other grocery items. Located in a busy shopping centre, La Plaza de Andrés occupies a role closer to that of an “anchor store,” becoming a destination and traffic-driver in its own right, rather than the purely supportive role played by many mall food courts.

To be sure, La Plaza de Andrés is by no means the first marketplace-style food court, with such installations increasingly popular in more upscale shopping centres the world over. What sets it apart, however, is the overarching theme linking each station and product as well as its connection with one of Colombia’s most prominent restaurant groups. While the industrial-grade kitsch on display at La Plaza de Andrés may not be appropriate for every space, the potential for creating a powerful brand, and more importantly a powerful consumer connection to the brand, is clear to see.

Branded experience/experiencing the brand

This is really just one more example of restaurant operators’ growing awareness of the outlet, and indeed the total customer experience, as a powerful extension of their branding, a strategy used by successful retailers for years—while brands like Apple and Whole Foods, for instance, are justifiably revered for the quality of their products, they are also enormously adept at using outlets, at using the customer experience, to build a connection to their brands. Shopping for an iPad at an Apple Storeor imported cheese at Whole Foods is an entirely different experience from purchasing identical products at, say, a big-box consumer electronics store or a local supermarket—indeed, the experience is so powerful that it can serve as a traffic driver in its own right, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of shoppers who plan day trips to IKEA each year, to use just one example.

Yet the parallels between foodservice and retail go further still—as noted before, a trip to La Plaza de Andrés is not merely an eating experience, but a shopping one. More than just a “pit stop” for hungry mall shoppers, La Plaza de Andres is an extension of the shopping experience, with all the joy of discovery that entails. Curiously, this type of experience—held up here as an example of the cutting edge in restaurant design—has roots in something far older, with traditional markets serving as a focus for shopping, away-from-home eating and socializing in dozens of markets since time immemorial. Going forward, this type of format can be expected to inspire many more concepts, as quick-service in particular continues to shift away from a model of speed and consistency above all to one where enjoyment and appreciation for good food is married to a strong element of convenience.