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Macy's sees food as the way to the wallet

The department store cafe is making a comeback at Macy's. The department store cafe is making a comeback at Macy's. (DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

CINCINNATI -- The owner of Macy's department stores plans to test bistros, gourmet restaurants, and Starbucks coffee shops at some stores in an effort to draw customers and keep them shopping longer.

The new in-store restaurants and cafes, featuring such famed chefs as Wolfgang Puck and Todd English, come as Federated Department Stores Inc. focuses on building Macy's as a national brand. Federated will change its name to Macy's Inc. if shareholders approve the switch.

Fancy tea rooms and restaurants were common years ago at large department stores and are making a comeback among many retailers. High-end stores like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus have restaurants, and Federated already offers dining at some of its larger urban stores, including Macy's stores in New York City and Chicago.

"It would be great to be able to shop and go out to lunch in one stop," said Kristi Burkett, 21, outside a Cincinnati Macy's store.

Macy's shopper Marie Short, 79, of the Cincinnati suburb of Batavia, said she would like to see store restaurants return. "If you get tired, you can take a break without having to leave," she said.

Federated's strategy is to improve the shopping experience while differentiating Macy's from competitors, vice chairman Tom Cole recently told investors.

The Cincinnati company operates more than 850 department stores under the Macy's and Bloomingdale's names. It converted regional department stores gained in its 2005 acquisition of the May Department Stores Co. to Macy's but continues to struggle to win over the May shoppers.

The longer retailers can keep customers in stores, the more they will spend, said James Dion, president of the consultancy Dionco Inc. "Combining services so shoppers can grab a bite to eat and shop in one place plays right into the lifestyle of a lot of consumers."