Travel hack: The 10 cheapest restaurants located within a store

The HuffPost calls them “C-stores,” those mini-restaurants found within convenience stores. A recent article in the online news outlet showed these grab it and go food stops are doing far better than other food outlets that fall under the quick service restaurant (QSR) category. In fact, consumers hit these stores six times more frequently for fast food than any other chain — including McDonald’s and Wendy’s.

But there’s another type of food service category found in a retail setting. For those that have been in a retail big box store and stopped at an on-site cafe, the phenomenon of the retail store restaurant has made an impression. It’s a brilliant concept; retailers figured out early on that shopping makes consumers either really hungry or really tired. So, these food service locations provide food and caffeinated beverages to keep the shopper in the store longer.

Retailers have made a go of developing these mini-locations within a shopping destination. Come to think of it, that’s the goal of having restaurants in a retail site — to create a multi-dimensional shopping experience designed to keep a shopper in-store for as long as possible. The extra cash these restaurants generate can’t be a bad thing for retailers with brick and mortar sites who are increasingly struggling to compete against the ease of online shopping.

This article reviews 10 of the cheapest retail-centric restaurants when consumers can grab decent food for a good price.

Top Ten Restaurants in Retail Stores

An article on the Specialty Food Association’s website calls it “dwell time;” the idea that the longer a shopper stays in a retail destination, the more they will spend. The article points out that, while some retailers have backed away from this concept, others have stepped up to the stove as a way to engage customers in new and appetizing ways. Here are some of our favorite examples:

Barnes & Noble

For people that like to eat while they read, mega-retail bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. is rolling out a new concept. Called the Barnes & Noble Kitchen, this full-service restaurant is currently in Minnesota, California, New York, and Texas.  These stores cover about 10,000 square feet and seat just over 100. There’s a full bar, too. The menu has everything from apps to desserts. Entree prices start around $14, plus you can try using a Barnes and Noble promo code or another discount on your purchase. This is a positive addition to the Barnes & Noble family, a sprawling bookstore chain with 632 locations in 50 states according to Nation’s Restaurant News. 

Costco 

Sure, people go to Costco to get the biggest of everything. Big packages of crackers and coffee, big organic containers of vegetables and baked goods — but also books, jeans, electronics, and lots more. Costco is a wholesale warehouse that saves consumers money when they purchase in bulk. But the Costco Food Court has really cheap, but surprisingly yummy comfort food. In particular, try the single slice of pizza and soda for a couple of bucks. It’s also fun to “do lunch” just strolling around and noshing on their free samples. 

Ikea

What’s cool about Ikea is the smart, clean, space-efficient stuff for the home and office. But the Ikea Swedish Market, Restaurant, and Bistro are must-stops on any shoppers stroll through the mega-warehouse. The menu has snacks and meals, making for a nice budget-option depending on how much the shopper’s stomach is growling. The menu has options for all ages and includes vegetarian and organic foods. The prices are excellent and many of the menu items are also for sale within the store. Before shopping at Ikea, make sure to check for promo codes or other discounts. 

Here’s some more good news: No one has to put together any of the food served at Ikea.

Kroger’s

Grocery stores, like midwestern grocery chain, Kroger, have added a restaurant section to some of their stores. These lunch counters let shopper’s order a wine and cheese plate or sandwich for a few dollars. But Kroger, the second largest grocery chain in the U.S., is upping the ante on competitors like Whole Foods, by opening its first in-store restaurant focusing on comfort food in Kentucky. Called Kitchen 1883, USA Today reports the concept includes a “fresh new take on American comfort food that will feature a made-from-scratch menu, hand-crafted cocktails with a family-friendly atmosphere.” While the prices are TBD, given the stiff competition, it is a safe bet to assume the prices at the Kitchen 1883 will be on the inexpensive side.

Nordstrom

Nordstrom diversified their retail chain early-on — and they’ve been often-imitated. Today, the retailer offers high-quality food in a variety of settings, from Bar Verde, a full-service location, to Cafe Bistro, with a more casual fare. There are currently more than 200 locations to choose from and nine restaurant types, as well as five different Starbucks-like coffee shops. The Nordstrom shopper can get everything from the super cheap and fast to a full-on dining experience — sometimes both within the same retail location. 

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Sam’s Club

The Sam’s Club food court is a mirror image of Costco. They both serve frozen yogurt, pizza, sundaes, hot dogs, salads, and churros. Both are equally cheap. How cheap? How about a $1.50 hot dog? In fact, Sam’s Club hot dog is kind of legendary. There are even discussion boards on Chowhound about whether the dogs are Hebrew National or Best Kosher.

Granted, the food is seriously not healthy, like some of the other retail restaurants covered in this article. But if cheap is the way to go, Costco and Sam’s Club are neck-and-neck for convenience and affordability.

Target

The Target food court has one of our favorite cheap nosh foods; popcorn. Most of the Target retailers offer slices of Pizza Hut pizza as well as hot pretzels, fruit smoothies, and more. It’s about as diverse as their store offerings, which is great. Another plus? You can often find a plethora of Target coupon codes and deals on the web. 

Tommy Bahama

Tommy Bahama was one of the first clothing retailers in the U.S. to explore fine dining as part of their brick and mortar experience. They opened their first Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar close to 20 years ago and today, have more than a dozen open in points around the U.S.

Walmart

Walmart is the King of discount shopping. Their Supercenter stores started popping up around 1988. Their corporate website spells out their unique shopping proposition; they’re simply cheaper than anyone else (and they still offer promo codes here and here). Within the 180,000 square feet (give or take) of each Walmart Supercenter the casual shopper will find not only banks and hair salons but vision centers and chain restaurants — including the golden arches, McDonald’s.

10. Whole Foods

With Amazon just purchasing the Whole Foods Market, consumers will surely benefit with more competitive pricing in their cafe (their $10 off promo codes and other deals don’t hurt!). The organically-focused market also has a pretty yummy bistro and a full bar that features pizza and sandwiches, to burritos. However, the bistro can be pricey, so stick to nosh foods only and skip anything elaborate. 

Conclusions – Best Bang for the Retail Shop

This article has a lot to consider; from high-end restaurants to quick-stops, it seems retailers are continuing to reap the rewards of offering their consumers something to nosh on at the end of a hard shop. Next time shopping is high on the list, make sure to check out these restaurants, bistros, and food courts.

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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