Strengthening city centres for the future with restaurants, retail and culture

It is clear from the METRO city centre report that breathing new life into town and city centres demands fresh thinking from the hospitality industry. But not on its own: solutions can be found in partnership with cultural institutions and retailers. METRO is helping them to implement concepts for the future.

Berlin City

A latte macchiato in a pavement café followed by a wander around streets of little boutiques, rounded off with a meal in a cosy restaurant. A trip to the city centre – quickly planned at home on a smartphone – promises fun and variety. But in many places the reality is very different. The number of visitors to city centres has been falling for years, often for similar reasons: the same chain stores in every shopping street, vacant premises, lack of cleanliness and security, not enough to see and do and not enough green spaces. High rents, the boom in online shopping and the lack of investment and new ideas also play their part. And the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated the crisis. Fewer visitors than ever are strolling through the streets and dropping into the cafés and restaurants.

METRO study: a voice for restaurateurs

The range of cafés, restaurants and bars is an important factor in bringing German city centres back to life. This is confirmed by the METRO city centre study, a collaboration between the company and IFH Cologne that reports on the current situation in German town and city centres, focusing on the role of the hospitality industry. ‘The study shows how our customers in town and city centres are really doing and what they need,’ says Sven Liebert, Head of Public Policy Germany at METRO AG. 250 restaurateurs reported on their experiences and their requirements for the city centre. ‘The study provides industry insights and takes a realistic look at the topic as a whole, rather than just focusing on the retail industry,’ explains Liebert. The results clearly show that a three-pronged combination of restaurants, retail and culture is needed to secure the future of town and city centres. 52% of restaurateurs say the current problem is that there is not enough going on. They still find their central location attractive, but say it is also very challenging. The best locations are hard to come by for restaurants that struggle to afford the high rents. This is a clear mandate for politicians to act.

Link digital life and city life

City digital

But the changing needs of visitors are also an important factor. Reimagining city centres means also thinking about digital products and services and linking the 2 worlds – analogue and digital. After all, anyone in town who doesn’t know where to eat can just look on Google or TripAdvisor, check the reviews and book a table. 77% of cafés and restaurants have their own website, 45% use social media and 23% have an online booking tool. Large providers are already well positioned in digital terms for cost and efficiency reasons. But some smaller ones are still just setting out on their digital journey. This is where METRO and its digital arm DISH Digital Solutions can help. ‘The DISH platform gives restaurateurs a website that enables them to be found more easily using Google search and Google maps, a booking tool that can be easily integrated into the website – including any pre-existing website – and, with DISH Order, a digital solution that offers click-and-collect as an additional option. So even the little ones have a chance’, says Liebert.

Bring all parties around one table

The city centre report also clearly shows that more than a third of respondents feel there is a lack of political support. Liebert knows the importance of getting all parties to the table: ‘At METRO, we can create a space for debate and establish what the hospitality industry needs.’ Areas where specific action is required include location allocation and accessibility: Is a location particularly cool because it is in a hip and trendy part of town? How many passers-by spontaneously go there to eat or drink? Cleanliness and ambience also play a role: Are the bins emptied regularly? Is there unsightly and off-putting graffiti outside the door? And is the location easy to reach by public transport?

Food and drink as the anchor for retail, culture and living

London City

If the hospitality and retail sectors can be brought together successfully, the city centre becomes a destination once again. ‘Many towns and cities now have city managers who plan concepts and support their implementation.’ says Tanja Kohnen from Deutscher Städtetag, an organisation that represents the interests of cities in Germany. Through her work with the group, Kohnen has been increasingly involved in the area of city centre development since the beginning of the corona pandemic. ‘What we need are multifunctional locations where people live and work. Places that attract companies but that are also home to cultural institutions and food service businesses,’ she says. ‘A good way to find out what residents and tourists want could be to use pop-up stores, for example’. One tried-and-tested idea is to convert large existing buildings such as department stores for multiple purpose use, explains Kohnen, ‘for example with places to eat and drink on the ground floor, shops above and higher education rooms on the upper floors.’

The possibilities are endless, she says. ‘Smaller premises could be reimagined as a mix of bistro and co-working space, meeting rooms could combine with creative industries and the culinary arts.’ For Kohnen, the important thing is to develop new locations that bring people together and create an experience. ‘Concerts in restaurants, open workshops for creative courses or as artists’ studios and libraries, and youth centres or second-hand homeware shops in old department stores – we can completely reinvent our town and city centres. But hospitality is always the anchor point.’ In Oldenburg, for instance, a former Hertie department store building has become the new heart of the town. A mix of street food stands, auditoriums for events and co-working spaces has taken over, creating a new reason to visit. Kohnen advises restaurateurs to be proactive and join forces with other companies in the neighbourhood to approach the city manager or town council. Hospitality, retail and culture can combine to breathe new life into our town and city centres.

Tanja Kohnen

Tanja Kohnen from Deutscher Städtetag, an organisation that represents the interests of cities in Germany.

Sven Liebert

Sven Liebert, Head of Public Policy Germany at METRO AG.

About the study

The city centre initiative by IFH COLOGNE and METRO examines the situation of the German hospitality industry, focusing on current challenges such as the shortage of skilled staff, high rents and the economic situation, with an emphasis on the policy framework. 250 restaurateurs in 20 selected cities in Germany were interviewed by telephone in July 2021. The responses were supplemented by data from IFH COLOGNE studies ‘Vital City Centres 2020’ (2021), ‘Future of Retail – Future of Cities’ (2021) and ‘Coronavirus Consumer Check’ (2021) (all studies in German).

Further articles