Doing it in style: How Condé Nast is bucking the restaurant trend

When diners walk into Condé Nast’s latest brand extension, Vogue Café Bejing, they are immediately reminded of the iconic title that inspired the restaurant.

“The reception desk is built from 700 Chinese Vogues,” explains Markus Grindel, Managing Director, Global Brand Licensing at Condé Nast. “And then, across the restaurant, we feature iconic imagery from the Vogue archives – covers and editorials from well-known photographers.

Markus Grindel

“Translating the 2D digital print experience into a physical space is all about creating those touch points – those recognisable moments consumers associate with Vogue.”

The fact that the stylish restaurant – spread over 400 square metres in the bustling China World Mall in central Beijing – is operating at all is somewhat of a miracle given how hard the Covid pandemic has hit the hospitality industry around the world.

In the UK, restaurants and casual dining firms have recorded almost 30,000 job losses in 2020 according to the Centre for Retail Research (CRR). And as the virus surged across America late last year, food and drinking places there lost 17,400 jobs in November, according to a Department of Labor report.


Putting food back on the table

In China, where the pandemic has been beaten into retreat, the picture is very different for eateries. Thanks to a rigorous contact tracing system, restaurants in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan are open. To enter, diners must scan a health code, and are only granted access with a generated green QR code on their smart phone. For anyone who’s gone near an area with tougher restrictions, the code goes red.

It’s against this backdrop that Condé Nast decided to go ahead with the opening of Vogue Café Beijing, under license agreement with Beijing Sycamore Seed Advertising & Media Co, in November last year.

“For the hospitality sector, 2020 wasn’t a particularly fun year, but so long as you have the concepts that speak to the consumer, there’s a bright future for restaurants, “ says Grindel. “It would be foolish to just stop your plans and not think about the future in a post-pandemic world. That is one of the reasons why we pushed ahead with Vogue Café Beijing.”

The restaurant joins Condé Nast’s portfolio of branded properties under its global licensing division. Other eateries include Vogue Cafés in Moscow, Porto and Riyadh, Vogue Lounge Kuala Lumpur, Vogue Restaurant Istanbul and GQ Bar Berlin.


Eastern promise

Condé Nast has been publishing magazines in China (with partners) ever since launching Vogue China in 2005. Today, Condé Nast China brings out a series of media titles like Vogue Me, Vogue Film, GQ, Condé Nast Traveller and Architectural Digest, under copyright cooperation with partners. Opening its first restaurant in the country was the next natural step.

“China is one of the most significant markets when it comes to future growth,” says Grindel. “With scale comes opportunity and Chinese consumers have a lot of disposable income. The middle class is growing and accessing luxury items. Our brands in China are particularly strong, especially Vogue and GQ.

“When it comes to Vogue, it has never been a magazine that only covers fashion. It sets the barometer on fashion while influencing, entertaining and inspiring our audience how to live. A title with that that much brand equity and brand power is every licensing professional’s dream. My team and I can continuously look at how to flex that brand beyond print, digital and social into new touch points and unique experiences.”

According to Grindel a key part of identifying a brand extension is finding the right balance between commercial opportunity and brand promise.

“It’s helpful to look at extensions through the audience lens not just through the brand owner lens,” he points out. “In all cases, not only with the branded property ventures, but across our branded products, you have to make sure that consumer proposition aligns with the Vogue brand and values of quality and creativity. If you get that right, it’s a recipe for success.”

Of equal importance is picking the right partner to launch your brand extension.

“The secret sauce of a successful brand extension is not knowing how to operate a restaurant or print a T-shirt but how to identify the right partner that you can see working with to translate your vision,” stresses Grindel.


Food, glorious food

Part of Condé Nast’s vision is to create restaurants that feel both global and local. That approach extends to the choice of chef, with Vogue Café Beijing’s culinary star Jack Yao blending influences from Italian and Asian cuisine.

“Having a local chef that understands local suppliers and ingredients is crucial when it comes to creating a menu,” says Grindel. “The fact that Jack is also internationally trained makes him the perfect match for a restaurant that is both global and local.”

While the dishes are certainly out of the top drawer, it’s a fine dining experiences that’s more accessible. “The café and restaurants we have are not necessarily only associated with fine dining,” says Grindel. “They are open to anyone – from shoppers in the mall to workers grabbing a coffee.”

Given the paranoia that still surrounds the spread of the Covid virus you have to wonder how confident diners will be congregating around tables in the near future. For those who have concerns about the viability of new restaurants, Grindel points to the stream of customers who frequented eateries whenever lockdown restrictions were temporarily eased around the world.

“It’s a very natural urge for human beings to be with other human beings and share a meal,” he says. “When the lockdown restrictions are lifted in the Western world we will see people going back to restaurants.”

Diner confidence will be boosted, says Grindel, by the great lengths restaurant owners go to when making their businesses safe. At Vogue Café Beijing customers who are granted access by the QR code also have their body temperature taken before being allowed to enter.

Staff members have to pass the same tests before entering the eatery and then have to wear masks, gloves and hairnets. Hand sanitiser and wet wipes are also available throughout Vogue Café Beijing.

“Like any other restaurant, we have procedures set up to ensure there are hygiene standards and distance rules,” Grindel adds. “The benefit we have is that, because we have restaurants around the world we share the best practices and have an exchange to see what works best – not just to protect diners and staff but to provide that confidence for consumers.”


The next course

So confident is Condé Nast about the future of the hospitality industry, they are opening a second restaurant in China – Vogue Café Shanghai – later this year.

“For us it’s a bit of a first because it sits 100 per cent within a premier retail space with an iconic luxury retail partner, so we are very excited,” say Grindel. “I see that as a stepping stone to a broader future in China for Vogue Cafés and restaurants.”

Grindel believes brand extensions will play a big role as publishers negotiate a post-Covid environment.

“Generating consumer revenue and monetising the consumers we have is increasingly important,” he says. “We all know advertising money has become a bit of a challenge. Vogue reaches 277 million people globally across all platforms and there is huge potential to monetise these consumers and fund your core business.

“It’s a shift in how we generate money and I think it is very important to embrace these brand extensions because it will ultimately allow you to continue to produce your core product.”

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