Why Are Restaurants Suddenly Becoming Flower Shops?

Restaurants are always an option for date night, but some spots are going way beyond candles and shared plates to make moments more intimate.
November 3, 2019, 12:00 PM UTC
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Flowers inside Machine Engineered Food and Drink where customers can dine and build their own bouquet at their table.
Courtesy of Machine Hospitality Group

When it comes to romance, restaurants and flower shops are a duo that define special occasions. Whether it’s date night or a 50th anniversary celebration, serving up a floral bouquet followed by fine dining is a meaningful gesture that transcends generations.

Despite the synergy, restaurants and flower shops have traditionally existed in separate locations. And yet, given the current state of the restaurant industry, where even celebrity chefs are finding themselves struggling to turn a profit, some restaurant owners are breaking with conventional wisdom so they can stop and smell the roses.

These establishments using their budgets to purchase and promote flowers may also be doing more than just making guests feel at ease.

Pushing daisies

Thanks to the rise of online flower retailers, the demand for floral arrangements in the U.S. continues to grow. According to a report by intelligence firm Research & Markets, the U.S. floral gifting market is projected to reach revenues of approximately $16 billion by 2023.

For florists and independently owned flower shops, however, this growing demand hasn’t translated into profits. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 14% decline in employment was projected from 2018 to 2028 for floral designers. That’s an estimated 7,600 jobs that will no longer be available. And given that professionally assembled bouquets have declined in popularity—owing to convenience, style preferences, and cost—the arena of dining may well offer new life to the floral industry.

At the recently opened Il Fiorista in New York City, owners Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti have created a home base for what they are calling the new floral movement. In addition to offering cocktails and food accented by toasted sunflowers and begonias, Il Fiorista includes a floral education center and retail shop. Typical bouquets range from $40 to $80, while classes range from $60 to $150. Custom bouquets for events are available as well: “We want to use each type of flower strategically, based on what it is best suited for,” Alessandra says.

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The retail space inside Il Fiorista.
Courtesy of Il Fiorista

One thing that flowers seem well suited for, and that comes in handy in the hospitality industry, is in helping reduce stress. A study conducted by the University of North Florida concluded that having flowers in an indoor environment helped decrease stress levels in women, with participants reporting that receiving flowers helped improve their mood.

But it’s not just flowers that are doing all the work. Watering holes like Sycamore Bar + Flowershop in Brooklyn—a speakeasy with a garden where guests enter through a flower shop—have helped preserve the legacy of the flower shop in its role as an exciting part of the community. And The Flower Shop bar, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, offers merchandise collaborations with streetwear labels like Obey and RVCA, ensuring that Venus flytraps and rosebuds serve as symbols of inspiration for trendsetters.

Cheese carts are out. Flower carts are in

In Chicago, Machine: Engineered Dining & Drink is moving one step closer to a world where making a bouquet while eating beef short rib simultaneously exists. The restaurant offers a flower cart service that rolls right up to your table so you can take a break from eating by assembling a bouquet to go. “This restaurant has been 10-plus years in the making,” says Machine’s co-owner Brian Galati. Studying floral design and doing a deep dive on all the accoutrements needed to incorporate flowers throughout the restaurant was one of Galati’s greatest challenges as a restaurateur.

So if a budding hospitality business wants to cash in on what’s blooming, what’s involved in this pursuit? In addition to keeping up with trends in floral design, selecting specific blooms, hiring and educating staff, and collaborating with kitchen and bar teams on a cohesive menu are just a few examples of what is required from an operational and investment standpoint. For all the benefits of restaurants’ offering professional floral arrangements, one of the downsides is creating the impression that these venues are for special occasions alone: “It’s a challenge to position a serious floral program as approachable when also paired with a great dining experience,” Galati reflects.

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At Machine, a florist will roll a flower cart to your table and provide information about the flowers while demonstrating how to build a bouquet.
Courtesy of Machine Hospitality Group

“This is simple economics: Restaurants desperately need more revenue to survive,” says Matt Bruck of consulting firm Eaters Drinkers. With limited hours of service able to generate only so much revenue, restaurants across the country are combining concepts under one roof in order to keep the lights on.

And though ideas like coffee shops that turn into sake bars or car washes that double up as doughnut joints are fun consumer experiences, finding profit is a bit more challenging. “Because it’s somewhat of a unique concept, not everyone understands that the flowers and products are available for purchase,” says Mario De Benedetti of Il Fiorista. Though education and reputation is typically built over time, the attention span of today’s dining crowd means the new floral movement could easily become tomorrow’s news. After all, the sad truth of flowers is that they aren’t built to last.

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