The “subscription” services are designed to make consumers feel as if they are saving money while discouraging them from spending their cash with rival businesses.
Under the model, customers need to pay only fees for certain periods, so they can, for example, drink unlimited cups of coffee or glasses of beer for 3,000 yen (US$26.72) a month, or eat all the steaks they like for 70,000 yen monthly.
One day in late June, a 38-year-old male company employee visited Yuyu, an “izakaya” Japanese-style pub with private rooms in Tokyo's Akihabara district near his company, with his colleagues.
He showed a card reading “30-day all-you-can-drink offer” to the staff. Those with the card can drink as much beer, shochu-based "chuhai" drink, and other alcoholic beverages as they want within a month for 3,000 yen.
As card holders are allowed to dine at the izakaya as many times as they like, the company worker went there at least six times in June.
“I feel the more frequently I visit here the more money I can save,” the employee said. “I do not need to pay charges for drinks, so I inadvertently order expensive meals.”
Izakaya chain operator Andmowa Co. introduced a fixed-rate alcohol offer at its 33 outlets mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area in February.
With its service period varying from one month to six months, the most pricy all-you-can-drink offer costs 13,000 yen.
The most popular among the four types of cards of different service periods costs 3,000 yen, and a total of 273 cards were sold in March, according to Andmowa officials.
While customers naturally benefit more when they eat more frequently at the restaurants, the service also has an advantage for the izakaya operator as well.
“Sales and the number of customers have increased since the introduction of the flat-rate system,” said an Andmowa official.
The official said users of the fixed-price mechanism tend to order more dishes and more expensive food as they do not have to pay for beverages.
The subscription model was pioneered by magazines but has spread widely among various businesses. It is especially popular among online service providers that distribute software, music and videos.
With competition to lure customers heating up, restaurants and eateries of various kinds are also adopting the subscription service to differentiate themselves from other shops.
One such restaurant is Steak Roppongi in the bustling Roppongi district in central Tokyo, which allows up to 15 customers to eat a 450-gram steak on each of its business days within a month for 70,000 yen.
The Yaro Ramen chain in November last year started a service to enable noodle lovers to enjoy a bowl of ramen each day after paying a monthly charge of 8,600 yen at its outlets in the Tokyo metro area.
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