According to The Asahi Shimbun, ever innovative, Tokyo's restaurant scene is targeting solo customers for lunchtime dishes normally beyond the realm of the average salaried worker, figuring lower prices will translate into a decent profitable turnover.
For example, outlets that specialize in steak, Korean-style "yakiniku” grilled meat and French cuisine are offering deals that are hard to ignore for a typical working person on a daily budget of around 1,000 yen ($US 9) for food.
One restaurant chain that made its reputation for good grub at reasonable prices as long as customers didn't mind standing up while eating now provides chairs and tables.
In Shinbashi, a commercial area close to Ginza that is popular with white-collar and other workers, a restaurant called “Yakiniku Like” that opened in August recently had long lines outside even before it opened for lunchtime trade.
The silence that permeated the restaurant as office workers and other solo diners grilled slices of meat eloquently reflected the happiness that customers were experiencing.
Partitions are also set up to provide a measure of privacy.
Dishes are served within three minutes of being ordered. Customers stay for only 25 minutes or so on average.
“I cannot afford to go to expensive yakiniku restaurants very often, but the prices here are affordable,” said a 47-year-old customer, who works part-time. “The meat here is not sinewy, and is of good quality.”
Yakiniku Like was set up by Dining Innovation Ltd., a Tokyo-based company operated by the founder of Gyu-Kaku, a major yakiniku restaurant chain.
Providing a “yakiniku answer to fast food” is the guiding concept of the restaurant. Its menu contains features few snacks to go with alcoholic beverages. Its sales are booming on the back of high customer turnover.
Typically, the cost rate, or the ratio of food material costs to the total sales, at a restaurant is about 30 percent.
At Yakiniku Like, the figure is about 45 percent for U.S.-produced beef and more than 50 percent for cuts from Japan, officials said.
The restaurant's proud boast is the “cost-effectiveness” of the meat it serves. Its “rib & skirt set,” priced at 1,210 yen, excluding tax, is a big favorite.
“Ordinary restaurants wouldn’t be able to serve dishes at prices like ours,” said one official. “We are trying to meet demand for more casual yakiniku experiences.”
The restaurant operator plans to move quickly to open more outlets, many of them in busy commercial districts of Tokyo.
The business model that allows higher-end food to be served at reasonable prices because of higher customer turnover drew attention when restaurant chains operated by Tokyo-based Oreno Corp., which serves French, Italian and other upmarket dishes, gained popularity in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district and other shopping and entertainment areas.
Oreno’s outlets in a combined bakery-and-cafe style, which serve high-quality loaves of bread, are also faring well. Officials are weighing whether to set up similar outlets in provincial cities.
“Ikinari Steak,” a chain of steakhouses, is also expanding its network.
The chain of 340 or so outlets, the first of which opened only five years or so ago, will have a presence in all 47 prefectures on Nov. 30 when the company opens a steakhouse in northern Akita Prefecture.
Unlike typical steakhouses, few appetizers and side dishes are available at Ikinari Steak’s outlets, where steaks are served “ikinari” (Japanese for “outright”), and so the customers don’t stay for a long time.
With a cost ratio exceeding 50 percent, the chain has earned a reputation for serving good quality steaks at a reasonable price.
However, Ikinari Steak is under pressure to modify its shop management style.
When the chain started out, stand-up eating was the norm, but the bulk of space of restaurants in the chain now provides chairs.
Customer numbers at Ikinari Steak’s outlets are either falling or remain largely unchanged year on year, so the chain is hoping to attract more elderly diners, as well as families with children.
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