Food & Drink, Tourism

COVID-19 Is Turning Japan’s Conveyor Belt Sushi Shops Into Next-Level Sushi Takeout

COVID-19 trends are pushing popular Japanese conveyor belt sushi chain “Sushiro” to expand its takeout options all over Tokyo.

Sushiro has been one of the most successful conveyor-belt sushi chains in Japan in recent years, but when COVID-19 came onto the scene in Japan, restaurants took a hit―particularly restaurants with plates openly rotating in front of other customers. In general, COVID-19 has caused a boom in takeout and delivery options in Japan (UberEats has seen an explosion in success), but Sushiro has taken the initiative, and come up with a number of new ways for customers to get their hands on Sushiro sushi without ever seeing the classic conveyor belt. Takeout in Japan is evolving.

Sushiro plans to open more than 10 different takeout-only locations this year, aiming to target new demographics and find new customers, aside from the usual conveyor-belt sushi diners. To this end, Sushiro has not only acquired the already-established sushi shop Kyotaru, a more high-end takeout establishment, but they’ve also started to prepare sushi of all kinds for their takeout menu, from tuna to yellowtail, unique rolls and even chirashi sushi (sushi ingredients on a dish of sushi rice).

The real advantage of Sushiro’s takeout-only specialty stores is that they can be set up in extremely convenient locations, easily accessible during the rhythms of daily life, like this spot directly next to a train station ticket gate. Having their shop right there in the middle of things really expands their customer base―for the many commuters who pick up their lunch on the way to work or grab something for dinner before heading home in the evening, this convenient Sushiro is a practical alternative to the convenience store meals that otherwise reign supreme.

Sushiro’s other big push is to add special takeout lockers to their existing stores, making the takeout process about as smooth as it gets. Customers can place an order in advance, either by phone or online, and instead of waiting in line or crowding into the restaurant, customers can avoid unnecessary contact and quickly pick up their food from the lockers when they arrive. Sushiro’s plan is to expand the lockers to 25% of its current 583 stores in Japan.

When asked about Sushiro’s “takeout strategy,” Sushiro CEO Koichi Mizutome played the changes down, explaining that “while there are varying views on how long COVID-10 will continue, the pandemic will end someday, and conveyor-belt sushi stores will continue to increase in the future. But takeout sushi is nothing new in Japan, so it’s an easy choice for customers. We’re lucky. Since the start of the pandemic, takeout has gone from 10 to 15% of sales.”

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