Food & Drink, Traditional & Culture

Japan’s Restaurants Introduce Paid Reservation Systems to Combat Tourist Crowds

Foreign tourist numbers are increasing in Japan, and some restaurants can’t keep up. See how popular tourist haunts are dealing with this new normal.

There’s nothing better than getting off the airplane in Japan and beelining straight for a piping hot bowl of ramen! But when everyone else on the plane is thinking the same thing, the situation gets a little more complicated. Ever since Japan opened back up to the world post-covid, foreign tourist numbers have been on the rise, and surveys show that eating Japanese food is one of the most popular goals for travelers visiting the country. But when you’re running one of the super-popular restaurants around Japan that draw long lines of diners from around Japan and even from overseas, what do you do when the wait times get so long they’re just impractical?

Image Source: NHK

Well, the most obvious choice is to allow reservations, and the most profitable choice is to charge for instant reservations while you’re at it! Japanese start-ups focused on reservation services have recently been partnering with busy Tokyo restaurants to allow customers to move to the front of the line for the price of 390 yen per person, allowing the customer to simply select the number of guests, enter an ETA, pay for the reservation, and take the next available seats. The service is already a hit at restaurants in Tokyo’s hectic Shibuya neighborhood, where one ramen shop reported that a good 50% of their customers now take advantage of the service to skip the wait for their ramen. According to one Canadian sightseer interviewed at this popular ramen spot, “it’s not all that expensive, so I don’t mind paying to get into the restaurant quickly and easily.”

Image Source: NHK

Vice President Taniguchi of the Japanese reservation service provider Table Check noted that for foreign tourists in Japan, time is money. When your trip is only so long and Japan is so far away, every second is precious, so there’s a real desire for any help that might get you into the restaurant you want without any uncertainty or wasted time. For these travelers, the reservation fee is a small price to pay, literally. This demand is spurring the growth of reservation services like the one used at the Shibuya ramen restaurant, which is aiming to expand its use from 15 restaurants to closer to 300 before the year is out.

If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo any time soon, look out! While tipping might not be a common part of Japanese restaurant culture, it looks like reservation fees might become the standard before our very eyes.

▶︎ News Source: NHK

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