Why are yakiniku barbecue restaurants in Japan recording stable sales despite the pandemic?

A piece of meat is seen being cooked at a table in the Itabashi Maenocho Yakiniku King branch in the Itabashi district of Tokyo, October 19, 2020 (Mainichi / Yuki Machino)

TOKYO – Amid a downturn in restaurant business fortunes during the coronavirus pandemic, Korean yakiniku barbecue restaurants in Japan are booming, with some chains seeing a quick return to normal and some even continuing to grow. open new locations. But why, when businesses like Japanese izakaya pubs are struggling, are yakiniku restaurants doing so well?

By 6 p.m. on October 19, a Monday, a spacious Yakiniku King branch in Tokyo’s Itabashi district had filled about 70 percent of its seats. A 38-year-old woman who lives nearby and had come with two other family members said she ate at restaurants less often due to the pandemic, but that she and her family still went out for yakiniku about once per month.

Each table in the restaurant is fitted with a robust ventilation system to draw in smoke, which the company touts as “capable of completely replacing the air where all customers are seated in just over four minutes.” The woman with her family smiled and said, “It’s safer than being in a poorly ventilated place. My kid also likes yakiniku, so when we think about where to go to eat, we end up choosing it.” As 8pm passed the restaurant was full of family groups and the like.

A family is seen eating a yakiniku at the Itabashi Maenocho Yakiniku King branch in the Itabashi district of Tokyo, October 19, 2020 (Mainichi / Yuki Machino)

Yakiniku King operator Monogatari Corp., based in Toyohashi town in central Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, reported that when its some 220 existing stores across the country were temporarily closed in April, the chain saw its sales fall by 73% compared to the same month of the year. before. But in June, the company was posting sales 2.4% higher than the same month in 2019, and new signs of recovery emerged when, despite a further rise in infections in July, sales increased by 10. 3% compared to the previous July.

Also, before the coronavirus outbreak, the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat course at 2,980 yen was very popular, but now the 3,980 yen course has also become more sought after by diners. A company representative said, “The demand for yakiniku has increased as a dining option for families when they want to spend a little more.” The company intends to open 22 more locations by the end of June 2021.

The large restaurant chain Watami Co. saw Kamimura BBQ, the yakiniku restaurant in the capital’s Ota district that it has managed since May, reach monthly sales of around 30 million yen from June, well into- above its goal of 18 million yen per month. A company manager couldn’t hide his surprise when he told the Mainichi Shimbun, “The numbers are not ordinary. With the healthy yakiniku business, Watami began converting its Watami brand izakaya Japanese pub restaurants and other businesses into Yakiniku Watami restaurants. The company says it too has got off to a good start.

According to the Japan Food Service Association, which is made up of catering companies, broken down by type of business, Japanese izakaya pubs recorded August sales of only around 40% of those for the same month in 2019. But restaurants yakiniku in August were operating with about 85% of the sales they made during the same period last year. Although demand is still low for work functions and other related reservations, the upturn among yakiniku restaurants that serve many family customers has been noticeable.

Miki Watanabe, CEO of Watami Co., is seen during an event to announce the company’s change to Yakiniku restaurants on October 5, 2020, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi / Yuki Machino)

In July and August, Hot Pepper Gourmet Gaishoku Soken, which surveys eating habits, asked 1,032 men and women between the ages of 20 and 50 what food they wanted to eat at a restaurant. Ramen took first place with 48.4% of respondents citing it, while yakiniku came in second with 44.6%. Masahiro Inagaki, senior researcher at the company, said: “Both (the best answers) are types of food that are difficult to recreate at home. Especially with yakiniku, changing the marinade sauce depending on the type of meat and preparing the side of dishes like cold noodles can be a lot of work. ” He then presented his analysis, saying, “With people holding back their vacation activities during the coronavirus pandemic, going out with the family to eat at a yakiniku restaurant has become an easy way to enjoy their free time.”

(Japanese original by Yuki Machino, Business News Department)

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