Customers’ behavior changing sushi culture in Japan

Customers’ behavior changing sushi culture in Japan

TOKYO —

Kaitenzushi, or conveyor belt sushi restaurants, are one of Japan’s most famous contributions to the dining world. The concept is simple: customers sit around a revolving conveyor belt packed with different sushi dishes, and take the plates they like as they roll by.

But now in Japan, there’s a new trend that’s threatening to put the brakes on the traditional conveyor belt system. It seems that Japanese customers no longer want to take any dishes off the conveyor belt, instead opting to use it as a giant, revolving display case. Customers are now pointing at the perfectly edible sushi as if they are plastic sushi replicas and ordering them with the wait staff.

The new trend seems to be influenced by the hugely popular touch panel ordering system offered by a number of kaitenzushi chains in recent years. Touch panels installed at dining booths let customers scroll through a variety of sushi options, and even keep track of the bill throughout the meal. An added upside to the fun system is the knowledge that the order goes straight to the sushi chef who then whips up the sushi, guaranteeing minimal time between the chef’s skilled hands and the customer’s demanding taste buds.

This digital tweak to the almost 60-year-old kaitenzushi tradition is now affecting conveyor belt sushi restaurants all around Japan. In a country where customer satisfaction is paramount, business owners without touch panel screens are accommodating orders for freshly made sushi with the odd, but workable point-at-the-sushi-train ordering system. Customers who want a fresh order simply look at the plates going round, call the wait staff over, then point at the ones they like and ask for them to be prepared. This type of ordering was unheard of until only recently, but now in Tokyo this practice has become so common that many wait staff don’t even blink an eye to it anymore.

Young university types, middle-aged men and women, and mothers with children have all been seen ordering this way. Maruha Nichiro Corp, a Japanese seafood company, confirmed the recent move away from traditional kaitenzushi ordering habits when they surveyed 1,000 customers about their preferences. The respondents, all men and women who visit these types of restaurants once a month or more, were asked whether they mostly take plates from the revolving belt or if they place their sushi orders with wait staff. They found that 61.1 percent mostly order with the wait staff.

With customers preferring freshness over speed, the future of kaitenzushi remains unknown. Already, some restaurants in Japan have thrown away their oval-shaped conveyor belts and refitted their shops with touch screens and special three-tiered “high speed transport lanes” in an effort to make the customers’ fresh orders appear before their very eyes. Who knows what exciting innovations this new generation of customers will inspire? One thing is certain though; they’ll soon be rewriting the guidebooks when it comes to visiting kaitenzushi restaurants in Japan.

Sources: Hakobura Siranepake Narikinsketch Webry J-cast

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  • -29

    Ewan Huzarmy

    Can't they figure out how to use the touch-screens ?

  • 12

    Yubaru

    Can't they figure out how to use the touch-screens ?

    Where does the article say or even imply that people can't figure out touch screens?

  • 8

    Stephen Knight

    Those "direct to your table" high-speed lane systems are actually pretty cool.

    And really, a lot of the sushi going around on conveyor belts really doesn't look very appetizing--I can see why people prefer to order fresh if they can. The operators can still save money--they're using the same rice-dispensing equipment and labor as with traditional conveyor systems, only the method and timing of delivery is changed.

  • 0

    Yubaru

    I personally don't go to kaitensushi, have a favorite sushi place right around the corner from my house and it's fresher and a heck of a lot more convenient and cheaper than these chain places.

    But I can see the appeal, particularly for kids! I know my kids liked going there when they were younger.

  • 4

    SauloJpn

    The whole idea of eating sushi is that it is raw and fresh. It makes sense to have them ordered directly to you.

  • 2

    inverse

    My fiancée and I go to the neighborhood Kappazushi once a week. It's pretty tasty, and at ¥105 a plate, both of us can eat our fill of decent sushi for less than ¥2k. However, we have never even once pulled a plate off of the belt. Like this article suggests, I use that as a display case. When I see something that looks good, I just order it off of the touchscreen. Usually only a minute later, it reaches our table in that plastic shinkansen.

    Sometimes I watch those pieces of sushi on the belt go around several times. I pick out something distinctive about a piece (a conspicuous clump of rice on the plate, or an oddly shaped piece of fish) and look for that piece when it comes back around again. Often times I'll see that same plate pass by us quite a few times before we leave the restaurant. So, how long has it been sitting there before we arrived? Hmm, yeah, no thank you.

  • -20

    Ewan Huzarmy

    @Yubara, it doesn't state that, I was making an assumption using my brain, as it mentioned middle aged men and university students, one lot are impatient and bossy, the other lot have trouble tying their shoelaces. I'll let you decide which is which. Let the thumbing down commence !

  • -1

    marcelito

    Agree - most of the sushi is better when it comes fresh to you on the "shinkansen" after being made by the staff at the back , especially if it,s the kind wrapped in nori. If it does just one round on the conveyor belt , the seaweed looses its crispness and it doesn,t taste good. On the other hand if want to eat something like a straightforward piece of salmon on rice , it is often still half frozen when it comes directly from the kitchen. In that case I actually take one of the conveyor belt after it went around once or twice and had a chance to defrost... Aaahh the subtleties of kaiten sushi...:)

  • 0

    cl400

    Firstly, they order the the sushi from the touch screen or waiter/ess and it's just taken off the conveyer belt anyway (by the chef) when it gets back around to the kitchen then put on the bullet train express to their table or the staff deliver it. Then the chef makes a fresh one for the conveyer belt. Who'd have the same sushi rotating all day. It would like awful after a couple of hours. Second, why do people eat that breathed on sushi anyway? They should just have plastic replicas rotating and the real stuff refrigerated in the back.

  • -2

    therougou

    The more people use the touch screens, the longer food would be sitting on the conveyor belt. So I feel bad for the people that still do use it. On top of snotty kids touching and coughing all over your sushi, it's now stale as well!

    The worst is some restaurants that let you order from the touch screen, but put your sushi on a special plate on the normal conveyor belt. You have to grab the plate when the buzzer goes off, which is often when its past you already.

  • 1

    gogogo

    Unless it is hot, like tempura sushi they just take a few off the belt now and then and then send them to the customers.

  • 0

    papigiulio

    Hmm never seen the sushi shinkansen nor fast lane here in Osaka, is this only a particular chain?

    Also order fresh, especially since there are so many parents here letting their kids touch the plates and people coughing over the sushi here. yuck

  • 9

    bicultural

    I recommend Kura-zushi. They keep their sushi clean and fresh with a plastic cover that pops up when you take the dish. Or you can order from the touch screen panel. The screen will flash a message that your order will arrive about 15 seconds before it comes. http://www.kura-corpo.co.jp/sendo/

  • 2

    Shinjuku 108

    I, for one, cannot STAND when people sit down and continuously order directly with the sushi chef and do not take a single item off the conveyor lane.

    Why go to a revolving sushi place then? Just go to a standard sushi restaurant!

    These people take up the time of the chefs by ordering constantly, thereby preventing the chefs from putting fresh sushi on the conveyor belt at a reasonable pace for the rest of us to enjoy.

  • -1

    rickyvee

    why would anyone take food off of the belt? you have no idea how long it's been there. i've seen some places take old plates off, spray some water and rearrange the sushi, and then put it back on. how can that be lega?!

  • -1

    KnowBetter

    If the sushi coming by looks fresh and not sweating like Fat Bastard looking at Mini Me yelling "GET IN ME BELLY", I'll grab it but in the last three years I've noticed in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka that the trend to 'ordering fresh' has caused the sushi making the rounds to look less fresh with each visit. I'd say that because of this trend I now take about 30% off the belt as it makes its rounds while the other 70% gets ordered with the touchscreen at the table and then I pick the special order off the belt if some clueless tourist hasn't snatched it up first.

    Of course I always seem to luck out and get the second table from the point the belt starts which gives you time to prepare for the onslaught of special order plates that sometimes I swear it seems they speed up the belt to mess with you. :/

  • -1

    EngrHassanASabi

    It just gets even more quick.

  • 1

    Yubaru

    @Yubara, it doesn't state that, I was making an assumption using my brain, as it mentioned middle aged men and university students, one lot are impatient and bossy, the other lot have trouble tying their shoelaces. I'll let you decide which is which. Let the thumbing down commence !

    Using your brain but not reading what is written, what a conundrum.

    Otherwise it makes no sense whatsoever to the article here. It's about preferences between what goes around comes around and ordering fresh.

    You seem like the type that just wants to Japan bash, nothing more, nothing less, and I am using my brain here too to come to that assumption and conclusion.

    Which are you the can't tie your shoelaces type or impatient and bossy? Both perhaps?

  • -1

    TanakaTaro

    @papigiulio

    Kappa-zushi and Kura-zushi both have the shinkansen system in most of their Osaka restaurants I think.

  • 0

    Fadamor

    @Ewan Huzarmy,

    @Yubara, it doesn't state that, I was making an assumption using my brain, as it mentioned middle aged men and university students, one lot are impatient and bossy, the other lot have trouble tying their shoelaces. I'll let you decide which is which. Let the thumbing down commence !

    It's pretty obvious that the ones pointing and ordering are either doing so in kaitenzushi that haven't installed touch screens or had trouble finding what's on the conveyor belt in the touchscreen menus. And look at that! I managed to comment without ANY negative stereotypes!

  • 0

    sighclops

    I like Choushi-Maru because you get the belt system, but the added bonus of ordering directly with the chefs. Their sushi is top notch! I try to avoid the big chains as the kids are just left to run riot and the sushi is far lower in quality.

  • -1

    AkariYoshida

    it would suck if the dish you wanted was on the other side and someone else grabbed it.

  • -3

    tmarie

    Husband will never let me take off the conveyor belt. Lord knows how long it has been going around and around and around and around... Fresh please and thank you. And no, they don't just take them off the belt and serve you. I've made sure of that by watching what goes around, and around, and around... Kappa has the train for whomever was asking!

  • -2

    fannybatter

    Everyone in Pyongyang these days knows the fastest way to catch thermonuclear SARS is to touch anything hopping off Thomas the Tank Engine

  • -2

    itsmeagain

    What stupid customers, what they don't realize is that the sushi chef just pulls it off the conveyor belt for them and makes it look freshly prepared with an extra dollop of fresh spit!!

  • -4

    Moonraker

    In a country where customer satisfaction is paramount

    Is this like a pat phrase for anyone who writes about Japan?

  • -3

    LH10

    ewww i hate technology. look what it's done! the belt should stay!!!! touch screens are for banks and cashier not restaurants!

  • 4

    hotbertaa

    ewww i hate technology. look what it's done! the belt should stay!!!! touch screens are for banks and cashier not restaurants!

    Is the belt not technology?

  • 0

    Chiyoda_Boy

    Some restaurants (definately Kappa & Sushi-lo) have RFID tags in the plates and after making a few laps on the conveyor they get automatically ditched. If you sit near the end of the belt you can see this, a flipper comes out and knocks the plates of the belt.

  • -1

    sf2k

    so it's a minute fresher than the "display" which was available immediately but you let it by? mkay

    I miss kaitenzushi :'(

  • 2

    hotbertaa

    so it's a minute fresher than the "display" which was available immediately but you let it by?

    I think its more about the number of mouthes and kiddy fingers its passed by on the three circuits its already been on.

    Somebody above mentioned the chain, I forget the name, but they have covers - I think this should be standard practise, it'll save waste and is probably cheaper than all the other inventions they are coming up with.

  • 1

    Kent Mcgraw

    "In a country where customer satisfaction is paramount" It does not seem that way to me. You can't order what you want the way you want it and you can not substitute one side dish for another. Seems that customer satisfaction is not the thing that drives business. The businesses say have it the way we make it or do not have it. I really do not care if no one likes this post but it is the truth in almost all of the Japanese restaurants.

  • 0

    LFRAgain

    It's a vicious cycle. Customers won't take stuff from the conveyor belt because they want something fresher, and the stuff on the conveyor belt looks less and less fresh because despite being fresh when it was put out, customers keep ignoring it.

  • -2

    caffeinebuzz

    I remember reading in a Japanese article that a lot of chain restaurant sushi chefs often just grab a nearby plate of what the customer orders, and put it on the express rail, rather than make something from scratch unnecessary. Since the conveyor belts converge in the kitchens, it's quicker and saves wasting time and food. Even with that in mind I didn't have any problems using the touch screen to order what I couldn't find on the belt- and never had any stomach trouble during my time in Japan.

  • 0

    BertieWooster

    Kaitenzushi in Hokkaido is great!

    Good, fresh fish and cheap prices.

    Everywhere else, it's crap.

  • -1

    gogogo

    The sushi places only have themselves to blame by installing the touch screens.

  • 0

    sincerely999

    Please compete in among the sushi companies to make the quality of sushi get better. I love the revolving belt system that may be traditional one.

  • -1

    interuni321

    Yes, 10 years ago we took them off the belt, but now we never do that, we always order what we want from the touch screen. Probably the main reason is that people cough and sneeze close or over the conveyor belt and weak parents let their kids touch and mess up the Sushi as its going around (is it really so difficult to tell your toddler that they cant sit right next to the belt, or not to touch the sushi?). Unfortunately both issues point to a slight decline in manners in the last decade.

  • -1

    interuni321

    I actually dont think that most restaurants just grab a dish off the belt when a customer orders, first they could get caught out and the humiliation and damage to their reputation might be fatal. But in my experience you can tell anyway if its fresh, the fish is colder and the rice warmer and seaweed crispier etc.... Personally I have never had my suspicions after receiving something from the shuttle and I have been looking out for it.

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