Perhaps you’ve seen it as you wait in the train station. Maybe you’ve read the signs, or even entered one yourself. I’m sure you might find the whole place totally different from the classy, and upscale, restaurants. Still, the fact remains: sushi served by conveyor belt is a unique innovation in sushi dining.
As the name implies, conveyor-belt sushi restaurants serve sushi via conveyor belts. Traditionally, customers would be seated in front of the conveyor belt, picking up the plate of sushi that they would like to eat. However, to cater to larger groups of customers, some restaurants had placed tables beside the belt. This would also enable restaurants to serve more customers. The bill would then be calculated based on the number of plates that the customers had taken.
This concept isn’t exactly a recent idea. Conveyor-belt sushi restaurants can be found as far back as the 1950s, when Yoshiaki Shiraishi opened his first conveyor belt sushi restaurant in 1958. Today, he can be best described as the father of the conveyor-belt sushi restaurants. Presently, the Kura sushi restaurant chain is one of the biggest users of this method of serving sushi.
One of the reasons why this is slowly catching the interests of restaurateurs is because of cost efficiency. Food preparation is fully automated. Robots prepare the rice, place the fish on top, send it down the conveyor pick, and even handle the disposal and cleaning. This minimizes the need for personnel such as chefs, waiters, and cleaners. In a country such as Japan, where labor costs are high, automation appears to be the best solution to reducing production costs.
In some sushi restaurant chains, automation is the norm. Customers can simply choose whatever dish they want from the revolving conveyor. If they want to have a special order, then they could make the request by pressing on a touch screen beside them. It would then be served to them down the belt, specially marked so that other customers will know that someone ordered them. For larger orders, then a restaurant staff may have to bring to them directly.
A fine example of this practice is the Kura restaurant chain. In order to beat the competition, its owner placed emphasis on full automation, information technology, and a devotion to efficiency that may border on obsession. What’s nice about this is that it works. This is a country where restaurants folding up are common. Due to a weaker economy, wages that has hardly changed, and people now opting to eat cheaper food, the restaurant industry is suffering from the worst in recent years.
Kura is a different story, because they keep adding more branches. This could very well be traced to its ability to attract a larger number of customers with its quality food and very low prices. Their focus on automation, reduction of labor, and consistent offering of quality, low-priced sushi has made it into one of the most successful chains in the Japan.
They even placed RFID tags under their plates so that they can monitor how long the plate has been in the belt. If sufficiently long enough, then a machine will automatically dispose of it. Customers are also asked to slide their used plates on special slots beside their table. Not only will this help in tidying things up, with robots doing the cleaning, but it would also help in calculating how much the customer has to pay.
Usually, fully automated restaurants are viewed as poor in terms of quality, although very cheap. If one is looking for class, then they’ll have to go to some higher-end sushi spot. They’ll just have to be ready to shell out a few hundred bucks to savor the dishes. But for those who are tight on the budget, then conveyor-belt sushi restaurants are pretty much the smart choice.