For decades, restaurant chain Saizeriya has been an oasis for budget-conscious diners in Japan. Yes, the name on the door, “Saizeriya Ristorante e Caffé,” sounds fancy, but Saizeriya offers some of the cheapest sit-down meals in all of Japan, and is often even more affordable than fast food joints with its doria (baked rice and cheese dishes) for just 299 yen and pizzas and pasta for 399 yen.
So those whose first instinct is to check their wallet when they hear their stomach growling, such as students, part-timers, and internet writers, were holding their breath when it was announced last month that Saizeriya would be raising its prices on 140 different menu items. They got to breathe a sigh of relief, though, when they found out the increase for those items, which went into effect at the start of July, was just one yen.
So why the miniscule price bump? For the same reason a lot of things are happening these days: the coronavirus.
Because Saizeriya lists its prices as after tax, the restaurant doesn’t have a service charge, and there’s no tipping in Japan, if you order a 399-yen pizza Margherita, that’s exactly what you’re paying. Rather than count out 399 yen in change, though, most customers will just use four 100-yen coins, which means they’ll be getting a one-yen coin back in change. People who’d have been ordering Saizeriya’s 399-yen hamburger steak, 299-yen spaghetti pepperoncino, or 999-yen rib eye steak (the most expensive thing on the menu) faced a similar scenario.
In a time when hand hygiene is of the utmost importance, Saizeriya decided to rethink the effects of its pricing system. Yes, 299 yen is obviously cheaper for customers than 300 yen, and psychologically it makes an item an easier purchase, which helps Sazeriya’s bottom line. But with coins being a potential conduit for all sorts of gross germs, ultimately the chain feels that this probably isn’t the right time to be handing out so much change, and so it decided to bump items with a price ending in 99 up one yen for an even number and fewer coins to put in customers’ hands.
Extending that logic, Saizeriya has reworked its prices so that all items now have a price ending in either 00 or 50, negating the need to give customers any one, five, or ten-yen coins as change. And while that means higher prices (by as much as 21 yen) for the majority of the menu, there are also a few items that are now cheaper than they were before, such as rice (now 19 yen cheaper), garlic bread, and focaccia (both 11 yen cheaper).
Between the revised prices and greater promotion of cashless payment systems, Saizeriya hopes to reduce the number of coins it gives out as change by 80 percent. And even if some of our favorite items now cost us one yen more, Saizeria is still one of the least expensive places to fill up in Japan, even if you’re actively trying to run up the highest bill you can.
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