Salarymen in their 40s and 50s still remember the good old days, when their parents took them out to eat. In those days, affordable restaurants with a wide variety of menu items were limited mainly to the “taishu shokudo” dining halls that operated on the upper floors of major department stores.
But those times are long gone, reports Nikkan Gendai (Nov 21) and omnivorous diners in search of curry with rice, “tonkatsu” (breaded pork cutlets), buckwheat noodles and the nostalgic “okosama ranchi” for kids -- invariably garnished with a tiny Hinomaru flag on a toothpick atop a tiny hemisphere of catsup-colored rice -- typically head for the neighborhood family restaurant.
“I suppose family restaurants, with their prolific mixture of Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes, are headed for extinction,” Seiji Kawakami, a business journalist, tells the newspaper. “Offering ‘everything’ is another way of saying ‘no character.’ With more people refraining from eating out due to the recession, restaurants won’t survive unless they offer dishes that people crave. That means the age of family restaurants is over.”
From the start of 2008, the food industry has been rocked by higher gasoline prices, which impacted severely on demand at suburban outlets, and several incidents of contamination by agriculture pesticides and other impurities that raised concerns over food safety.
According to the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Communications, expenditures in restaurants last September showed a decline of 2.2% from 2007, with Japanese cuisine down by 14%. A survey by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that 554 food and beverage companies nationwide filed for bankruptcy in the January-September 2008 period -- up 7.6% over the previous year.
Except for McDonalds, with its 100-yen hamburger budget specials, most of the industry is teetering on the abyss. Likewise for izakaya chains.
Kawakami notes that like family restaurants, the big chains serve too many different items. “The only survivors will be the specialty shops -- sashimi, yakitori and so on -- that can hold onto their customer support,” he says.
Before much longer, Nikkan Gendai predicts, salarymen will be looking back on the big izakaya chains and family restaurants with the same sense of lingering nostalgia the now reserve for the plebian department store dining halls of their childhoods.© Japan Today