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Family restaurants face uncertain future


There’s nothing quite like them, those “oases of the night” known in Japanese as “famiresu.” Clean, well-lit and open 24/7, the family restaurant is the perfect host, the perfect refuge from whatever it is that’s harassing you. Install yourself in a booth and it becomes your living room. Theoretically, you never have to leave. One famiresu devotee boasts of having spent 52 hours straight at one.

Can they be dying, these friendly sanctuaries? Weekly Playboy (May 5) fears they are. The evidence is not far to seek. Seven & i Holdings, citing declining profits, has announced plans to close possibly as many as 140 of its roughly 570 Japanese Denny’s outlets within three years. The other two major chains, Royal Host and Skylark, have said nothing so far, but to market analyst Shusaku Ueda, the writing is on the wall.

“The famiresu business has an annual turnover of 1.7 trillion yen,” he says. “If you look at the market as a whole, profits seem slightly up, but the big three have seen year-on-year declines for the past 10 years.”

“In 10-15 years, fewer than half of them will be left,” says a Weekly Playboy journalist. “Maybe no more than a third.”

What's happening to the “famiresu culture?”

Weekly Playboy’s investigation shows it being assailed on all sides. The magazine polled 100 famiresu employees nationwide to gauge the mood. It is deeply pessimistic.

“Number of customers? Down,” says a family restaurant manager in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. “First there were the meat mislabeling scandals; then, the poisoned Chinese gyoza. These had an enormous impact. Since then, we get customers asking us where our ingredients come from. They’re uneasy. Family restaurants used to be happy places; now, there’s this negative image. I’m uneasy myself. Will I have this job five, 10 years down the road?”

“For the past year and a half, the prices of our food ingredients have gone through the roof,” says a senior employee at a restaurant in Tochigi Prefecture. “Our personnel costs are also up. Meanwhile, we’ve had to lower our prices.” His grim conclusion: “We’re in trouble!”

The overarching truth seems to be that the famiresu, conceived in sunnier times, no longer suits the darkening national mood. For one thing, Weekly Playboy notes, the family itself is breaking up. “The average household today has three people or less -- not consistent with the image of a family of four or more piling into the car and heading off to enjoy a nice meal somewhere. Instead, you get people coming in alone and staying all night. The atmosphere is no longer family-friendly, and it brings sales down.”

Then there’s the fact that Japan, though by most standards a rich country, is gradually filling up with poor people. Family restaurants were not designed for the rich, but the working poor -- part-timers earning 900 yen an hour, for example -- are not likely to have much cash to spare even for relatively inexpensive restaurant fare.

“Too bad, too bad!” exclaims pro wrestling writer Tarzan Yamamoto when Weekly Playboy approaches him for a reaction. “I have a new girlfriend. Where do we go on dates? To the famiresu -- naturally. She doesn’t drink, you see, so the famiresu is a great place for us to enjoy our time together. Cafes are too small. The famiresu is spacious, and you can stay all night without anyone bothering you. We sit at our booth, sharing a cake, our knees touching under the table, we kiss... If the family restaurants go under, what’ll we do?”

© Japan Today

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We have stopped going to family restaurants due to price increases and wierdos sleeping at the tables. Plus, the menus have gotten fancier and although the food quality has improved, we can only afford Saizeria or occassionally, Jhonathans for breakfast. Denny's is way too expensive. Like I can afford to feed a family of 4 for breakfast at 4,000 yen a pop at least. No thank you!

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Yes, it is sad to see them go. Denny's had some great dishes on their menu. Loved the coffee and desserts at Johnathan's.

Maybe the solution is to drop the 24-hour open time and limit it to 1 a.m. That would certainly cut down on overall costs.

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I think dropping the 24 hour thing is the smartest move. That would eliminate the sleepers and give the staff a rest. Nobody wants to be working at 3AM.

As well, the food is getting fancier, in a strange way. These places were better when they were known for simpler dishes. Nobody cares to go to Jonathan's for the carpaccio and fine black olives. They're there for a big piece of fried pork and a coke. There's no point for them to follow any trend, the best trend is to simplify and perfect what they're already good at.

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Orangeporange - If you can possibly do it, on your next vacation, take your family to Guam ( which is cheaper than most domestic trips ), where you can have a great breakfast at Denny's for like $6.

In J-land, you can get breakfast at McDonald's ( yeah, yeah, technically it's fast food, but... ) for example, hotcakes and orange juice ( not a bad breakfast ) for under 400 yen. A small coffee ( better than any can coffee ) is 100 yen.

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I think dropping the 24 hour thing is the smartest move.

I remember from my student days that Gusto (now absorbed into the Skylark brand) in Kumamoto used to close between 3 and 5am, which was a pain in the neck when you still had 2 hours before the first bus back to the dormitory after a big night out (don't know why it never occurred to us to walk). On one occasion, I recall 5 of us causing a right nuisance to people waiting at the bus station, by repeatedly singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (with the actions) very loudly. And we wonder why foreigners have a bad name in Japan :-)

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I find many of these places great value for many and much cheaper than eating out in other places (Like Europe and even Australia). I go about twice a month (Royal Host usually) so I hope they stay around for a long time.

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Do you guys live in Tokyo - I have to assume you do not. When I lived in inaka famiresu seemed were an option once in a while but here in Tokyo I haven't been in ages as there are so many better options in both food and atmosphere. I remember hitting a Denny's in Hawaii years ago for breakfast and thinking - wow, a full menu and real portions!

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Saizeriya is my first choice for a cheap date. Hey, at least I didn't take you to 7-11!

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Went to one famiresu kinda close to my house a few times. It was a Denny's. Always had the same waitress...kinda cute, always frazzled, a little ditzy - definitely not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. She always hung out near my table and smiled over in my direction. I never talked to her, though. One time she gave me her cell number on a napkin. I didn't ask for it; she just did it.

Unfortunately, I was with my wife at the time. Boy, that caused a catfight! ME-OW!

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zzonkerr - You asked for it all right! Ha ha ha!


So your wife hurt you or what? Ha ha ha! Seriously, sorry to hear of your bad luck at Denny's.

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Sarge - I didn't do anything...honestly, I never encouraged the her. Anyway, let's just say my wife made sure the waitress realized the error of her ways.

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Ooops - bad editing...it should read, "I never encouraged her."

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Seeing them go? Not all of the Denny's restaurants are going to be closed. My girlfriend works at a Denny's, and from Thursday to Sunday, it is so crowded, people fill up the space in front of the cashier, the hall and even the terrace outside, while waiting to get a free table. I have been there this week, and we had to wait at least half an hour to get a table for four. And not because people took long to leave, but because there were so many waiting. So I don't think the situation so dark. Okay, if they want to close every fourth restaurant, there must be problems, but it's not the end. Maybe not every subway ant train station is going to have a Denny's, a Jonathan's, etc., only one of them, or maybe non sometimes. Whooo, have to travel two stations to get to one. This article is way too pessimistic. They write about these restaurants as if all of them would be closed down forever. 570/140 will be closed, according to plan. That's not even half of the restaurants... and some people talk as if it would be the end of the family restaurants.

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'Famiresu'??? Sounds like a man-to-son bout!

Ding-ding-dong! Round 2!!!

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Here in the US prices can be higher in the family restaurants. In addition, many family owned establishments prepare the same food I could fix at home. If I eat out, I want to eat something I would not normally have at home.

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Family of four for 4,000 yen? Sounds like a bargain to me......

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cheap food and fair prices. plus, a good set of kids meals. i doubt these will ever go away. everytime i go to one it is usually packed.

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