With the COVID pandemic in retreat, one would think there were all the more reasons to celebrate the return to normalcy. Unfortunately, reports Nikkan Gendai (Nov 6), the prognosis for year-end and new year parties (bonenkai and shinnenkai) appears gloomy, which means more woes for the already ailing food and beverage industry.
On Nov 1, the Tokyo Shoko Research think tank announced the results of its corporate survey regarding yearend and new year parties. A very slight majority of the companies questioned -- 54.4% -- said they were planning some sort of event. Those replying they would not accounted for 45.5%.
The number of firms planning parties was definitely up from 2022, when around 60% of companies refrained from such festivities. This year, Tokyo Shoko Research pointed out that 21.8% of the respondents to its survey stated, "Prior to the pandemic we organized parties, but at present we are not planning to do so."
How will this impact on the domestic economy, and the food and beverage industry in particular? Certainly at the height of the pandemic, business conditions approached rock bottom.
"Society in general is emerging from the coronavirus pandemic," Yoshihei Nakamura, a journalist who has long covered the food and beverage industry, told Nikkan Gendai. "But it appears that even before the pandemic customers were already avoiding izakaya (Japanese pubs), and there's no indication they're returning. As the months of self-isolation became increasingly drawn out, the style of going out for drinks after work underwent a change.
"For instance, workers will leave the office around five and seek out places that offer all-you-can eat and drink for two hours arrangement. But the practice of drinking until late in the evening -- so-called nijikai and sanjikai (second and third after parties) is said to have declined sharply, which has been particularly hard for privately operated bars.
"And even in cases where companies have reinstated year-end parties following the pandemic," Nakamura added, "the spirit of the parties tend to be much more low key. Under such circumstances, you might say it's akin to testing the waters, to see whether such parties are continued in the future."
Entertaining the hope that inbound tourists from abroad would help make up for the shortfall appears misplaced. Nakamura pointed out that the sen-bero (very cheap drinking places where one can get drunk with an outlay of only ¥1,000) are aimed exclusively at domestic consumers. Inbound visitors, however, rely to a large extent on recommendations shared on social networks, and businesses that adopt a superficial veneer to attract foreign customers are unlikely to succeed.
"The word has been going around that izakaya in the Ginza area that charge local customers around ¥3,000 to ¥4,000 per head can charge inbound visitors a flat ¥6,500 per head, and that this might attract more foreign customers. Depending on the ambiance, more foreign tourists indeed might come. Fortunately with the yen's present low value vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, those prices seem affordable, so this won't create any problem. But at the most these are special circumstances."
All things said, concludes Nikkan Gendai, it may be a long time, if ever, before the effervescent partying at the year end and new year manage to make a comeback.© Japan Today