@toshiko We all know that people who are considered "fluent" all love to be arrogant and show native speakers their impressive knowledge.
@Theo Lubbe You keep saying that we have no idea what happened during the call. The Nikkan-Gendai article that came before this one clearly states that Mo had his Japanese secretary call to make the reservation. It was noted that there was an immediate change in attitude from the staff as soon as his foreign sounding name was mentioned. Mo proceeded to get on the phone and actually try and reassure the staff member that he was a long term resident and spoke Japanese. He even tried to explain who his guests were so they would be reassured - and they made no attempt to accommodate him.
Someone from Nikkan-Gendai called Mizutani to interview the staff and clarify the policy. They explained that they had to have the policy due to reservation abandonment and since they felt that they could not discern tourists from residents over the phone and that the policy was "across the board".
So - to recap:
Mo did get on the phone himself and tried to reassure the staff member and they made no attempt to work something out - it was a straight refusalWhen asked to elaborate on their policy they offered no options for residents and said they have to apply the policy "across the board"
Here is the article for your reference:
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If "Tourists" are a high risk group why can't then just apply this rule to tourists? Why does he have to treat long term Japan residents the same way as someone who's only here for a few days?
I would say that having a local phone number and address that is not obviously a hotel would be a pretty reasonable way of screening somebody.
And if language was a problem as you claim, could't they just refuse to accept a reservation from someone who did not speak the language adequately over the phone? I think that would better than the current policy. I know a few restaurants that will kind of lightly vet you based on your understanding on language and customs over the phone.
I think the policy that he is on record defending is too harsh - he had an opportunity to rethink and soften his stance when he was interviewed by the media and he didn't.
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@cage3 I would be would like to give Mizutani-shi the benefit of the doubt, but on two occasions he had people who were long term residents of Japan with Japanese proficiency call and even though they explained that to his staff they were unwilling to make the slightest accommodation. The staff conversation could have been something along the lines of "Oh, you live in Japan - are you fluent in Japanese and do you know how our restaurant works? Yes? Ok - I will need a local phone number and address to confirm your reservation. Thank you - we will call you x days in advance to confirm, but if we cannot get hold of you or you don't show up we will cancel your reservation and not be able to give you any in the future* or any such variation.
To get back to the point - Where would they draw the line? What if someone was a naturalized Japanese citizen of a different race? Would they start putting themselves in the position of checking citizenship? Or do they only want pure blooded Japanese?
Although you say that the word "discrimination" is too strong because you don't believe that he has racist intent the result is still a discriminatory policy.
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@toshiko - Michelin inspectors do not operate in the manner you speak of. Their rating is not solely focused on the food and they are supposed to rate the dining experience as a whole from start to finish. Therefore they typically do not take food to-go. Additionally they almost always make reservations in advance, but they are quite vigilant about keeping their identity secret. I imagine that they would be just the kind of guest that would use the requisite concierge service to make the reservation and thus not directly encounter the difficulties faced by a resident foreigner.
I really don't have too much faith that Michelin is going to strip Mizutani of its stars. I have followed the guides for some years and they list a fair share of restaurants that are notorious for being exclusive and difficult to get a reservation at. I imagine that they would say something like:
"Mistune does not bar reservations from foreigners, but merely requires that they make booking though a hotel or credit card concierge service. This policy was instituted to maintain standards for their guests." or something like that.
That being said, I really do not like the approach that Mizutani is taking to solve their problem. Giving guests different treatment based solely on race is totally unreasonable. They need to take the time to develop a better, more thought out solution. Perhaps they could insist on a deposit for "first time guests" and maintain records. I know this would be a burden for them, but they are no longer just a local restaurant. Due to their inclusion in the Michelin guide they are now a world famous institution and they have to step up and make a system that is fair to all potential guests and protects their business interests. No excuses.
However, more troubling than all of this is the part of the Nikkan-Gendai article where they state a need to maintain a 50/50 ratio of Japanese to NJ guest to "keep the atmosphere". Imagine if some other restaurant in another country said: "we have to limit reservations from asian guests to keep the atmosphere authentic.". I am certain the reaction would be different.
In conclusion, I think that they really need to move away from this race-based way of thinking. Even if the foreign guests' behavior is problematic there are still ways to address this without creating all the ill-will that comes with this type of race segregation of guests.
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Posted in: The art of moving