Gyukaku” is the absolute champion, and “Kingu” & “Like” are the newcomers… Who will win the “Yakiniku Chain Warring States Era”?
How will Aichi's leading yakiniku restaurant, "Amiyakitei," fare in the face of the new "Gyukaku" that has rewritten the industry map?
Waiting list: 26 groups.
It was 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday, a little early for dinner. When this reporter visited a branch of the Yakiniku Kingu chain in Tokyo, the entrance was crowded with customers waiting for their turn. He was surprised to see the number of waiting pairs displayed on a monitor in the store, and was told that at times there were as many as 70 pairs waiting for five hours. It is safe to say that this is the “busiest restaurant chain” in Japan today.
The “Kingu Course,” an all-you-can-eat 100-minute course for 3,498 yen including tax, is the choice of the majority of the various customers, including “one-person” men and groups of high school girls. All orders are taken on a touch panel, and the items are delivered by a fully automated catering robot. The waiter wears an armband that reads “Yakiniku Police” and goes around the tables explaining how to grill the meat. It is a common occurrence that the ordered items do not arrive promptly, but at Yakiniku Kingu, there are almost no delays.
In addition to kalbi (ribs) soaked in sauce and hormone (pork) that does not become hard even after grilling, there are also rare dishes such as “Ippon roast marinated in a pot”, all of which are juicy. You can enjoy all-you-can-eat cold noodles and ice cream to finish off your meal. Even with additional drinks and other items, the price for two people came to 8,000 yen. The long lines can be resolved by making reservations in advance online. The level of satisfaction is truly worthy of Kingu.
Yakiniku, once synonymous with “a luxurious meal out with the family,” has become a much more familiar dining out experience. The competition for a piece of the market, which is estimated to be worth 1 trillion yen annually, has intensified. The market is now in a state of warring wars. New chains are entering the market one after another, and procuring beef, the lifeblood of the market, is no longer an easy task.
The “meat shock,” in which the wholesale price of beef rises due to multiple factors such as high oil prices and the unstable situation in Ukraine, has directly hit us. Since the business model of yakiniku restaurants has always been a high-cost, high-margin one, we have entered an era in which the ingenuity of each chain will be tested in terms of side dishes and hospitality,” said Junnosuke Nagahama, a food journalist.
The way of yakiniku has changed.
Along with Yakiniku Kingu, Yakiniku Like appeared in 2006. This restaurant has made it possible to eat yakiniku as if it were fast food, and has dispelled the negative image of “yakiniku by oneself.
When this reporter visited a restaurant near a terminal station in the center of Tokyo, there was a line of seven people waiting around 12:00 pm. All of them were solo customers, and after about 15 minutes, they were shown to their seats at the counter. In front of us was a smokeless roaster and a touch panel, with partitions on both sides. Although it feels a little cramped, you can enjoy your grilled meat without worrying about the eyes of those around you. The “Like Quattro Set” (1,750 yen including tax), a popular set that includes two kinds of kalbi, halami, and beef tongue, came out in just two minutes, and the variety of “flavor changes,” including two kinds of soy sauce sauce, ensures that you will never get bored.
The waiter, carrying a bag under his arm with a net and a bottle of alcohol spray, cleans up every seat in less than a minute. There are four people in the restaurant, including the kitchen. The restaurant is able to expand rapidly in the restaurant industry, which is short on staff,” says one waiter.
The concept is to have a groove in front of the roaster so that trays fit snugly in front of it, so that customers can concentrate on the food in front of them without disturbing neighboring customers. I think the main point is that it has changed the way people go into a set restaurant alone for a quick meal and then leave, which is the way yakiniku is supposed to be,” said Hibiki Amemiya, editor-in-chief of “Kindai Shokudo” (Modern Restaurant).
Yakiniku Kingu, which offers inexpensive and “fun” yakiniku to families, and Yakiniku Like, which pursues the convenience of solo yakiniku and business efficiency. The popularity of Gyukaku, the absolute champion with the largest number of restaurants in Japan, is fading due to the momentum of these newcomers. Gyukaku has been attracting customers with its new side menu items, such as “rice topped with seaweed and green onions” and “Gyukaku ice cream,” but the number of Gyukaku restaurants has been declining for three years in a row. Food analyst Takao Shigemori analyzes the reasons for this.
In recent years, some Gyukaku restaurants have offered all-you-can-eat and electronic payment services, while others have not. The cheapest all-you-can-eat (3,278 yen including tax) has only three menu items with the word ‘beef’ out of 70 items, and it is sometimes difficult to receive the order. Yakiniku Kingu, which lines up its signature dishes in its all-you-can-eat menu, is less stressful.
An official of a well-known yakiniku chain observed that Gyukaku is in a difficult situation.
Gyukaku is mostly a franchise restaurant and cannot keep up with human resource development, and it continues to close stores and lose experienced employees to other chains. While the number of items on the menu is increasing and operations are becoming more complex, there is a shortage of staff. As a result, more and more restaurants are making customers wait during peak hours.”
As early as ”Next Yakiniku Kingu.
There is a long-established restaurant (shinsei) that is struggling like Gyukaku.’ It is “Anraku Tei,” founded in 1963. It has long taken a reasonably priced route, selling all-you-can-eat meals. Its mainstay is the “Power Yakiniku Course,” which offers more than 80 all-you-can-eat items for 3,498 yen including tax, but the company is forecasting a loss of 571 million yen for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2010. The challenge is to recover the ability to attract customers.
A current employee of Anrategatei says, “Anrategatei is trying to improve its cost competitiveness.
Most of the customers at Anrakutei are looking for a more economical menu, but the side dishes, such as beer and sweets, are slightly higher than those of competitors. However, the side dishes, such as beer and sweets, are slightly more expensive than those of competitors. The most expensive course, the “Goku Gorgeous Course” (8778 yen including tax), receives almost no orders, and it appears that the restaurant has not narrowed down its customer base. Some restaurants fail to meet their sales targets more than half of the month. My restaurant is also full only at lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays.
If you simply want cheap food, there are reasonably priced a la carte chains near the station, such as “Gyushige” and “An’an”. On the other hand, now that upscale chains such as “Sora-en” and “Yakiniku Toraji” are offering lunch at the ¥2,000 and ¥1,000 (both including tax) level, the demand for petit luxury is flowing in that direction.
The strength of major restaurants such as Gyukaku and Anraku-tei lies in their corporate strength. If the price of imported meat continues to soar, new chains may be weeded out. The future of the major chains will depend on whether they can continue to operate smoothly. They are proceeding with the liquidation of unprofitable stores, but there is no immediate solution in sight,” said Sotaro Mitsui, a restaurant consultant.
The momentum of the two emerging chains is likely to continue for some time, but there are local chains that are planning to threaten their position. One such chain is Amiyakitei, which operates mainly in Aichi Prefecture. One of the features of this chain is that it offers an all-you-can-eat buffet with a drink bar for 3,000 yen (including tax), one of the lowest prices in the industry, and that it serves a large amount of food per plate. The restaurant is popular among families, and word of mouth is spreading mainly through social networking services (SNS).
One Karubi,” which has launched an “all-you-can-eat” concept centered in the Kansai region, is also likely to be a hot spot in the future.
When tasted in the restaurant, the texture and thickness of the meat is noticeably richer than that of Yakiniku Kingu and other restaurants. The signature dish, “One Karubi,” is a single piece of meat like a steak, with fine cuts calculated to ensure the meat is cooked through and the sauce is well mixed in. The “all-you-can-eat yakiniku course” costs 4158 yen, including tax, which is higher than other restaurants, but the restaurant offers discounts for elementary school students and younger and those over 60, aiming to attract customers from all three generations.
The restaurant’s management was originally a long-established butcher store, and it has strengths in purchasing and processing meat. In the future, we may see more companies with expertise in meat succeed in developing niche chains,” said Amemiya.
The competition for the next Yakiniku Kingu is already fierce. The dark horse is One Karubi.
From the May 26, 2023 issue of FRIDAY