Drinking at home has become a habit! Will there be a return to outside drinking?
A company involved in the planning and development of alcoholic beverages conducted an Internet survey from November 3 to 5 on “the lifting of the shorter hours requirement for serving alcoholic beverages at restaurants” among about 600 members of the online store’s e-mail magazine. The results show that 29.1% of the respondents went out for drinks at restaurants after 8 p.m. after the request for shorter hours was lifted.
On the other hand, 79% of the respondents in the same survey said that they would like to continue to enjoy drinking at home.
With the lifting of requests for shorter hours and restrictions on the serving of alcoholic beverages in restaurants, one would think that there would be a certain amount of people going out to drink in reaction to the previous restraints, but the demand for drinking at home remains so high. Will there be a return to drinking out in the future?
Daisuke Miwa, a food journalist, has this to say. He says, “Nowadays, alcoholic beverages, including micro-alcoholic beverages, are available at convenience stores and supermarkets in various degrees of alcohol and fruit juices, making it easy for people to choose their favorite drink. It is difficult for restaurants to respond to such personalized tastes, so even after the Covid-19 disaster is over, I think the trend of ‘drinking at home rather than in an izakaya’ will continue.
Covid-19 is a catalyst for change in Japan’s restaurant culture…
What does Kazuhiro Sakurai, president of Asahi Shuzo in Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the brewer of the famous sake “Dassai,” think about the current situation? When I interviewed him remotely, he had this to say.
“When I interviewed him remotely, he had this to say, “I feel that Covid-19 will be a catalyst for changing the culture of eating out in Japan.
So, what does this mean?
“I think some people, myself included, realized that the time spent eating out and drinking outside was an extraordinary time.
I have a feeling that in With Covid-19’s society, going out for a drink once will be seen as a special act. When you go out for a drink after work, you don’t make a choice based on whether a glass of draft beer costs ¥390 or ¥400. Instead, you choose a place where the food and drinks are good and you feel good, even if it is a little expensive, in order to have a special and enjoyable time. I think that the increase in the number of such customers will lead to a more sophisticated culture of eating out.
Of course, in order for this to happen, individual incomes must rise and the economy must revolve. If we can get these things to work together, I think the restaurant industry will develop in a better direction.
Was it right to take countermeasures against infection by singling out restaurants?
However, it seems that the restaurant industry has not yet regained its vigor, as many restaurants have yet to return to normal business hours due to the slow recovery of customers.
By the way, Asahi Shuzo is selling Dassai overseas, so I wonder how the Covid-19 disaster has affected Asahi’s business performance. I asked President Sakurai about the situation at overseas restaurants as well.
He said, “April and May of last year were particularly bad, with domestic sales dropping to less than 40% of the previous year’s level.
On the other hand, overseas, demand for sake was very strong because the Covid-19 disaster prevented people from coming to Japan. We received quite a few orders from countries that were under lockdown. I think it was because the roadmap for ending the lockdown was presented to the people. The restrictions were eased step by step, such as allowing customers to be served on the terrace if the conditions were met, or allowing a certain number of people to enter the restaurant. This allowed restaurants to place orders ahead of time. As a result, restaurants were not exhausted all at once, and they were able to recover.
On this point, what about Japan? In Japan, the government and local governments have been forcing restaurants to restrict their business operations, insisting on the idea that the highest risk comes from eating and drinking, and that restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages are bad.
“The government and local governments have been forcing restaurants and bars to restrict their business hours and serve alcoholic beverages. As in other countries, there should be a way of doing things depending on the number of infected people and the status of infection control. I couldn’t help but wonder why they decided to push through with their policy.
In parallel with measures to control infection, we also need to take measures to control restaurant closures and bankruptcies. As I wrote in my opinion ad, it is not a matter of 0 or 100. Shouldn’t the government have reviewed its measures in a detailed and flexible manner so that restaurants can survive well?
According to Teikoku Databank, restaurants are the most affected by Covid-19 among all industries, with 390 bankruptcies (as of October 26). The food and beverage industry has been severely damaged by infection control measures taken by the national and local governments, which have singled out restaurants.
Repayment of loans from next year…Creating an environment where restaurants can have hope rather than cooperation money
On the 11th of this month, the government’s proposal for easing restrictions on food, drink, travel, and events was revealed. After the easing of the restrictions, certified restaurants will not be required to limit the number of people and will be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages even in areas subject to emergency declarations and priority measures to prevent the spread of the disease. The request for shortened hours will be limited to 9 p.m. only in declared areas, even for certified restaurants.
It seems that the government intends to make a serious effort to recover the food, beverage, and travel industries, which have been hit hard. However, perhaps out of caution for the “sixth wave,” some companies are thinking of foregoing banquets even before the end of the year.
In a survey conducted by Tokyo Shoko Research in October, 5,760 companies (70.4%) answered that they would not hold year-end or New Year’s parties regardless of the emergency declaration or priority measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
Demand for banquets is unlikely again this year, and the damage to restaurants is likely to increase further.
Mr. Miwa said, “With the lifting of the restrictions, restaurants will no longer be able to receive the shortened cooperation money that has been provided by the local government. Restaurants need to return to sales as soon as possible, but it is said that a return to 70% of the pre-Corona level is better than nothing.
Moreover, from next year, they will have to start repaying loans from financial institutions. They will also face a rise in the price of food ingredients due to soaring raw material prices. It is not unlikely that the number of restaurants going bankrupt will increase in the future. For restaurants, this may be the real critical moment,” he predicts.
However, President Sakurai sees it this way.
“It’s certainly a tough situation. But I don’t think every restaurant owner hopes that the support from the local government will continue forever, and I think many of them want to work hard and pay off their debts. I would like the national and local governments to focus all their efforts on creating a situation where people can have hope.
Our awareness has changed a lot in the past year and a half. When our sales plummeted, we realized how much we were supported by the customers who wanted to drink Asahi Breweries’ sake. With the Covid-19 disaster, our employees also felt this and decided to pursue absolute quality for the sake of our valued customers and to move forward. As a company, I strongly feel that we need to reward everyone’s feelings by creating a comfortable working environment for our employees. I intend to aim for that to lead to good sake.”
Rather than criticizing the actions of the national and local governments, President Sakurai wants to look forward.
Kazuhiro Sakurai is the president of Asahi Shuzo and the fourth-generation brewer. Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1976, Kazuhiro Sakurai graduated from Waseda University in 2003 and worked for a manufacturer in Tokyo before joining Asahi Shuzo in 2006. In 2004, he succeeded his father as the fourth generation brewer. In ’16, he succeeded his father as president.
Interview and text by： Sayuri Saito Photo： Afro