Mastering Establishment Rules: Seating Fees, Weekend Rates, and Time Limits for a Smooth First Visit | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Mastering Establishment Rules: Seating Fees, Weekend Rates, and Time Limits for a Smooth First Visit

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Why do “original rules” for restaurants come into being?

It has been reported that a restaurant posing as a franchise of the major yakitori chain Torikizoku was charging customers high fees for “seating and weekend charges” as part of its own “unique rules.” While such criminal acts are reprehensible, many restaurants indeed have their own unique rules. What are these unique rules and how should one deal with them?

First, let’s explain what a restaurant is. According to the Japan Standard Industrial Classification by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, a restaurant is defined as a place of business that primarily serves food, beverages, or other foodstuffs directly to customers upon order. The main requirements for operating a restaurant are to have a certified food sanitation manager and a fire prevention manager, and to obtain a restaurant business permit. It’s often misunderstood, but obtaining a chef’s license is not mandatory, although it is preferred.

Restaurant business permits are based on the Food Sanitation Act. Since restaurants provide items that enter people’s mouths, food hygiene is naturally crucial. Conversely, factors other than food hygiene are not as heavily emphasized. Therefore, each restaurant has significant discretion, allowing them to pursue profit or embody the owner’s or chef’s preferences, leading to the creation of unique rules.

How can one escape from the unwelcome unique rules of a restaurant. (Image is for illustration: Afro)

“Minimum of 2 people”, “One drink per person required”, “Service charge”, “Eating manners”. Various unique rules exist in different restaurants.

Let’s introduce various unique rules found in different restaurants.

The attitude towards reservations reflects the business policy. Restaurants that don’t take reservations often prioritize maximizing efficiency by seating walk-ins promptly or intentionally aiming for long queues. On the other hand, establishments with strict reservation policies aim to control everything, from ingredients to operations and customers, to deliver a perfect experience. The former is common in casual dining, while the latter is prevalent in upscale establishments.

Regarding reservation methods, using major restaurant reservation sites like TableCheck or Toreta is conventional, but there are also restaurants that only accept reservations through platforms like omakase, which do not charge a fee for difficult-to-book establishments. Some restaurants, despite requiring reservations, only accept bookings over the phone, which may be due to a lack of understanding of IT or a delay in digital transformation.

There are also unique rules regarding the number of people. Fine dining, especially French cuisine, often does not allow solo diners. This is because the portions are typically designed for sharing between two people or to increase table turnover rates. Conversely, in fast-food establishments like ramen shops, large groups may be split into smaller parties due to limited seating.

In fine dining, it’s common for restaurants to offer only omakase (chef’s choice) courses, while casual restaurants focus on à la carte options. It’s still common for a table charge to be mandatory. While some establishments may allow customers to decline, if it’s required, customers are forced to either accept it or leave.

It’s often required to order at least one dish per person or to order one drink at many places. Restaurants that specialize in alcohol or have owners who are liquor enthusiasts may require alcohol orders. Specific quantities, such as one bottle per two people or three glasses per person, may be specified. However, considering that some people may not be able to drink alcohol due to health reasons, establishments that require alcohol orders may need to clarify this during the reservation process or mention it on their official website or review platforms.

There are also unique rules for ordering. For example, in some ramen restaurant chains, customers must recite a sort of incantation-like order that includes options for toppings and portion sizes.

 Some restaurants also provide instructions on how to eat. They may serve several dishes simultaneously and encourage customers to eat them in a specific order or add toppings or condiments midway through the meal. While it may seem pushy, it’s best to accept their advice as they have considered how the food is best enjoyed. If it doesn’t taste good despite following their instructions, then there’s little choice but to accept it.

Some restaurants may also impose time limits on dining. While this is commonly seen in cafes, it’s also adopted by izakayas, bistros, and trendy restaurants for dates. The reason behind this rule is to increase turnover, with two hours being a common limit.

Charges and service fees also vary among restaurants. Cover charges typically start from around 500 yen. In fine dining establishments, instead of cover charges, a service fee is usually added, amounting to roughly 10% or more of the total bill. These charges may also apply only during late hours or when live music is playing. Additionally, surcharges may occur during peak times like weekends, Christmas, or during the busiest hours of the day.

There’s also a wide range of conditions for using private rooms. The standard is a fixed fee per room, but there are cases where a specific number of people or a minimum total amount of spending is required, or it’s included as part of a specific plan.

While it may not be categorized as a unique rule, in fine dining establishments such as Japanese or sushi restaurants, or those serving innovative cuisine, menus may not be provided, making it difficult to understand the prices. Even if menus are available, they may not specify prices, only indicating a minimum charge or starting price. Considering the basic contractual relationship between restaurants and customers regarding what items or services are provided under what conditions at what prices, this approach poses significant issues. However, in fine dining settings, it’s often considered gauche to point out or inquire about specific prices, so such unique rules have become common.

Regarding payment, some restaurants with an average customer spending of over 30,000 yen may only accept cash, or if they accept credit cards, they may impose conditions that are technically prohibited by the credit card company’s contract. For example, they may not accept credit cards for lunch, only accept payments above 5,000 yen, or apply a 10% surcharge for credit card payments.

The surcharge may occur on weekends, during peak periods such as Christmas, and during peak times of the day when there are many customers (Photo: Afro)

“If you’re not satisfied, inform the staff immediately at that moment.” Once accepted, the contract is considered valid.

Having introduced various unique rules, how can we escape from unwilling unique rules?

Once inside the restaurant, you are inevitably subject to the restaurant’s pace, so it’s important to check the official website or gourmet sites beforehand. If you have made a reservation, there should be explanations on the site or via phone, so be sure to confirm everything.

If you find yourself unable to accept a unique rule that was not communicated beforehand, it is crucial to inform the staff immediately upon noticing. Once accepted, the contract is considered established, making it difficult to retract.

During payment, it’s advisable to review the detailed breakdown of charges. Even if the restaurant does not provide an itemized bill, you can insist on it to ensure transparency.

With a plethora of dining establishments in Japan, numbering over 100,000 in Tokyo alone, it’s natural for each to have its own unique rules. Embrace these rules as part of each restaurant’s individuality, and enjoy the encounter with each unique rule as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  • Written by Dong Long

    Born in Taiwan in 1976. Winner of TV Tokyo's "TV Champion" in 2002 and 2007. He loves cooking, sweets, and alcohol, with a focus on fine dining and hotel gourmet cuisine. He writes easy-to-understand articles with his unique perspective on everything from inflammatory incidents to gastronomy and trends, and from the state of food to issues facing restaurants. He is also a judge, lecturer, producer, and consultant.

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