When visiting Tokyo, or Japan in general, you will more than likely have a list of restaurants, bars or izakayas that you will want to try. And for good reason! Japanese food is one of the most delicious, and healthiest cultural groups of delicacies in the world. It’s no wonder why you would have so many restaurants on your radar when visiting the mega city that is Tokyo. However, when planning or booking your table/seats you may find something that is a bit odd compared to traditional western opening and closing times. With that being said, why do Japanese restaurants really open late?
To avoid running costs during the quietest hours of the day, the average restaurant in Japan opens from 7pm to 11pm for dinner. They are also open for lunch which typically stops at around 2pm, however, they close the restaurant between these times to allow for cleaning, preparation and cost-saving.
Japanese restaurants are known for sticking to traditions, and a large majority of these establishments within the country have very similar rules that they all stick to. In this article we will take a look further into why they close at these times, and if it causes more problems than it solves. We will also have a look at what the restaurant staff do while the establishment is closed within these hours.
Why Do Restaurants In Japan Open Later In The Evening?
Japan generally has a large variety of restaurant types in its most famous cities like Tokyo. From izakayas, cafes, fast food restaurants, dedicated ramen shops and much more; they all each have their own rules and traditions for opening and closing times.
For example, an izakaya is known for its late-night dining with lots of people going to drink and eat a dinner course. So, these particular establishments are much more likely to have a later opening time than a fast-food restaurant which in Japan typically stays open all day long.
However, the average restaurant in Japan will open first for lunch, and then close up at around 2pm until the dinner hours which usually start at around 5-7pm.
This gives the restaurant around 3-5 hours of being closed after lunch. The answer to this is pretty simple, and it is actually surprising that more restaurants across the globe don’t do this.
To put it simply, those hours are the quietest of the day, and it makes no sense for the establishment to remain open for very few diners that will show up for a meal.
This means that the restaurant would be wasting money on running costs at a time when they aren’t really taking in an income. So, to combat this, Japanese restaurants close during these hours to save money.
Not only will the restaurant save money, but it also gives the staff time to prepare for dinner servings, which is arguably the busiest time of the day. This, therefore, means that closing during those hours to allow for preparation is a much more beneficial use of time.
Do All Japanese Restaurants Open & Close Late?
As mentioned before, not all restaurants in Japan close early. It strictly depends on the type of establishment the restaurant is in.
Fast foods typically stay open all day long, and sometimes, are even open 24/7.
Cafes, usually open up just for breakfast and lunch hours traditionally but are not rare to find ones that are open for dinner in Tokyo.
With so many family-owned and independent restaurants and food establishments in Japan, the large majority of places in Tokyo actually do close up between lunch and dinner.
So, how does this affect your booking at a restaurant? Well, all you have to do is research the food place on Google and if it is a fairly big or popular establishment, the opening and closing times will be there.
If they are a smaller business, you can visit the physical location, and 9 times out of 10, there will be a sign or poster displaying the opening times. And, while you’re there, you may as well make your booking face-to-face!
What Do The Staff Do While The Restaurant Is Closed During These Hours?
In the 3-5 hour gap that the restaurants close in, there is a range of things that the staff do to make use of the time. Let’s take a look at these now.
Prepare For The Busy Hours
The hours of 5-10pm are undoubtedly the busiest hours for a restaurant in Tokyo, so preparation, if available, is key in making the day a successful one in terms of business and income.
Staff prepare in various different ways such as: cleaning and setting the tables, checking stock and ingredients (and buying whatever is needed), arranging petty cash/change in the tills, preparing certain meals and much more.
Depending on the size of the restaurant, hundreds of guests can show up to dine every single night, which is why preparation is so important for these late dining hours.
Take a break and rest
As important as it is for the staff to prepare for the busy hours, it is also important that they get to rest and have a break. Working with Japan’s unique and complex dishes can really take it out of you quickly, so resting during these downtime hours is a great way of refreshing the mind and body for a more stressful shift ready to come in just a matter of hours.
Finding out for the first time that not all Japanese restaurants remain open all day long, can be a bit of a shocker. However, the late opening hours are what keep the traditional Japanese food at such a high quality and stature.
If these restaurants didn’t open late for dinner, you would find a lot more issues that are more common in western countries. Some of these issues could be running out of certain dishes, the restaurant not being clean to a reasonable level and a lower quality of food. So, those 3-5 hours make a huge difference in the bigger picture!