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Fancy restaurants across Japan begin offering takeout services amid pandemic

A four-person course meal costing 8,000 yen per person for takeout from Restaurant Hiramatsu la Reserve, a French restaurant in Tokyo's Minato Ward, is seen in this photo provided by the establishment.

TOKYO -- With the food service industry increasingly allowing customers to buy meals to eat at home, takeout food at luxury restaurants has also gained popularity as a way to enjoy set menus at lower prices.

    Some eateries are enhancing their menu for the Christmas and New Year season to respond to demand for takeaway home meals. Fast food chains, which already offer takeout services, are also planning to further their efforts.

    "Here is your beef pie," a manager of Restaurant Hiramatsu la Reserve, a French restaurant in Tokyo's Minato Ward, said as they handed a takeout meal to a 43-year-old office worker. To celebrate her wedding anniversary, she had ordered 11-dish course meals costing 6,000 yen ($57.28) per person. She smiled and said, "As our child is still young, we would like to take our time and enjoy the tasty food at home."

    A manager of Restaurant Hiramatsu la Reserve, a French restaurant in Tokyo's Minato Ward, right, explains how to heat up meals for takeout to a customer. (Mainichi)

    The restaurant launched a full-scale takeout service at the end of May after suffering a drop in sales from the coronavirus pandemic. Course menus including appetizers and desserts cost 4,000 to 8,000 yen per person. Compared to the lowest priced course meal to eat in, which is set at 5,500 yen, the takeout menus are somewhat cheaper, and the restaurant apparently receives an average of around three to four takeout orders a day. Though the restaurant attracted only about one-third of the number of customers it would normally see in July and August, takeout orders made up about 20% of the restaurant's sales.

    Though the restaurant is seeing a recovery in reservation numbers thanks to the government's "Go To Eat" points reward system to spur demand for eating out, takeout menus are also performing well.

    Hisashi Uchikoba, head chef at Hiramatsu la Reserve, said, "When customers eat from our takeout menu, we aren't sure if the setup is exactly the same as eating at the restaurant. To be honest, we want people to eat at our restaurant." But he added, "We would like to develop a new takeout menu for Christmas and New Year."

    While some eateries are looking for ways to continue their business by providing takeout meals, experts have highlighted the service's limitations. A representative of the Japan Food Service Association explained, "Average spending per customer (for takeout services) tends to be lower than when eating in at a restaurant. Though alcoholic beverages can be on takeout menus, customers don't order several glasses like they do when dining at the establishments, which means many stores are struggling to achieve a recovery in sales."

    Meanwhile, moves are afoot in the fast food industry to review products and stores with a focus on facilitating takeout menus. Popular fast food chain Mos Burger opened a store inside a supermarket in Tokyo's Shinjuku area in August which exclusively offers takeout meals. Major "gyudon" beef bowl restaurant Yoshinoya also made changes when developing its new menu, based on the assumption that customers will take the food home.

    Naoko Kuga, chief researcher at NLI Research Institute, said, "Takeout meals have taken root in Japan due to changes in the way people work. For customers, it means a significant increase in the range of services, but eateries will experience more demand than before to offer better tasting food at better prices."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Machino, Business News Department)

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