Without a doubt, Japan as a travel destination is unique. There is just nowhere else like it on Earth.
And in 2018, 30 million tourists traveled to the country for a visit. That’s some staggering numbers for a country that in reality, is pretty small. Of course, one of the jewels in the Japanese tourism crown is the capital, Tokyo.
Home to around 10 million people, this thoroughly modern city has everything a tourist’s heart desires. But many people come here for the incredible cuisine Japan has to offer. With seafood playing a major part in Japanese cuisine, restaurants in the city are extremely busy at all times.
But there is a problem.
Restaurateurs HATE restaurant booking cancellations. In fact, in 2018, it cost the food and beverage industry in the country around 200 billion yen! That’s simply staggering.
Restaurateurs in Japan dislike last-minute cancellations so much that they have even come up with a slang term for it. When a last minute cancellation happens, it is known as “dotakyan” and its considered to be extremely poor to do this once you set a restaurant booking.
Dotakyan: A problem for the Japanese restaurant industry
Now you might think this is a problem that restaurants experience all over the world, and it is, but in Japan, it is causing significant damage to the restaurant industry and is slowly getting out of control.
Let’s investigate a little further.
We already know that Tokyo is a city of around 10 million people. Here, 15,604 people per square mile live and work. And space is at a premium.
That means, that if you own a restaurant in Tokyo, you are paying massive rates on rent. Add the cost of ingredients, for example, premium quality seafood, and the cost of keeping an eating establishment running in the city is not cheap. That’s why cancellations, where it’s impossible to fill a table at the last minute, are really hurting the industry.
But why can’t Tokyo restaurants take walk-ins off the street? Well, most restaurants run lunch or dinner sittings, so when a last-minute cancellation comes in, that table simply doesn’t get filled. And that’s a loss of revenue.
But there’s another reason why these last minute cancellations are causing havoc in the restaurant industry in the city.
We have already discussed the high costs of running a restaurant in Tokyo. Rental space, ingredients and staff costs mean that most restaurant owners need their establishments running at full capacity whenever possible.
Some, however, rely on it totally.
Why? Well, some restaurants in Tokyo are not very big. We are talking less than 10 tables in many cases.
Typical restaurant in Japan
With most of these having only one dinner sitting an evening, you can imagine how a “dotakyan” will affect their profit margin. But it’s not just the smaller restaurants that are suffering. Large ones lose a large portion of their potential income when large tourists groups, often numbering between 20 or more people, cancel at the last minute. Those are seats that now just cannot be filled. And the restaurant will lose money on any pre-prepared fresh food that was to be used during that lunch or dinner setting.
But now the restaurant owners are fighting back!
Booking a restaurant table is now not that simple in Tokyo
Things are a little different in the Tokyo dining scene these days. Thanks to foreign diners canceling at the last minute, Japanese restaurant owners have been forced to change their operating practices.
And they have done that in a number of ways.
No entry without a reservation
Charging for last-minute cancellations
The most obvious way to ensure people do not cancel at the last moment is to charge them for their dinner reservation if they do. This is far easier in a restaurant that offers a set price for lunch or dinner menus. And the way that restaurant owners are doing this is by asking for credit card details with every booking that they take. It’s a form of protection and certainly one that has been forced on restaurant owners in Tokyo.
Not accepting restaurant bookings from foreigners without a local phone number
Instead of allowing foreigners to book a table online, many restaurants in Tokyo now demand that if foreign guests want a table for a lunch or evening sitting, the reservation must be confirmed with a Japanese number. One way to achieve this is to use a hotel concierge service, in which it will be booked by a hotel employee and confirmed through the hotel. In this way, the hotels, who understand the problem of “dotakyan” can encourage tourists not to cancel their bookings by explaining the implications it has.
Not accepting bookings from foreign tourists at all
Although certainly very extreme, some restaurants in Tokyo will simply not accept any bookings from foreign tourists and instead rely on local clientele to fill their restaurants.
It’s about the respect of Japanese culture
In closing, its easy to see from the extreme measures implemented by Tokyo restaurant owners that the practice of “dotakyan” has had a massive effect on the food and beverage industry in the city.
But, if foreign visitors to the country play their part, perhaps the trust of local restaurant owners can be won back.
Cancellations are a part of life, but if you are visiting Japan when you do make a reservation and need to cancel, do so in a timely manner. Also, some tourists tend to book five restaurants a night and then pick one to go to. It’s a practice that certainly doesn’t help at all.
Do your research before you visit the city, select the restaurants you would like to visit and book them through your hotel concierge service. It’s the best practice when eating out in Tokyo.