Family-style eateries give ‘izakaya’ competition with evening bar services

Kyodo

With real wages falling as prices rise, drinkers of alcohol are turning increasingly to restaurant chains for imbibe at lower prices than in traditional izakaya (pubs).

“I often come here because I can enjoy sufficient amounts of drinks and snacks at prices more friendly to my purse,” said 59-year-old Tokyo salaryman Koichi Taniguchi during a recent visit to a Bamiyan near Shinagawa Station with colleagues after work.

Bamiyan, a chain of Chinese family-style restaurants owned by Skylark Co., expanded its lineup of alcoholic beverages and accompanying snacks at all its outlets last spring, allowing it to attract more workers as they make their way home.

After-work drinkers often patronize their local izakaya, casual drinking establishments that typically serve Japanese food and alcohol.

Like pubs, Bamiyan now allows patrons to keep unfinished bottles of liquor stored in their name. If customers place “all-you-can-drink” orders for nonalcoholic beverages, they can use liquor to mix their own cocktails.

Like many bars and pubs, Bamiyan also has an early-evening Happy Hour service that offers draft beer and snacks at discount prices.

With these and other services, Bamiyan is attracting not only after-work drinkers, but also young mothers.

“We can meet demand from mothers who wish to drink liquor in a bright atmosphere where they can bring their small children,” a public relations official at Skylark said.

Skylark’s discount Gusto chain of family restaurants now provides similar drinking services.

JR East Food Business Co., a unit of East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), recently refurbished its Becker’s in nearby Tamachi Station and now serves alcohol and snacks at the burger and sandwich eatery in the evenings.

Among other eateries, beef-bowl giant Yoshinoya and Kentucky Fried Chicken are also offering liquor at some outlets in the evenings.

Since alcohol is highly profitable and can attract new customers, more restaurant chains are likely to offer izakaya-style services, marketing consultant Yasushi Arai said.

“With more people, mainly the young generation, shunning alcoholic beverages, these restaurants are highly regarded as places where a wide variety of people can gather easily,” he said.