Rising prices fail to derail free ‘udon’ campaign


Bucking the drastic rise in the price of flour plaguing “udon” noodle shops across the country, one restaurant chain will go ahead with its annual sales campaign offering ¥500 tickets good for a free bowl of noodles every day for a month.

Hanamaru Inc., operator of the eponymous major udon restaurant chain, will run the discount campaign this month despite a 30 percent hike in the price of government-controlled imported flour in the same month, said Setsuya Asano of the firm’s business planning section.

At ¥105, the cheapest item on the menu at Hanamaru is a small bowl of udon in soy-flavored soup. By showing the ticket, dubbed a “commuter pass,” customers can eat a bowl free of charge at the counter.

“If customers keep eating a small bowl of udon every day using the pass, of course (the campaign) will end up in the red,” Asano told The Japan Times.

“But this is a campaign to return profits to customers. In addition, many customers order side dishes, too,” he said.

The one-month pass is also good for a ¥105 discount on any meal at an outlet.

Hanamaru sold about 30,000 tickets last April at some 100 udon shops across the country.

The effect was impressive — each outlet saw about a 10 percent increase in the number of customers for a month after it started selling the pass, Asano said, adding the company expects a similar effect this year as well.

A customer can use the pass only once a day at the outlet where the ticket was purchased.

But without a reliable system for keeping track of the pass’ use, how can shops prevent customers from using it more than once a day?

Asano’s answer: They won’t.

“There is no strict (ID) system since the campaign is based on trust with customers,” he said.

Customers simply write their names on each pass, which has its own unique number. But how closely the system is monitored is up to the individual shop manager, according to Asano.