How much food and booze gobble up and guzzle down in 15 minutes? This is the challenge presented to patrons at Viking Izakaya Odaidoko Sakeba, where they can eat and drink as much as they like for ¥375. Opened in Yokohama last month, the place is already fully booked at weekends with customers eager to wolf down as much food and drink as they can within the allotted time.

Viking is not a tall blond Norse marauder but a self-service buffet and this one offers items such as oden, nabe (hot pots) and salads, as well as beer, shochu and cocktails. Customers are not limited to sticking to the 15-minute rule, but simply pay for an extra 15 minutes once the time is up. The concept may well catch on.

This year has seen a cut-throat price war among izakaya looking to break even under poor economic conditions and all kinds of tricks are being implemented to attract customers. Earlier this year we wrote about the trend of izakaya offering free shochu to customers and one price establishments selling dishes and drinks for prices as low as ¥270.

The concept of tabe/nomihodai (all you can eat and drink) deals is not new, but the shorter time period is. Typically izakaya offer these deals for periods of 90 minutes to two hours, after which time the (typically wasted) group is kicked out. We suspect that allowing customers to stay for as long or short a time as they like could cause problems for staff.

We’ve seen a couple of other short period tabehodai deals recently but these have been limited to a promotional period only. Take Burger King’s Biking (a play on the words Viking and Burger King) deal last month for which customers who ordered a whopper set meal could come back for unlimited extra burgers within a 30-minute period. Mammoth Curry in Akihabara also ran a tabehodai promotion on curry last year, challenging customers to eat as much curry as they can in 20 minutes for just ¥100. But the Biking and 20-minute curry deal were both about getting people in the door, not about turning a profit, so how on earth does Viking Izakaya Odaidoko Sakeba hope to break even?

A shop representative speaking to Tokyo Walker pointed out that most customers do not leave after 15 minutes but usually spend that time serving themselves at the buffet and drink bar. One hour at the establishment costs ¥1,575 and there are courses for customers who want to go with an old-school deal, which works out slightly cheaper if you’re spending a longer time there (¥2,940 for a two hour course). As long as they can keep the professional speed eaters and gaijin out of the equation, the business model is set to be a successful one.

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