“Gyudon” beef-on-rice restaurants belonging to the Sukiya chain have become a favorite target of robbers.

The chain’s outlets accounted for about 90 percent of all gyudon diners that were victims of stickups between January and September, according to the National Police Agency.

To counter the situation, Zensho Holdings Co., which runs the Sukiya chain, will assign at least two workers at every outlet by March.

Some restaurants and convenience stores stay open 24 hours to serve late-night clientele, particularly taxi drivers and businessmen. But their level of employee security varies, and Sukiya outlets appear particularly vulnerable.

Below are questions and answers on security at shops that operate late into the night:

How often have Sukiya restaurants been knocked over, and how does the chain compare with other 24-hour establishments?

According to the National Police Agency, out of 71 robberies at gyudon restaurants from January to September, 63 targeted Sukiya. The Yoshinoya chain had only six, while Nakau restaurants suffered two.

Robberies targeting Sukiya alone are up from last year. Out of 68 gyudon shop stickups nationwide, Sukiya accounted for 58, while nine targeted Yoshinoya and one occurred at a Nakau outlet.

Gyudon restaurants currently number about 4,200 nationwide, according to their websites and media reports.

In separate NPA statistics, the number of robberies at convenience stores between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. stood at 614 in 2010 and the figure fluctuated between 468 and 767 in the previous 10 years. As of September, there were 43,969 convenience stores, according to the Japan Franchise Association, which compiles the numbers from 10 major convenience store chains, including Seven-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart.

What about other types of restaurants?

Last year 154 restaurants, including gyudon outlets, were held up, according to NPA statistics.

There are no statistics for robberies at other likely victims that are open late but occasionally have no customers and very few employees, including restaurants specializing in “soba” buckwheat noodles and ramen.

Why are Sukiya outlets singled out?

There are several reasons. The biggest is that many have only one worker late at night. The NPA noted in a press release that many Sukiya outlets keep large amounts of cash and have only one cash register, often near the entrance. And some outlets are suburban and have little foot traffic.

Other gyudon restaurants as well as convenience stores have at least two people on duty at all times. Lawson and Seven-Eleven spokesmen said there is enough work late at night, such as checking inventory and cleaning up in preparation for the next day, to justify the added payroll.

What is Zensho doing to prevent robberies? Have any stickups resulted in injury?

Responding to an Oct. 13 NPA order to strengthen security, Zensho will man every Sukiya outlet with two people by March.

Zensho spokesman Naoya Hirotani said a Sukiya worker sustained a minor injury when his outlet was robbed in September, and he is the only person hurt this year in connection with a robbery.

What other measures could prevent robberies?

Yusuke Takasaki of business consultant P&E Directions Inc. said installing meal-ticket vending machines instead of relying on a cashier would keep robbers away because opening the machine would take a long time. Also, night workers wouldn’t even have a key to the machine, which would mostly be filled with coins rather than easy to carry paper money.

Sukiya, Yoshinoya and Nakau do not have meal-ticket machines, but Matsuya, a gyudon chain that hasn’t been robbed this year or last, uses them.

Many gyudon chains forgo the machines because they lessen the opportunity of workers and customers to interact.

This rapport is generally regarded as a part of the gyudon culture, while soba and ramen joints tend to prefer the ticket system, Takasaki said.

For example, restaurants in the Fuji Soba noodle chain are open 24 hours and all 89 have a ticket machine, a spokesman for operator Daitan Food said.

Surveillance cameras and other security-enhancing hardware are essential, but robbers already know every outlet has that equipment, said Jiro Takahashi, a spokesman of Sohgo Security Services Co.

“After all, having only one person at an outlet is the worst way to go about it,” he said.

Why are Sukiya robberies grabbing so much attention now?

There are several reasons. Securitywise, Sukiya outlets make for tempting targets.

Businesswise, Sukiya leads the gyudon industry in cutting prices and having only one worker is believed to be a prime factor enabling the chain to keep costs low.

Zensho said it will spend ¥700 million hiring people to establish the two-worker system. Even so, the company denies it will have to raise prices. Sukiya’s cheapest gyudon dish costs ¥230.

“Zensho will probably keep the prices unchanged for the time being because customers won’t like the idea of covering the company’s security costs, and Zensho is smart enough to know it,” Takasaki said.

The Weekly FYI appears on Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

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