• Kyodo

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Delivery food fare used to be dominated by sushi, pizza and “soba” (buckwheat noodles), but more unusual items, including lamb chops and enchiladas, are also coming to doorsteps thanks to an innovation in catering.

The fineDine delivery service has been adding French, Italian, Thai, Indian, Mexican and other types of fare from popular restaurants to homes in downtown Tokyo since the launch of full-scale services last year.

The fare it delivers includes items from restaurants where people wait in long lines to score tables.

The service has been growing popularity among busy but wealthy singles as well as families that have little time to cook or dine out.

“I order out quite often when I’m busy at work,” said a 30-year-old woman at a foreign financial firm who lives in the Akasaka district. She holds a key position in the company that prevents her from getting home in time to prepare an evening meal.

The woman found a fineDine booklet in her mailbox in May and has been ordering from the service almost every week since then.

FineDine has outlets in five central districts — Akasaka, Aoyama, Ginza, Nakameguro and Shirokane.

The Akasaka outlet, for example, offers more than 600 food items from almost 30 restaurants, including Chinmabodofu, a popular Chinese eatery that has been featured several times on TV, Kimukatsu, a pork cutlet restaurant, as well as Kurayamizaka Miyashita, which offers traditional “kaiseki” dishes.

“When we talk about having food delivered, we usually decide on soba or Chinese food, but we find (that fineDine handles) many top restaurants,” the Akasaka woman said.

“I can also save on the time spent going to the restaurant or waiting for the food to come to my table.

“I’d like to order for a party at home over the weekend, too,” she said.

When customers use fineDine, they can order meals out of its booklet by phone or online. About 30,000 copies of the booklet are issued each month.

Once an order is placed, a rider goes to the restaurant to pick up the food. Delivery takes 45 to 60 minutes on average.

FineDine charges the customer for the food plus 15 percent of the meal charge as a delivery fee.

Tokyo-based Restaurant Express Co., which has its own delivery shops, launched fineDine with the intention of attracting double-income couples working downtown who can’t find time to cook.

But the company said it has also seen orders from wealthy families living in expensive condominiums and mothers who are busy raising children.

Convenience is not the only strength of fineDine. It benefits restaurants, too.

Under the system, restaurants pay commissions to fineDine for having their menus included in its booklets and for having their food delivered. This allows them to duck the costs of running their own delivery systems or employing riders.

Grill Mantenboshi, an expensive, established Western restaurant in Tokyo’s Azabujuban, said 15 percent of its revenues come from fineDine deliveries.

“Even when our tables are fully booked, we can still expect an increase in revenues if we receive delivery orders,” Manager Nobuyuki Miyake said.

Miyake added that the good thing about fineDine is that “we don’t have to bear any risk for delivery management even if we see no orders.”

Restaurant Express, which itself operates more than 300 sushi and other food delivery shops across Japan, said it is aiming to expand the fineDine service to other major cities outside Tokyo, using its delivery knowhow.

“FineDine helps us find out what sort of foods are currently popular,” Katsuya Goto, a director in the franchise chain division at Restaurant Express, said.

“We can reflect on what we learned through fineDine in our main delivery business.”

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