The Tokyo Metropolitan Government's decision to request that eateries shorten business hours amid what appears to be a third wave of novel coronavirus infections is adding to the plight of many bars and restaurants in the capital that have already been hit by a spate of reservation cancellations due to the spread of the virus.
The metropolitan government on Wednesday decided to call on restaurants serving alcohol and karaoke bars to again move up their closing times to 10 p.m. over 20 days starting Saturday to Dec. 17. The move comes at a critical time for restaurants as it coincides with the period where people throw year-end parties.
A company that operates pubs in the Tokyo metropolitan area has seen a considerable number of year-end party reservations being canceled. "We are usually busy at this time of year, but the request from the metropolitan government will be an additional blow so we're unlikely to see an increase in customers for year-end parties," an official at the firm said.
Still, it remains to be seen how many bars and restaurants will accept the request at a time when the pandemic has led to the disappearance of demand for large-scale parties from corporate customers and many stores are therefore relying on people who dine out in small groups for revenue.
When the Tokyo government made a similar request in August, three major beef-on-rice restaurant operators — Sukiya Co., Yoshinoya Co. and Matsuya Foods Co. — and some other chains did not move up their closing times while suspending alcoholic beverage sales.
Sukiya will take a similar measure this time too. At some 250 outlets in Tokyo, business hours will not be changed and sales of alcoholic drinks will be halted temporarily instead. The decision is "for maintaining the jobs of our employees," a Sukiya official said.
Other eatery operators are expected to soon decide their responses to the new request from the Tokyo government by calculating the estimated impact from shorter operating hours and taking into account the need to prevent the further spread of the virus.
The Japan Food Service Association said Wednesday that sales at restaurants in October fell 5.7% from a year before on an all-store basis.
The fall was smaller than the 14.0% drop in September, thanks in part to the central government's Go To Eat campaign, which is aimed at shoring up demand for dining out.
An official at the association, however, voiced concerns over future sales, saying that the fresh wave of coronavirus infections has been "casting a shadow" over consumer sentiment.
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