Setting rules on taking reservations to ensure that customers can dine in comfort
What type of things hold importance for you when it comes to your outlook on customers?
If we have someone who proves to be a nuisance to other customers then we try to make sure that we don’t take any more reservations from them. I’m talking about things like watching movies on your phone, or making reservations for other restaurants right then and there during peak hours. Even if you tell them that every restaurant is busy during these hours they pay no mind and continue to make the call. Not to mention when someone’s dinner companions provoke and escalate the situation even further. When people do these types of things that lack a basic level of awareness, then we don’t take any reservations from them if they call again.
This definitely makes it so that your regular customers don’t have their dining experience ruined.
Our restaurant isn’t particularly stuck up, and it’s not like we have a dress code or anything like that, but we lay down some basic ground rules to makes sure everyone can enjoy their meal.
Other than that do you have any other rules regarding reservations?
There are a few, but in particular I try to stay away from taking referrals.
At our restaurant we take new reservations on the 1st of every month and for the most part we usually end up fully booked for that month before the day is out. These days when it comes to taking reservations we prioritize our long-standing regulars, as well as new customers that go out of their way to call us up three times. It would be inexcusable on our part to disregard those customers in favor of people who just show up out of nowhere with a referral.
In in addition to that, we also don’t take reservations from someone who was brought along with another person on a previous occasion. When we first opened we were in a hurry to fill seats, but of course now there are customers who have been there with us from the very beginning, and they are our top priority.
On the business side of things it’s usually the case that new customers tend to spend more. Aside from that, however, it seems fair to say that for you it’s not all about profits.
In all actuality my parents and wife want to come and dine at the restaurant, but I have to hold back from that. Because of that my wife calls to make a reservation on the 1st of the month with all the other customers (laughs). When I mention this I think a lot of our customers can really come to understand our rules.
So even your wife doesn’t have any leeway when it comes to the rules!? It must really get the point across when you tell your customers about this. Anyway, I hear that you regularly travel to China to check out the food?
I make sure to go twice a year. I usually stay for 1 to 2 weeks, and I usually visit about two restaurants a day. I like to focus on restaurants that are familiar with the roots of Beijing cuisine. This includes the main branch in Beijing for “Family Li Imperial Cuisine,” which still carries on the tradition of Chinese imperial cuisine from the Qing dynasty era. I also go to “TanJia Cai” in Beijing, which is well known for having been a favorite spot for political elites. It serves exemplary TanJia cuisine from the days of the Qing dynasty. Other than that, I also try to study traditional foods from each region including Shandong cuisine, as well as Xinjiang cuisine and other traditional foods from the Uyghurs, an ethnic group there that practices Islam.
That type of research sounds like a huge undertaking.
Yeah, that’s true. I cover the expenses regardless of how much money the restaurant takes in. My expenses for study trips and other things like that must be wildly different than most other restaurants. It’s enough to make a tax accountant’s head spin. I just recently went to China for about 2 weeks and because of that we missed out on 2 million yen just for being closed. Then if you combine travel expenses it totals out to about 3 million yen all together.
Either way I feel like no matter how much you study there is still just a ton of stuff out there to learn. And, I just keep wanting to learn as much as I can. Culinary schools also tend to neglect Beijing cuisine even though they teach Cantonese and Sichuan cooking. Beijing doesn’t seem to be that popular among Japanese people, and you don’t typically see travel guides for it. It’s practically impossible to find anything out, even if it’s just to learn about restaurants.
Your outlook on running a restaurant isn’t simply about earning a paycheck, is it?
It’s really just a hobby to me. I get a kick out of pursuing my interests like that. The other day I picked up a 15-volume documentary DVD set that completely replicated the “Manchu Han Imperial Feast,” along with a cookbook set for around 300 thousand yen all together. I’m always making time some way or another to study.
Books and documents on Beijing cuisine are slowly disappearing and becoming harder to find. My goal is to learn even more about the roots of Beijing cuisine in order to accurately replicate it and pass it on to future generations.
(Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Text: Tomoko Tanaka, Photography: Yasunori Matsui)