The Secret Behind the Meat Grilling Boom in Japans
ndoor grilling isn't a new concept， but in the pandemic era， it can make the difference between a restaurant surviving or closing its doors. Good ventilation is turning into a secret weapon for Japan's yakiniku， or “grilled meat，” restaurants， where customers cook raw ingredients such as cuts of beef shoulder，pork belly and vegetables at the table.
While many eateries around the globe remain shuttered or offer takeout only， establishments in Japan have remained open because the government doesn't have the legal means to force closures. Before the government implemented a state of emergency last month，it was even encouraging people to eat out.
Restaurants have been one of the hardest hit industries in the pandemic globally: 1 in 6 eateries in the U.S. closed last year. Japan's yakiniku eateries， however， saw a historically low number of insolvencies last year， according to Tokyo Shoko Research. Sales actually grew in some months compared with 2019， according to the Japan Food Service Association.
What makes meat-grilling restaurants resilient is the dining concept itself: Aggressive ventilation sucks away smoke — and airborne pathogens — quickly. The air inside a yakiniku restaurant likely changes over six times more than in standard eateries，according to Shinpo Co.， a maker of restaurant-use yakiniku grills and ventilators.
“The outlook for yakiniku is good even after coronavirus，” said Seiichiro Samejima， an analyst at Ichiyoshi Research Institute Inc.
Watami Co.， a national operator of izakaya pub-style restaurants， announced in October that it's seeking to convert a third of its locations into yakiniku joints. Yakiniku is a broad term in Japan that also encompasses Korean barbecue establishments.
Hisayuki Kato， Monogatari's president，said changes in dining habits have worked in favor of yakiniku joints. The restaurant industry is shrinking as people eat out less， but the dining experiences consumers are least likely to give up are meals with their families，as well as special-occasion foods such as steak or sushi. Yakiniku restaurants typically fit the bill for both needs.