These days the effects of the global recession are being felt more and more in Japan.  Although you can still find plenty of new buildings and shops opening up around Tokyo, there are just as many stores and businesses closing down, even well-known brand name shops, shopping complexes and restaurants.  As mentioned in other posts, Japanese consumers are spending less and saving more.  While more people are exchanging 300 yen cups of coffee and fancy pasta lunches for McDonald’s 100 yen coffee and value lunch sets, the fast food industry is still struggling like the rest.  To bring in customers, fast food chains are introducing new products and services and lowering prices.  However, some chains are going a step further and also trying an interesting and different strategy: upscale and modern.

McDonald’s

In April, McDonald’s Japan unveiled a new upscale, chic concept store in the Shibuya area of Tokyo.  The traditional exterior was replaced with a sleek, modern façade.  McDonald’s traditional colors of red and yellow are out, and black, earthy colors and wood are in.  The idea behind these new stores is to attract those who have never used them before, as well as create a luxurious, modern and comfortable space to not only eat, but relax, work, or chat, similar to a Starbucks or a café.  To create a more relaxed and comfortable environment, stores are non-smoking and have fewer seats.  There’s a new uniform; LED monitor menus; display screens with advertisements; imported European sofas and chairs; a mixture of high counters with bar stools and low tables and chairs; soft lighting and modern light fixtures; café-style background music; and interesting wallpaper, murals and signage.  Although the menu is the same as the traditional McDonald’s, the prices are slightly higher to compensate for the added customer service.

On a recent visit to one of these new stores, the usual Shibuya McDonald’s rowdy high school crowd was gone and in its place a calmer group of businessmen and young women relaxing, reading and chatting.  This must be what McDonald’s is aiming for, but it’s a little odd that this concept was started in Shibuya, the youth center of Tokyo.  McDonald’s plans to open 13 of these “black” McDonald’s.

KFC

Right next door to one of McDonald’s new restaurants in Shibuya is Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan’s own “next-generation store,” which opens this week.  To commemorate its 40th year in Japan, KFC is renewing everything from the design to the menu to staff uniforms.  The concept is “The new chicken experience” with a “Tasty & Healthy” themed menu.  Although you can still buy the original fried chicken, the featured items are the non-fried, oven-roasted chicken meals.  There are also “healthier” sandwiches, salads and new drinks that you will only find at this store.

Like its neighbor, KFC is also targeting a new customer.  Instead of being an afternoon student hangout, KFC wants this shop to be a clean, modern, casual café to not only enjoy chicken, but relax and spend some time.  KFC is targeting young women (late teens to 20s) who care about details and want to be healthy.  The new store features a silver façade (the Colonel logo is still there); LED digital signs around the entrance; and digital menu/advertisement monitors above the registers.  The red and white interior is clean and modern and designed to look like a large open kitchen with modern furniture, light fixtures, bar stools and stainless steel communal tables.   KFC is traditionally a take-out heavy chain and with this new concept, the company hopes people will stay a while and enjoy the environment.  This is the first store of its kind not only in Japan, but in the world.  KFC plans to open 100 of these new stores around Japan over the next 3 years.

Subway

Subway Japan has also jumped on the bandwagon with a new concept store of its own.  Located in Tokyo’s Marunouchi business district, the new store hopes to attract health-conscious diners with its fresh, organic vegetables grown in the store.  The “Yasai Lab” (or Vegetable Lab) is a glass case in the center of the 20-seat store where lettuce is grown under fluorescent and light-emitting diode lamps.  Lettuce grown in the store will supposedly produce 20 heads of lettuce each week, enough for 100 servings or 5% of the lettuce used in the store.  Subway is hoping that its “in-store production for in-store consumption” service will attract consumers who are worried about food safety and want a healthier lunch option.  They plan to set up two or three of these stores around Tokyo.

Burger King

Burger King Japan recently opened its 32nd restaurant (its new flagship store) in Roppongi.  With a concept of “relaxing,” the modern and chic space is meant to be a place where customers can go to eat, enjoy themselves and simply relax.  Plus, there’s an added bonus: customers can take a “music shower” at various “sound spots” around the restaurant by using an iPod or iPhone.  Your music will apparently be “showered” out of an umbrella-shaped speaker above your table.

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