Margins are thin in the restaurant business, and most of them survive on volume. As a server I learned that turning tables over is both art and science; in addition to subtle interpersonal machinations enacted by the waiter, the chairs provided are not too comfortable and the background music isn’t too pleasing. You want the customer to eat, enjoy their meal but not linger too long, or profits erode.
In Japan eating while standing is not uncommon for fast food; when living there I did it often at outdoor ramen carts. So Japanese chef Kunio Ichinose, who’s on a mission to serve delicious but affordable steaks, figured a standing concept might work with a steakhouse.
He opened Ikinari Steak in Tokyo in 2013, featuring standing-height tables and no chairs. Customers have little incentive to linger after enjoying the food, meaning more can be served in a night.
The last time I went to a steakhouse—NYC’s wonderful Strip House, where I would slap anyone who tried to touch my dry-aged Ribeye—I spent damn near three hours there. On my feet I’d have done perhaps sixty minutes.
The concept proved successful, and as of this year Ichinose now has over 100 Ikinari Steak restaurants in Japan.
Today he’s opening another—in New York City, the home of fierce steak competition. Ikinari Steak at 90 East 10th Street, the East Village’s Little Tokyo, opens its doors today offering 40 standing spots. (A further ten spots do have chairs, so the infirm or those dining with companions in wheelchairs can also enjoy the food.)
The prices seem shockingly low. I’ve never paid less than $50 for a good steak in Manhattan, but Ikinari offers a 14-ounce Ribeye for $36. At lunchtime they offer a 10.6-ounce Chuck-eye for $20 including a salad, soup and rice.
Diners can order in the Japanese style, meaning by the gram. Those with small stomachs can go as low as 200 grams (7.1 ounces) while diners with hefty appetites can go up to 500 grams (17.6 ounces) and the prices scale accordingly.
One other Japanese custom has been brought over, one that I abhor as a former server but which your average customer is bound to love: There is a no-tipping policy.
It would be ironic if they equip the queue outside the restaurant with those Japanese self-driving chairs.