Yoshiaki Shiraishi may not be a name familiar to many. Those with an architectural background may search the hazy back catalogues of their minds, back to student year precedent studies for heroes of Japan’s architectural scene… but they will be found wanting. Mr Shiraishi was infact a pioneer of the restaurant industry. Anyone who has visited the likes of Yo Sushi, Wasabi or Moshi Moshi will have witnessed the results of his epoch-making eureka moment first-hand. When faced with problems staffing his small sushi restaurant, a young Shiraishi hit on an idea after a visit to the Asahi brewery and seeing the beer bottles travelling on conveyor belts. The result would be a revolution in restaurant design.
The idea was simple; plates carrying portions of sushi would be carried around a restaurant on a rotating conveyor belt that winds its way past the seated customers. The customers in turn would simply pick their preferred choices of sushi from the steady stream of freshly made dishes moving along the belt, before settling up once they’d had their fill. Initially, customers faced a bar around which the plates travelled, however, this proved unpopular with groups of customers. As a result, restaurants started to add tables at right angles to the belt, which usually encircled the staff preparing the meals.
Several aspects of this approach to serving food and the subsequent popularity of this type of sushi restaurant make it particularly interesting from a design perspective. Firstly, whilst fast food restaurants typically present customers with a marriage of two building functions; namely eating establishment and production line or factory, the sushi restaurant goes further. Many fast food establishments offer a more typical counter service, with the counter representing the end of the production line. In contrast, sushi restaurants place the customers within the production activity.
This type of restaurant also offers more visual interaction between staff and customer; with the belt normally surrounding the chefs, and customers either sat at a bar or on tables at right angles to the belt. To my mind this is advantageous in times where customers are keen for assurance that their food is fresh, and the environment in which it is prepared is clean and well maintained. Secondly, this visual interaction carries another purpose. The fact that the food preparation area is fully surrounded by the area for consumption adds a theatrical dimension to the customer’s experience. Although this model of restaurant layout can be found in other types of establishment, it is pretty much ubiquitous to the sushi restaurant.
This principal of layout lends itself well to types of restaurant or bar that serve food or drink that can be subtly adapted to meet customer preferences, such as pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches, salads and cocktails.