Japanese Sushi Chefs in the Ghost Kitchen and Delivery Businesses

1. COVID-19 Impact on the Restaurant Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be finally settling down after the global outbreak since 2020. Yet, more than 500 million people have been infected with the virus around the world as of May 2022.

In the last two years, we were required to practice social distancing and restaurants lost customers. The food service industry was significantly damaged everywhere in the world. According to the National Restaurant Association, about 8 million people in the United States, two-thirds of the employees in the industry, were furloughed or required to stay home in 2020.

The Japanese cuisine market was also affected. Although the total number of Japanese restaurants in the world slightly increased from 156,000 in 2019 to 159,000 in 2021, the increase rate is slowing down because of the pandemic. In New York, about 100 Japanese restaurants out of 1,000, almost 10%, closed by 2021.

The food service industry within Japan saw the impact as well. The report issued by the Japan Food Service Association in January 2022 shows that the total sales of the izakaya (Japanese-style pub) business in 2020 reduced to a quarter of that in 2019. Furthermore, there was a news story that the pandemic decreased the number of wealthy foreign nationals in Ginza and a high-end omakase sushi restaurant laid off five of the seven staff members.

In the food service industry that was forced to make a change amid the pandemic, certain business models drew attention: food delivery and ghost kitchens.

2. Thriving Food Delivery and Ghost Kitchens

To keep a distance away from each other, demand for food delivery and a take-out service skyrocketed. Consequently, the global sales of Uber Eats doubled in 2020, compared to the previous year. In this situation, ghost kitchens, a business that specializes in delivery and has no storefront, is attracting attention.

The benefit of the ghost kitchen is that multiple restaurants share a kitchen to cut down fees, such as startup costs or rent. As of 2021, there are estimated to be 1,500 ghost kitchens in the United States, 7,500 in China, 3,500 in India, and 750 in the UK.

We cannot deny the possibility that another infectious disease like COVID-19 may spread around the world again in the near future. Many business owners continue joining the business of ghost kitchens and Michael Schaefer, a researcher of Euromonitor International, a market research company, speculates that it will grow to a trillion-dollar market by 2030.

3. Ghost Kitchens and Delivery for Sushi

Then, what are the situations surrounding sushi delivery and ghost kitchens?

Traditionally, Japanese sushi restaurants with mass appeal have been providing take-out and delivery services. Young employees used to deliver meals by bike or motorcycle, but staff shortage made it difficult to offer these services. More restaurants are beginning to outsource the delivery service to other companies.

High-end omakase sushi restaurants had been offering take-outs for regulars, but the pandemic led to more places that launched a delivery service.

As the country where sushi originated, Japan sees a deep-rooted popularity for sushi delivery. In a report about food delivery services in Japan, “Pizza and Pasta” are overwhelmingly popular (83.8%), but “Sushi” ranks second (38.5%).

Below are the numbers of the restaurants that deliver with Uber Eats and their food categories. The data were collected for Tokyo, New York, and London as of 6pm local time in June 2022. You can tell how popular sushi delivery is in Tokyo.

  Sushi Pizza Burger Sandwich
Tokyo 290 190 200 220
New York 140 300 210 300
London 110 240 140 230

It seems that people tend to like ghost kitchens run by a sushi chef who used to work at a prestigious sushi restaurant or by a female sushi chef who serves a photogenic seafood rice bowl.

Meanwhile, NOBU TOKYO has been gaining regulars among high-class customers by delivering Lunch Box (sushi rolls, sashimi salad, 3 hot entrées) or Chef’s Box (sashimi salad with tuna tataki, chirashi, deep-fried shrimps, soft shell crab spring rolls, black cod with miso, roast beef) served in a classy black box.

4. How Do Japanese Sushi Chefs Work in the New Industry?

So far Japanese sushi chefs have been mainly working at the sushi bar counter. As the conclusion of this article, we will discuss how Japanese sushi chefs can use their skills in the expanding ghost kitchen business.

First, a sushi chef who has experience in a take-out or delivery service can work on developing new products or managing the staff. Those who have worked in a sushi ghost kitchen can also contribute to opening one abroad.

Since sushi restaurants have a lot of competition in Japan, they make every effort to increase the sales, including using take-out containers that give off a luxurious air and developing photogenic take-out meals so that they will be spread on social media. Japanese sushi chefs may be a great resource to learn such a know-how as well.

In addition, Japanese sushi chefs who have skills but are not adept at communicating with customers at the counter (due to the lack of language proficiency) can focus on working in a ghost kitchen or delivering the food.

This business model has a lot of room to grow, so one new idea can lead to a large increase in sales. If your restaurant considers opening a new business of ghost kitchen or delivery service, please contact Washoku Agent!

5. What If I Have a Problem in Hiring?

“I do not know what my restaurant should feature to attract Japanese chefs.”

“I have an idea of the chefs I am looking for, but I do not know how to find them.”

“We tried to recruit on our own before without success, so we want to find a truly skillful chef this time.”

“Since no staff member speak Japanese, we want to entrust the whole task of hiring Japanese chefs to someone else.”

If you have a problem in recruiting Japanese chefs, feel free to contact us Washoku Agent!

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