Drinks on the house . . . all around

June 17th, 2010 by Felicity Hughes

Recession hit restaurants and bars all over Japan are actually giving away free drinks and food, in a desperate effort to attract new customers. In the new penny-pinching climate, normal discounts just don’t cut it with many and customers are now looking out for free offers, half-price discounts or bars that charge only ¥300 per drink or dish.

Watami are offering 50% cash back this month

Izakaya chain Watami are offering 50% cash back this month

The free drink offer is becoming increasingly popular in izakaya’s (Japanese pubs) where a free glass of shochu can get evening rolling. Shochu is a clear liquor made from rice, sweet potato or barley; cheap for the establishment to supply, it’s fairly potent (around 25% alcohol) and is a good way to get customers to loosen their purse strings. However, there are places that offer other drinks. Wall Bar Dining are giving away free glasses of beer and Izakaya Kakumei in Ginza, which opened June 4, offers not only free shochu but sake and umeshu (plum wine) as well.

Unlimited free snacks are also a good way to attract new business. Standing bar Q in Ebisu is offering free tabehodai (eat all you can) homemade smoked bacon. As soon as you enter the store you’re given a large platter of the stuff and invited to pig out – pun intended. Steak Burger and Salad Bar Ken, which opened in May this year, offer limitless servings of curry for customers who order steak.

Half-price menus have also been popping up, with popular izakaya Watami offering 50% cash back for a limited period. We also recommend Il Chianti in Kichijoji, who give an amazing 50% discount on pizza and beer every Monday night.

Back in October last year we reported on the rise of the ¥300 standing bar, since then prices have been slashed even further. Kechi yasui izakaya, loosely translated as “pubs for misers,” which price any dish or drink at only ¥300, have been popping up all over the place. Nikkei Trendy reports that in April, izakaya chain Watami went one better by starting up a chain of ¥250 izakaya – amazingly this price includes sales tax.

Last month I went to a slightly more upmarket, ahem, ¥270 izakaya in Shibuya. Though the clientele were mostly in their 20s, my Japanese friend and I noticed that nobody had brought a date. She commented that anyone who tried to bring a girl here would definitely be dumped for being stingy. While the dishes were a bit on the slim side, the beer servings were a decent size and the atmosphere was cheap but definitely cheerful. We say, bring on the bargains!

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