Breaking down the cost of eating a fine meal there’s a lot you pay for on top of the transactional value of buying and preparing food.

Being waited on in an architecturally designed restaurant in a prime location is great. But what if you want the same quality food without the premium price?

As the case goes for Australia, to get a fine dining meal here, you’ll also be paying for self inflicted operational inefficiencies.

We’re largely talking:

  • Capital and operational expenses of having a large fancy venue
  • Staff who perform various activities that don’t directly pertain to the preparation of food
  • Time consumed in a long seated meal that prevents the venue from turning over the table several times during service

But this isn’t the case in many places of the world - I recently travelled to Japan where I discovered good food can be purely transaction. It’s usually in an alleyway and the people who greet you also cook your food.

In Japan many well regarded restaurants have no front of house staff at all. Many don’t have a human taking your order.

Here’s one example I encountered: I picked this example because it has a western counterpart - a high end steak restaurant. The place is called Le Monde, located in Shinjuku, and it’s tiny. There’s 3 staff, there’s no time of the day that doesn’t have a line and the dining room has 8 seats.

Here’s how they do it

Eliminate menu choice. What do you want? We have steak, steak and steak. There is no question as to what you’re ordering. It’s going to be steak and it will be cooked medium-rare. The only question is what cut you will be ordering.

Each steak comes with an exact amount of thick cut potato chips, a small amount of greens and a tiny amount of rice.

The result is an ultra low wastage restaurant with a hyper efficient kitchen process.

Efficient design. This place is evidence that if you design your restaurant with the efficiency of a Toyota plant you can serve up high value food at a low price.

Those waiting outside observe the menu, the one front of house team member takes your order at the door. You then progress to a standing line inside. The chefs watch the progress of seated customers and line up the steaks to match the inside line of customers.

A perfectly timed steak hits the grill, you simply sit and a steak goes directly from the grill to a plate in front of you within 30 seconds.

You then leave promptly after finishing your meal because people are looking at you waiting for your seat.

Here’s a technical diagram I put together in the early hours of the morning:

No time for talking. There’s a dead silence in this restaurant. The feel is part fine dining restaurant with quiet jazz music, and a little bit like a solemn funeral.

You sit, you eat, you leave.

This is in part because you’re eating to an audience of other people waiting for your seat.

Never an empty seat. Empty seats are dead money. Hospitality operators pay for the seat and the square meter it sits on for one reason – to make money from it. By having a small footprint, every seat makes money.

Restaurant wastage comes in many forms, and ultimately the consumer pays for it somehow. The same goes for wasted seats and square meters, if you’re eating in an empty restaurant there’s only two options: you’re either paying for the empty seats in your meal price or the operator is going backwards.

I walked past at all hours of the day and never observed this place without a line to get a seat.

Aces in their places. Unlike my fellow diners who looked down at their meal and only looked up to pay, I took a good look at how the kitchen operated. The simplicity created insane efficiency. Everything had its place and each meal was prepared like clockwork.

All perfect. Always on time.

Here’s the staff setup:

1x FOH staff member takes care of the dining room, takes orders and prints the bill.

1x Chef manages the grill. They observe the eating progress of seated customers and ensure everything is ready to go in order of those in line.

1x Chef manages the sides and plating, and everything else that happens in the kitchen.

Insane value. This is a subjective statement, but rings true if your goal though is eat fine dining food at takeaway prices.

This is achieved by eliminating all of the activities that are non value adding to you getting a quality steak cheap and fast.

The result: a restaurant quality steak for a fast food price. It’s a place where well off business people and broke backpackers eat side by side. Something you won’t see often in Australia.