TOKYO (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Sushi giant Sushiro has digitalised its conveyor belt dining experience at some of its outlets in Japan, amid a spate of sushi terrorism acts where the food is licked before being placed back on the conveyor belt.
Instead of an actual conveyor belt, diners are greeted by an ultrawide touchscreen that recreates the rotation of sushi on a virtual conveyor belt.
They tap on the screen to select the plates they want, sending a message to the kitchen where their dishes are freshly made to order, a plus factor that cannot be underestimated where raw seafood is concerned.
There is another benefit – diners will no longer miss out on the dishes they want because others before them have snapped up the food.
Digital Sushiro Vision, or Digiro in short, was announced last Wednesday by the chain’s operator Akindo Sushiro, Japanese media reported.
The screens have been on trial at two outlets in Tokyo and Osaka, while another outlet in Nagoya is set to begin on Thursday. There are plans for a nationwide expansion of the digital screen, depending on the results of the trials.
“Digital technology has helped us create a new way to enjoy conveyor belt sushi,” said Akindo Sushiro president Kohei Nii.
But Nii told Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun that Digiro was not a direct response to “sushi terrorism” incidents that have targeted Japanese sushi eateries earlier in 2023, saying that it was part of the chain’s “broader hygienic and labour-saving measures”.
Acts of terrorism made headlines when teens at various chains, including Sushiro, filmed themselves licking communal restaurant items such as soy sauce bottles or pieces of sushi before returning them to the common conveyor belt.
The incidents, which led to multiple arrests, led to a drop in customers visiting conveyor belt sushi restaurants, especially after specific outlets were identified on social media or by news reports.
“A fall of 0.1 per cent in customers could translate into a loss of about 100 million yen (S$919,000),” sushi industry expert Nobuo Yonekawa told Asahi Shimbun in February. “It requires time and money to implement measures that can deter harmful pranks. They will keep losing money until the deterrence effect is put in place.”
The ultrawide Digiro screen, measuring around 0.5m by 1.5m, stretches across the width of a booth. Diners will still receive the food they ordered on a central belt connected to all the dining booths, but with the plates pushed onto a ramp directed to the booth that ordered them.
The dining experience with the Digiro screens are also gamified: Diners can choose dakkozushi or hug mode, which activates different animated characters on the screen to hug various sushi toppings.
The mode also includes games and trivia questions that may offer prizes, depending on the number of food orders placed.
Before the Digiro touchscreen initiative, Sushiro had implemented the use of smaller touchscreen panels that resembled tablets for patrons to place their orders.
Sushiro has nearly 650 outlets in Japan, with another 88 in the rest of the world, including nine in Singapore.