Leaving the train station, down a busy street filled with stores, a neighborhood grocery store and some manga bookstores; down the alley lined with bicycles, that seems to go nowhere lies a small restaurant with a vending machine and a panda outside the door.
A simple concept really: slide the door open and step inside a small vestibule that will only fit 4-6 people. There are three pictures of plates you can order and a vending machine. No one to greet you, seat you or tell you to queue up. You turn to the old style cigarette type vending machine, color coded to match the three pictures on the wall. Top three rows are the main dishes, three options each. The other rows have some appetizers or sides to add to the main dishes. All the buttons are in Japanese. Later on we see gyoza (pot stickers) being served and ask the person behind us which button is for gyoza. Ahh, one of the red ones, we will remember next time.
Put the money in the vending machine and press a button. The machine returns a small ticket much like the one given out at the metro. Make another selection quick before the machine dispenses the change. Then give the tickets to the girl and wait for a table to open up.
The only other employee is the chef. He’s in the kitchen overlooking the seating space. With three tables for four and a long counter along the wall the space can only hold 18 people. The kitchen is separated by half glass and half open counter. The girl takes the tickets and arranges them on the counter between the kitchen and the seating area. The chef looks over at the people eating to wait for someone to be done eating before he starts preparing the next order.
A restaurant where the chef waits for customers to finish eating and leaving, versus the kitchen being backed up with orders. What a concept.
A table clears up. Sit down and within 2-3 minutes the food comes out. A hearty ramen noodle soup with perfectly soft salted boiled egg with jelly-like yolk and slices of pork.
From arrival to departure it takes 20 minutes, maybe less. Next person please.
As it turns out a lot of restaurants have this vending machine method of handling orders / money. I’m glad the above was my first experience and not the other ones.