Ichiran is a Ramen chain restaurant from Fukuoka, in Kyushu island, created in 1993. They have a lot of restaurants through Japan, from popular places, such as Roppongi or Tokyo Dome, to more countryside places in Kyushu island, like Nakasu-kawabata (中洲川端駅) in Fukuoka prefecture. There is also a shop in Nagoya but all of the restaurants are located in Kyushu and Kanto areas.
The Japanese characters 一蘭 mean in direct translation 一 for one and 蘭 for the name of a plant. This chain of restaurants has made in 2009 around $60,000,000 (45,000,000 euros) of sales and a branch has also been created in America, called Ichiran USA Inc.
This place has quickly become famous in Japan thanks to its unique way of serving meals for the Japanese customer.
For people who generally like discretion and private space while eating, this restaurant is particularly adapted. Everything is made for the customer to have no eye-contact with both restaurant staff and other customers. If you don’t like being watched by others or if you are ashamed because you can’t eat cleanly, this place is made for you!
Immediately after entering in the restaurant, to be honest there is nothing special. You can find a normal automatic machine that sells meal tickets. It is after buying your ticket that this restaurant surprises because you will receive from the staff a paper that looks like a questionnaire (available also in English). In a Japanese Ramen restaurant, when you order a cup of Ramen, it is always made the same way for all the customers. Here you have the possibility to customize your Ramen to make it at your taste! It is possible to choose in your Ramen the quantity of Green or Red onions, the quantity of spices, if you want you Ramen to be hard or soft, and also if you want the soup to be concentrated or diluted. For each one, there are 4 or five different levels, so the customer has a lot of possibilities to to customize his meal. It makes participating while appreciating the meal. It is one of the things that make this shop really unique.
After deciding your customized Ramen, you have unfortunately to queue a little bit. This chain of restaurant being victim of its success, you barely see it empty. And by waiting you will easily notice an electronic panel on a wall in front of you. This panel shows the list of seats available in the restaurant. Not only that but also you can identify people who just began eating or people who just received their orders. There are also sensors on each seat, such as when someone leaves his seat, it is immediately noticeable by the stuff, and if the customer has finished eating, the seat will be written as 空 (empty) on the electronic panel. It makes things easily for customers queuing, because you have just to go to the empty seat when you want to eat. Or at least waiting for a group of close seats if you are not alone, however this place is not really recommendable for dates in couple or as a family restaurant. This seat system is under a patent, what is understandable to avoid such a strange system to be stolen by concurrent restaurants.
Arriving at your seat, you will have for your own commodity a private space where you will be able to eat without being seen from the staff or even. Take care not to leave your seat or to stand up without letting a notice to the staff that you are still eating! There is a sensor on the seat so if you stand up restaurant waiter will immediately know that nobody is seating there, and they could authorize other customers to come take your place. There is for that a small notice called “leaving for a short moment” (一時離席) that you can use. This system of private seat is a little bit disorientating at the beginning, but it is really convenient to not to have to care about others around. To order, push the red button in front of you and a couple of seconds later, a waiter is taking your questionnaire and your meal tickets. It takes a couple of minutes to receive you meal, this time depends on the hardness of your Ramen.
Then it is time to eat! And to be honest, not only the soup is delicious, you have the impression to eat a complete meal with that. If your stomach is not fully satisfied, you can still order some supplement by choosing the extra order you want on the chopstick’s wrapping paper and to push once again the red button in front of you.
The first time, eating is such a place is really surprising. And you know if you immediately like or hate this concept.
If you are curious, try to look at their webpage.
Enjoy going there!