Customers in Akihabara are happy to pay large markup on instant noodles for three minutes in paradise.

Walk into any convenience store or supermarket in Japan and you’ll be presented with a huge selection of cheap and tasty instant ramen varieties. While they may not be gourmet cuisine, they’re always satisfying, and if you’re looking to save time or cash, they’re an extremely attractive meal option.

So it might seem crazy that a restaurant has in Tokyo’s Akihabara district that serves no food other than instant ramen. Not only do the owners expect people to venture all the way into downtown for food they could easily buy in their own neighborhoods, they also have the gall to charge up to a whopping 800 yen (US$7.20) for the instant noodles, a price for which you could get a legitimate bowl of noodles at an actual ramen restaurant.

Seriously, how do they expect to stay in business?

By having pretty girls “cook” the instant ramen to order, and chat with customers one-on-one while they do it.

The Noodol Cafe isn’t a case of misspelling by Japanese marketers playing fast and loose with English spelling. The name comes from a combination of “noodle” and “idol,” a reference to the fact that the restaurant is staffed by up-and-coming idols, called “Idol no Tamago” (“Idol Eggs”) in Japanese show biz parlance.

Upon entering, customers pick what type of ramen they want and who to have make it from among the idols on duty. Alternatively, they can stretch their ramen and idol time-buying budget with a reduced-rate 500-yen plan in which a random idol is assigned to their order.

Diners then take their container of uncooked ramen to a counter, where the idols are waiting with pots of hot water. Almost all instant ramen takes three minutes to cook, and while the noodles are softening the idol will chat cheerfully with her customer.

The line has to keep moving, though, so once the ramen is ready to eat, it’s time to say good-bye, and customers take their food over to a separate, non-idol staffed eating area.

To those outside the idol fandom, 800 yen (or even the 500 yen of the random course) might seem like a ridiculous markup for instant ramen. But for the clientele the Noodol Cafe is catering to, the prices can be considered incredibly reasonable. As pointed out by satisfied diners, 800 yen is cheaper than the average tab at a maid cafe. And while three minutes of small talk might seem like far too brief a time to get excited about, it’s actually several times longer than the fleeting seconds of exchanged greetings at the handshake events which hard-core idol otaku shell out huge sums of money to obtain tickets to.

While some might see parallels with Japan’s shady hostess bars, the Noodol Cafe seems committed to keeping things as transparent as possible. A calendar on the restaurant’s website shows which idols will be working at any given time, and the cafe’s official Twitter account tweets out the day’s schedule as well.

So yes, the prices may not reflect the cost of the food, but dining in a restaurant is as much about the ambiance as the flavor, and the Noodol Cafe seems to have found its niche.

Restaurant information
Noodol Cafe
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Soto Kanda 3-7-15, Dai 6 Isamiya Building 3rd floor
東京都千代田区外神田3-7-15 第6イサミヤビル3F
Open 4 p.m.-9 p.m. (weekdays), noon-7 p.m. (weekends/holidays)

Source: Hachima Kiko