Sushiro hits the stop button on its up-for-grabs sushi plates.

Sushiro is Japan’s largest and most popular kaitenzushi, or revolving sushi, restaurant chain. There are roughly 650 Sushiro locations across Japan, and if you’re heading to one anytime around regular dinner hours, usually you can pretty sure it’s going to be crowded with customers.

Sushiro is facing a crisis right now, though, with customer trust plummeting. Late last month, a video surfaced of a teenager licking the soy sauce container and self-service tea cup at his table, leaving the tainted items for the next person to use. The disgusting incident has caused Japan’s ordinarily kaitenzushi-loving public to think twice about dining in such restaurants, leaving Sushiro scrambling to reassure them about the sanitariness of their branches, and the company’s latest move is to stop the sushi revolving at their revolving sushi restaurants.

On February 3, Sushiro posted a notice on the chain’s official website announcing three changes in its operating policy. First, and most significantly, it has stopped be circulating up-for-grabs plates of sushi along its conveyors. Instead, all customers must first order the sushi they want using the touchscreen panel at their table, after which the ordered plate will be sent via the express conveyor lane. In contrast to the regular conveyor, which runs around the restaurant on a continual closed circuit, the express lane slides the plate directly to the table of the customer that ordered it, where the plate then stops so that the customer can retrieve it. By limiting the amount of time plates are traveling on the conveyor, and also since plates move at a faster speed on the express lane than the standard one, getting rid of the up-for-grabs sushi plats will, ostensibly, reduce the risk of pranksters tampering with food that someone else is going to eat.

The second change involves utensils. At kaitenzushi restaurants the table is wiped down and cleaned between customers, but there’s usually a large stack or box of utensils and condiments such as chopsticks, soy sauce plates and containers, and tea cups that remains on the table and new diners take for themselves as they need them. While those stacks are going to remain at Sushiro, the chain says that customers can request new utensils or condiments be brought to their table directly by a staff member at any time, for the benefit of diners who’ve lost faith that the table’s previous occupants didn’t dirty them.

▼ The utensil and condiment stock can be seen at both the front and back ends of the table in this photo of SoraNews24 reporters enjoying a Sushiro meal back in more carefree days.

Last, Sushiro says it will be installing clear acrylic partitions between tables and the conveyor, in order to help prevent accidental, or intentional, touching of food on its way to the person who’ll be eating it. This might not seem like the most effective countermeasure, since the partition will, by necessity, still be low enough for people to reach over so that they can retrieve the food they’ve ordered. It should at least make it a little more difficult to quickly and easily touch other people’s food as it goes by, though, so perhaps the logic is that pranksters will think twice if the partitions are going to make their body language more noticeable.

Sushiro’s announcement says that these are, at the moment, temporary measures. However, even before the licking incident there’s been a trend in the revolving sushi restaurant industry away from having many up-for-grabs plates on the lane. After enough time passes, unclaimed sushi has to be taken off the lane and thrown out, raising expenses for the restaurant. Customers generally prefer the taste of fresher, made-to-order sushi, and touch-screen ordering is no longer such a high technological hurdle for diners or restaurant operators. So it could very well end up that Sushiro decides to make the switch to no non-order revolving sushi permanent, and if it does, the rest of the industry may follow the leader’s decision.

Source: Sushiro via Livedoor News/Oricon News via Hachima Kiko, Nippon Software Service
Photos ©SoraNews24
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