After Customers Contaminate Conveyor-Belt Sushi, Chains Fight Back

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Conveyor-belt sushi chains are fighting back against disturbing incidents by customers, such as putting saliva on sushi as it goes past, which recently came to light after being filmed and posted on social media.

One company will strengthen its surveillance system, while another will stop the business’s signature serving method of placing sushi on a rotating conveyer belt, instead serving only the items ordered.

The latter step would diminish the appeal of kaiten sushi, which allows customers to casually pick up the plate they want, but the operator is asking for understanding of this difficult decision, saying, “It is a measure to let customers eat with peace of mind.”

Kura Sushi Inc. decided to upgrade the software of its cameras using artificial intelligence at all restaurants in early March at the earliest, in an effort to prevent a recurrence of any disturbing behavior.

All sushi plates that go around on Kura Sushi’s conveyor belts come with antibacterial covers. Currently, the AI cameras that are mounted on top of the lanes help the headquarters aggregate the number of plates taken at each table by registering the opening and closing of the covers. This system was installed in all Kura Sushi stores by the end of 2021 as part of its contactless service to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the new system, the camera software will be updated so that it immediately detects suspicious movement of the covers, such as opening and closing twice.

The head office will contact the chain store if it determines that there is a possibility of unwelcome behavior, and staff at the store will talk to the customer or report the incident to police.

In January, a video of a customer at a Kura-Sushi store taking a piece of sushi then returning it to the conveyer belt went viral, prompting the company to consult with police.

Other companies in the industry are also taking countermeasures.

Since Friday, Akindo Sushiro Co., the industry’s largest restaurant, has stopped serving items other than those ordered on its conveyer belts at all stores. It is also installing acrylic panels in some areas between tables and lanes.

At Sushiro, a man dabbing his saliva on sushi as it went past was seen in a video posted on social media.

The company hopes this step will have the effect of customers not being able to easily touch items other than those they have ordered.

“It is unfortunate that customers will not be able to freely reach for sushi on the belt, but we made the decision for the sake of safety and security,” a Sushiro spokesperson said.

Hama-Sushi Co. has begun to consider installing cameras and sensors on the lanes. Kappa Sushi has not confirmed any unwelcome videos at this time, but operator Kappa Create Co. is stepping up employee patrols and security camera checks.

Conveyor-belt sushi critic Nobuo Yonekawa said, “Conveyor-belt sushi is a type of business that has been built on a relationship of trust with customers, but unless drastic measures are taken to prevent nuisance behavior, they may start losing customers on a huge scale.”