Creative thinking to beat the pandemic

By now, most of the world is familiar with wearing a mask while in public, but it still has to be removed when eating or drinking. Or does it? Japanese restaurant chain Saizeriya thinks otherwise and has come up with a face covering designed to be worn while dining.

Saizeriya provides affordable Italian food that’s popular with a younger demographic at some 1,500 locations in Japan and abroad. But with people refraining from dining out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the firm’s financial result for the third quarter, released in July, fell into the red for the first time in 11 years. Its sales in that month alone were down almost 30% on the year before.

The mask was part of the company’s plan to help customers feel at ease while eating and enjoying a chat with friends. The design, an employee idea, is simple, featuring a paper napkin inserted into a normal disposable mask. The company says it can reduce the spread of droplets from the mouth.

A man has a meal at Saizeria while using one of the restaurant’s new face coverings. (00:45)

Saizeria also made an unusual announcement in July by increasing prices. The chain’s dishes used to be priced down to the single yen. The price hikes mean they’re all now multiples of 50 yen. The measure was aimed at making cash payments smoother and reducing contact between customers and staff. The company says the amount of change handled has been reduced by 60%, thanks to the move.

Saizeriya President Horino Issei said: “The most important thing in the time of the coronavirus pandemic is to provide our customers with a sense of ease, and ensure that they enjoy dining. Since emotional elements make up a large part of a sense of ease, we have to devise various measures to gain customers’ trust.”

Stuck on you

Sticker masks make haircuts easier.

Elsewhere, unique masks that can be stuck on the face have been developed for beauty salons. Instead of using ear loops, the mask is fixed on the face with surgical tape attached to the inside.

If a customer is wearing a normal mask, the ear loops can get wet or the scissors might get caught. But the sticker mask solves both these problems.

There are two types of sticker masks—one includes a pocket for the customer to place their own mask inside, while the other type is translucent, so a stylist can better check the balance of the cut on the customer’s face.

The sticker masks are the brainchild of Nishimura Yuji, who runs beauty salons in Tokyo and Kanagawa. The other purpose of developing the masks was to create jobs.

Nishimura also works as a hairdresser for stage actors and has seen many people in the theater industry lose work as a large number of shows have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. To provide support, he involved them in his mask business. Nishimura says he sold more than 60,000 of the sticker masks since they hit the market in June.

Waste not, want not

Meanwhile, a ceramics maker in Nagano Prefecture began asking its 13 workers for one new product idea a week in March. Out of more than 200 ideas they came up with during the five months to July, 13 have already been commercialized by Nagano Ceramics.

One of the ideas led to a product for the refrigerator that can slow the spoiling of fruit and vegetables. A component added to the ceramics resolves ethylene gas from the air, one of the main causes of decay.

The employee who came up with the idea got the idea from a problem he had experienced at home. As people were urged to stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he started buying more food than usual to reduce how often he had to go out. As a result, he ended up wasting more, as it often went bad before he could use it.

“When times are tough, it is even more important that employees are united,” says Nagano Ceramics President Sato Yoshio. “If we can do that, the company will gain strength and grow further when the pandemic is over.”