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An airline themed restaurant in Tokyo gives people a way to enjoy the airline experience without leaving the ground
You’ve got to hand it to the Japanese, for a nation so thoroughly steeped in tradition, they’re incredibly good at coming up with original ideas. Who else could have persuaded us to get up in public and sing to a pre-recorded background track? Who else could have developed little boxes that would enable us to listen to music on the go? Even if the idea was later appropriated by Steven Jobs.
So, what is the latest idea to emerge from the land of the rising sun? How about this - a restaurant on the ground where you can imagine that you are on an airline flight. This includes a virtual tour of the place you are flying to and a themed meal based on where you are flying to. Current “destinations” being “catered for” are Hawaii, New York, Paris and Rome.
Yes, for prices from 5000 to 6000-yen (£33-£40) customers in Tokyo can enjoy a simulated airline flight and related meal in a restaurant called First Airlines. There is even a choice of Business Class or First Class, with seats from The Airbus 310 and 340.
You start by “checking in” at a check-in desk where you are greeted by uniformed staff. Then you make your way to the restaurant, which is decked out to look like the first-class section of an airplane. Before any food is served, you have to watch a safety demonstration, just like on a real airline. This is presumably the jet age equivalent of “singing for one’s supper” in a nineteenth century Salvation Army soup kitchen.
But that’s not the end of the preamble. The “passengers” – I mean patrons or customers – are given virtual reality headsets which they strap on, to be given a virtual tour of the city they are visiting.
Only then are they served wine and food traditional to the place they are visiting. However, the food itself is not your usual airline fare. Or if it is, then it’s the first-class variety. We’re talking four-course meal here. If you’re on the New York flight, it’s salad followed by clam chowder and then a juicy Angus steak. Desert is good old cheese cake. On the Rome flight, you’ll be served dishes like salmon carpaccio, followed by tiramisu.
There are also large screens mounted on the walls to show the plane taking off and landing. And the experience is enhanced by the fact that the waiters and waitresses are in fact former first-class crew members. And in a joint promotion, the customers can even get discounts at three local shops, by presenting their boarding passes.
The restaurant itself is quite small, with only 12 seats. Whether it is economically viable at that size remains to be seen, although they might of course expand. Most of the customers are actually elderly. The reason for this is that many elderly people cannot travel by air because of their physical condition but would love to experience at least part of what it is like to do so.
This is not the first time a restaurant has built on the theme of airline travel. A company called The Pan Am Experience has been offering Pan Am themed parties since October 2014. But First Airlines has added virtual reality to the mix, giving the experience an added dimension of realism.