On the Line / Bar & Nightclub / What is an Izakaya?

What is an Izakaya?

An izakaya is a casual Japanese pub that serves small plates of food or Japanese bar snacks.

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1. What is an izakaya?

An izakaya is a casual Japanese pub that serves small plates of food or Japanese bar snacks. 

The word izakaya (pronounced ee-ZAH-ka-ya) is derived from the words i (to sit) and sakaya (sake shop), and it is indeed a place to stay and drink while munching on a variety of shared plates that go well with alcohol. Sake (both cold and hot) is served, along with Japanese pilsner-style draft beers and shochu. 

Diners are almost always seated at tables instead of standing at the bar and hollering drink orders to a bartender. The atmosphere is comfortable and convivial, well-suited to large groups and outings with friends.

2. What is the history of izakayas?

These fun, casual pubs have an ancient history that trace their roots all the way to Medieval times, when sake shops, called sakaya, sold home-brewed sake and, legend has it, lured in customers with salty snacks. 

By the 1600s, sake sellers were a regular part of the dining landscape in Japan, which encompassed higher-end sit-down establishments as well as small shops and food stands. Eating out was often more convenient than cooking at home, and by the 1800s, izakayas were one of most popular types of eating and drinking establishments in Japan. 

It wasn’t until the mid-aughts that the trend arrived in the U.S., coinciding with the massive boom in gastro pubs and microbreweries.

3. What is typically on an izakaya menu?

While izakayas are traditionally known as bars, the “pub grub” is the primary draw. Izakaya standards may include yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), pickled vegetables, gyoza, noodles, tempura delicacies like fried tofu, vegetables, and protein, and steamed edamame. 

You’ll also likely find fried chicken, omelets, and potato croquettes, all tasty examples of yoshoku or Western-style food adapted for Japanese tastes. 

These are generally not the place for fancy cocktails. Guests kick back with a Sapporo or a shochu (a spirit similar to vodka made from rice and sweet potatoes) and dig into an assortment of alcohol-absorbing comfort foods.

4. How do you start an izakaya?

To open an izakaya, it’s essential to create a comprehensive business plan that will serve as a guideline throughout the process. Outline your concept in as much detail as possible, highlighting the benefits your izakaya will bring to the region. 

There are nearly 72,000 bars in the U.S., but the izakaya is still a new concept in many regions. Be clear on how your bar is an exciting departure from countless others, and  include an overview of your staff structure and food costs in your business plan, and then research how to obtain the appropriate liquor licenses.

5. How much does it cost to start an izakaya?

According to Investopedia, the amount needed to open a bar in 2022 ranged between $100,000 and $850,000, but the actual amount depends on many factors. The size of your bar, the location, and the inventory needs all impact the amount. 

When creating a breakdown of potential costs, it’s essential to budget for certain key expenses. Consider whether the space will require construction or renovation, the utility bill, the type of technology needed to run the bar smoothly, the number of staff, and the costs for marketing and PR.

6. Most popular types of izakayas

The world of izakayas has evolved since the mid-aughts when the first popped up in the U.S. Once a place to get a simple drink and snack, many izakayas now offer incredibly complex meals. The most popular izakayas take their food and drink seriously, going beyond Japanese pub grub with high-quality ingredients and adventurous small plates. Unlike the standard corner bar, people choose izakayas with dinner in mind and expect interesting, satisfying fare that can be shared with a group. 

Extensive menus with diverse options, from appetizers to heartier dishes, have the broadest appeal. 

Izakayas show how there is so much more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and noodles. Thoughtful small plates with perfectly paired drinks bring some diversity to the American bar scene.

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