Keeping track of orders, scrubbing walls and taking care of the cashier may not sound like the most difficult job description out there, but working a mere hour at one Tokyo diner can actually be more of a challenge than you’d expect – as we recently found out first hand at Mirai Shokudo, a homely basement eatery opened this September in Jinbocho.
Although it does serve up some rather delectable teishoku lunches, the main attraction at this no-frills joint is its ‘makanai’ system: anyone can sign up to work at the diner in exchange for a hearty meal – and newfound appreciation for the kind of guts it takes to run a popular restaurant in the food capital of the world. The 50-minute shifts are offered both at lunchtime and after closing, with the former involving you pulling on an apron and a bandana before taking on the petite kitchen and a bunch of hungry customers. The evening shift, meanwhile, consists mainly of cleaning duties.
As instructed, we arrived 10 minutes before the start of our midday shift, and were promptly told to change into the simple workwear mentioned above. From then on, it was straight into the fray: welcoming customers, serving up miso soup, wiping off trays, handing out discount coupons and so on. Everything was happening at a pace hectic enough for us to break a sweat within the first 15 minutes, but even as complete beginners in the field, we managed to keep our rice bowls, dessert cups and ¥100 coins more or less in order in the face of constant – stern but well-meaning – commands from the owner.
Just as we started to get a hang of things and feel at home in the kitchen, the shift came to a close. Now was the time for our reward: the same teishoku we had been serving to 20 or so customers over the last hour. The main dish at Mirai Shokudo changes daily, but you can always look forward to a set of miso soup, tsukemono pickles, several side dishes and a small dessert, plus all-you-can-eat rice available on a self-serve basis – simple, filling and delicious, especially right after a hectic help-out session.
Think you’ve got what it takes to work at Mirai Shokudo? First-timers need to eat once at the restaurant, and can then sign up on the spot for a time slot of their choosing. Japanese language ability is not an absolute necessity, but will make your interaction with the staff smoother. For more info, check out the official website (including the bilingual 'Makanai Guide'), and get ready to toil for your lunch.