For many people eating is a very social activity, and having a comfortable place to sit down and eat is a must for most. Some people can barely drink while walking, but in Japan, especially in crowded, busy cities, eating lunch while standing is not an uncommon practice. When there is limited space and real estate comes with a premium price tag, standing restaurants are the top choice for food establishments. There are a couple of reasons these are so popular in Japan, which I will explain below.
Time is money, and time is precious. In Japan, salarymen and many full-time workers who eat out for lunch are limited in how long they can spend relaxing at a restaurant during their lunch break. Standing restaurants have quick service and fast turnovers, and you literally waste no time sitting down to eat. You go there, order, eat, and leave. There’s no time wasted cleaning large tables and shuffling around chairs, and you are guaranteed a meal no matter how crowded, because you don’t need to wait for a table!
The second reason that makes standing restaurants so popular is their affordability. Because these establishments are not wasting extra money on space, tables, chairs, and extra cleaning supplies to maintain those things, they can deliver a meal to you that is affordable, but still of good quality. Costs for a meal can range from 300 yen to about 1000 yen, which is extremely affordable for most people.
Another reason for the cheapness is the amount of self-service involved. You will know a standing restaurant by the food ticket vending machines outside the entrance. Instead of having hall staff take your order, you insert money into a machine and buy a ticket representing your order, which you exchange inside the restaurant for your food. You also pick the food up yourself, so only kitchen staff who prepare your food are really required. Even after your meal, you have to return your empty plates and utensils yourself to the return counter at the restaurant, basically cleaning up after yourself.
These places are usually small and individually run, so each standing restaurant will have a different, unique atmosphere that will show you much of the authentic side of Japan. Since the shops are small and space is limited, you may often find yourself elbow to elbow with strangers at these kind of places, leaving you will ample opportunity to interact with the other customers and maybe learn a little about Japanese culture from them.