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A Hotel Buffet for the New Normal at LUXE DINING HAPUNA

As long distance travel has been restricted the hospitality sector all across Japan has been struggling greatly. Many of the hotels in Tokyo's Minato Ward, which boasts over 30,000 rooms throughout the district, are still in a difficult situation. The impact of the pandemic has been most severe on hotels that offer a restaurant service, with those that provide a buffet being forced to radically change their business practices as the covid mitigation procedures are particularly strict for that kind of business. So, as part of our efforts to support the hotels of Minato Ward, we visited the LUXE DINING HAPUNA buffet restaurant at the Shinagawa Prince hotel. Let's see what buffet dining is like now that we have entered into the "new normal."

Providing safety, security, and a delicious buffet meal

The Shinagawa Prince Hotel is the largest hotel in Japan by number of rooms. The hotel consists of four towers, and boasts a variety of restaurants and stores, as well as a wealth of entertainment facilities such as an aquarium, a movie theater, and a concert hall, making it feel less like a hotel and more like a city within a city. LUXE DINING HAPUNA ("Hapuna") is a buffet restaurant, and one of the most popular facilities within the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, having welcomed over 20 million satisfied customers since its opening in 1994. It really has become the face of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel.

After having my temperature taken and I sanitize my hands at the entrance, I'm led to my table by a member of staff wearing an aloha shirt. Even immediately after opening the hall is buzzing with energy from the staff eagerly awaiting the customers. The glass case closest to the entrance is filled with enticingly colorful sweet treats, each as beautiful as a jewel, and I can feel my excitement build. Just that sight alone is enough to fill me with that all too familiar excitement that only this kind of hotel buffet can bring.

However, Hapuna was just as affected by the pandemic as any other restaurant, and had to close its doors for three and a half months from March to July last year. Kiyoshi Ichikawa, the food and beverage manager for Hapuna and all other restaurants at Shinagawa Prince Hotel, told me, "It's unusual enough for Hapuna to close for any length of time, but even more so for it to be closed for so long." The customers who had already made reservations were contacted individually to cancel, and the staff were moved to other restaurants. "Hapuna is the preeminent buffet restaurant amongst the entire Prince hotel chain, so it's understandable that the staff was frustrated. They all want to provide our customary excellent service to our customers, but weren't allowed to." I'm starting to see how much this community has been affected.

The Prince Hotel Group has been working on their Covid safety measures since last spring, and have now summarized their hygiene and sanitization standards in their Prince Safety Commitment, and has involved the hotel from the start. Hapuna is also now complying with those standards and so was able to repone from July 15 last year. To ensure that the customers are able to keep socially distant tables have been removed to just 40% of the restaurant's total capacity, and the service has changed from a traditional buffet style to a trolley service where the staff bring dishes to the tables.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks that arose from the new safety regulations has been that the same tongs can no longer be used by multiple people. After all, the best thing about a buffet style restaurant is seeing all the different dishes laid our before you and being able to take as much as you want of the exact dishes you want. Ichikawa told me, "We have worked hard to make sure the customers are able to enjoy themselves as much as possible while maintaining the highest safety and hygiene standards. Balancing these two priorities has became a major theme as we started to reopen."

The new Hapuna with "freshly made" meals

On the day they reopened they were of course happy to receive the customers once again, but they were also worried that "this was a complete departure from our normal buffet service, so there's a chance our regular customers might not like it and not come back." Luckily, they received many positive comments from their customers, for example, "it may be different from before, but I was every bit as satisfied," so their worries proved to be unfounded.

After reopening they continued to adjust the service they offered through a process of trial and error as they adapted to the needs of their customers. They no longer offer a trolley service, but instead have a live kitchen offering freshly cooked dishes on a buffet board, which is much closer to the service they normally offer.

Once you're in the restaurant you can immediately see how much work they've done to keep the space covid safe. It starts with the temperature check and sanitization upon entry, but they also have acrylic boards up to separate the customers, and disinfectant spray on all tables. There is also a sneeze guard on the buffet board where customers pick up their dishes, and all dishes, even small ones like amuse-bouches are covered in plastic wrap. The staff also take their temperature, wash their hands, wash out their mouth, fill in a health check form, and take other measures to ensure that they are fit to welcome the customers.

The lunch menu features a total of 40 different dishes. The sophisticated lineup includes sirloin roast beef in an onion sauce, mini Hapuna burgers, a choice of four types of rice dishes such as the seafood bowl and curry bowl, steamed dim sum, deep fried skewers, Japanese soba noodles in a wasabi espuma, fresh fruit cocktail jello and more. And of course for dinner you can enjoy Hapuna's famous boiled crab.

And then there's the Italian fair currently ongoing, which means there is a daily special spaghetti dish, tomato sauce pizza, Hapuna pot-au-feu, freshly baked marron tiramisu mont blanc and many more western-inspired dishes.

Continuing to provide the service our customers expect

The experience of seeing and choosing your favorite dishes may have changed, but the core enjoyment of eating as much as you want of your favorite dishes is still there. And actually, the new experience of eating freshly-prepared dishes made before your very eyes is a service that goes above and beyond what they offered previously.

Ichikawa said, "Since there are more opportunities for the customers to see the food being made, and the staff are able to see the customers as they serve the food, the connection between them has never been stronger." This change is not lost on the customers, who have told them as much in the feedback they've given to the staff, which gives them strength in these troubling times.

Families coming together to peruse the western, Chinese, and Japanese dishes, the serious expressions of ladies examining the dishes, the glittering eyes of the people waiting for the freshly sliced roast beef… Even in these times it seems the fun and enjoyment of the buffet restaurant has not entirely been lost. I for one ate to my heart's content, ordering three servings of the seafood bowl. It's such a satisfying feeling to eat ones fill without a thought for anything else.

Ichikawa told me about their future plans, "We still hope to return to the Hapuna that we all know and love someday. However, over the past year or so we've had the opportunity to try out some new ideas, and we will have to keep our customers' needs in mind as we go forward."

Kiyoshi Ichikawa, Food and Beverage Manager, Shinagawa Prince Hotel

In these unprecedented times, LUXE DINING HAPUNA continues to operate in all new ways through a process of trial and error and the hard work of its staff. In these times when traveling is still difficult, a hotel buffet where you can eat whatever you want to your heart's content should be the highlight of anyone's year. Why don't you give it a try?
Shinagawa Prince Hotel - LUXE DINING HAPUNA

1F Main Tower, Shinagawa Prince Hotel, 4-10-30 Takanawa, Minato-ku, Tokyo

03-5421-1114 (for general restaurant reservations)

Opening Hours
Breakfast: 6:00 am - 10:00 am
Lunch: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm (Saturdays & Holidays: 11:30 am - 3:00 pm) *Not available on Mondays or Tuesdays
Dinner: 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm (Saturdays & Holidays only)

Breakfast: Adult - ¥2,800 / Child (4 - 12 years old) - ¥1,600
Weekdays: Adult - ¥5,000 / Child (up to 12 years old) - ¥3,200 / Infant (3 -5 years old) - ¥2,200
Saturdays & Holidays: Adult - ¥5,500 / Child (up to 12 years old) - ¥3,500 / Infant (3 -5 years old) - ¥2,500
*Lunchtime slots on Saturdays & Holidays are limited to 90 minutes
Weekdays: Adult - ¥7,000 / Child (up to 12 years old) - ¥4,000 / Infant (3 -5 years old) - ¥2,200
Saturdays & Holidays: Adult - ¥7,500 / Child (up to 12 years old) - ¥4,200 / Infant (3 -5 years old) - ¥2,700
*Dinnertime slots are limited to 120 minutes


*The opening hours are subject to change.

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