Friday, November 30, 2012

Orenchi Ramen is Broken

The subtitle of this post should probably be, How Come I Can't Eat at My Favorite Ramen Restaurant Whenever I Want. In my opinion, Orenchi Ramen is the best ramen restaurant in the area. But the problem with Orenchi is that it's become such a desirable destination, it's difficult to eat there.

At lunch, they open at 11:30 and it's not uncommon for a line to have already formed. They used to stay open until 2:00pm, but they often ran out of food and had to close down early. Once, I was there at 12:50 and they quit serving because they had run out of soup. And, as crowded as the lunch service is, dinner is worse. Additionally, when you finally sit, you feel obligated to rush through your meal without ordering side dishes or relaxing, simply to help turn the table for some other poor soul that's been waiting outside for 30 minutes or more.

This kind of crowd means that, during the work week, my colleagues and I no longer consider Orenchi in our lunch options. These days, it never comes up as a dinner either. What was once my go to ramen shop has become my never go.

All of this left me thinking, given that business situation, how do you fix Orenchi? Here are some thoughts on possible solutions, each with it's associated comments:
  • Raise prices. As some point, the cost of an expensive bowl of ramen becomes too high for people to justify. This might weed out some percentage of their customer base, but at the same time, I don't think that their customer base is waiting in line because they believe that Orenchi Ramen is a value purchase. They aren't turning over customers on their giant bowls of ramen. So, ultimately, I don't think that raising prices would significantly impact the crowd issue.
  • Reservations. The waiting list for The French Laundry is epic, but how far in advance would people book a meal at a ramen restaurant? 
  • Expand operations. Clearly, capacity is a problem for Orenchi. Between not enough seats and running out of product, they're struggling to meet the market demands. At one point in time, the laundry mat next door to Orenchi shut down and I thought that they would expand. And yet, Orenchi seems happy to operate within their existing space and size. While scaling production, either through expansion or opening a new location, has the potential to change the recipe, you would expect that with careful management, this could be controlled.
  • Tiered service. This is the kind of thing that would align with an expanded operation. On one side of the restaurant, they operate a sit-down, more relaxed dining experience. On the other side, they have a 'ramen-fast-food' style of shop -- perhaps all counter -- that's geared to turning tables of soup only eaters. Of course, without some adjustment to their manufacturing capacity, this still doesn't address their bigger issue.
So what do you think? What's your strategy for fixing Orenchi?

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