So you’re going to Tokyo and you want to book some great sushi restaurants, but you don’t speak a word of Japanese and don’t have any local friends who can assist. What do you do?
You basically have four options:
- Book a luxury five star hotel and utilize their concierge service to make the bookings. This is the easiest option, in my opinion. The concierge staff at luxury hotels are used to these requests, and have an established rapport with many top restaurants.
- Book a lower priced four star hotel with good concierge service, and ask them to make the bookings. An excellent alternative if luxury hotels are too pricey. Some affordable hotels offer good concierge service, you just need to know which ones.
- Try using a credit card concierge service (patience and/or luck might be required).
- Use a paying reservation service.
My luxury five star hotel recommendations:
- Tokyo Station Hotel - best concierge service I’ve experienced anywhere - Mrs Mori and staff are amazing and possibly the best in Tokyo. The hotel is located in a very convenient location since it is attached to the station. Sushi shops in Nihonbashi can be reached on foot in 10 or so minutes, and Ginza is less than a 20 minute walk. The hotel itself is a 4.5 stars facility, and there are no views to speak of. Still, the concierge service is top-notch - so good in fact that I've previously recommended it. Rooms can occasionally be found for as cheap as $300 per night.
- Park Hyatt - My favorite Tokyo hotel overall. Amazing service, great views, great bars, good concierge service, but the hotel location is not ideal - it is in the business district of Shinjuku, west of the station, and a bit of a trek from most great sushi shops.
- The Conrad - located in Shiodome, this great hotel provides easy access to Tsukiji, Shimbashi, and Ginza, and boasts amazing views of Tokyo Bay. Concierge service is very good.
These are my personal recommendations, but there are nearly two dozen 5 star hotels in Tokyo, and they probably all offer good to excellent concierge services. As they say, WMMV.
Affordable four star hotels with good concierge service:
- Hotel Okura is located near the Kamiyacho and Toranomon stations and is only a 15 minute walk to Shimbashi. Prices are currently discounted since the main building is under construction, so a room can be had for $250 including tax. This gorgeous midcentury modern hotel is regarded as a Tokyo classic, and offers excellent concierge service.
- Park Hotel and Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome are both located in Shiodome (across the street from each other, and also near the Conrad). These properties offer great views (lobbies are located on the 25th or so floor, with rooms above) and decent rooms starting in the $200 per night range with tax. The concierge service at both of these hotels is very good, matching the service offered at some of the more expensive five star hotels.
Some general guidelines for using a hotel’s concierge service to book restaurants:
- Make e-mail contact with the concierge as soon as your hotel reservation is made.
- Provide the concierge with a list of restaurants, preferred dates, tabelog links to each restaurant, and back-up choices. Make the concierge's job as easy as possible. You want the concierge to like you, your sushi-eating fate is in their hands!
- The hotel will usually request you complete a credit card authorization form that allows the restaurant to charge your card in case of a no-show.
- It goes without saying, but hotel concierge staff should be treated with respect. It’s not their fault if they can’t get you in to Sugita. Don’t take it out on them.
A word about Airbnb and other peer-to-peer housing services: while these services might finally become fully legal in Tokyo, they are simply not a very good option for those looking to book a lot of restaurants. You'll either need to ask the host to help out (typically to varying degrees of success) or will need to use paying reservation services (see below), which can get expensive if you plan on eating at a lot of restaurants that require reservations.
Credit Card Concierge Services: some of the higher-end cards (you know, the ones that charge $350+ in annual fees, such as the American Express Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve cards) offer concierge service. Once in a while, I hear about someone lucking out and actually getting help from them in booking restaurants in Tokyo. Sadly, most of the feedback I hear is of poor service, so don't expect too much success with these. Still, if you have a card that offers concierge service, it is worth a shot. Just don't hold you breath.
Paid services: a few paid booking services are now available in Tokyo. These businesses attempt to make restaurant bookings on your behalf, and if successful take a fee for their efforts. I've never used any of these services so I don't know how well they work. If you have any experience using them, please let me know in the comments section below.
Voyagin - this well-known service charges $45 per person per reservation, and has an extensive list of good sushiya on their web site. Whether or not they can actually secure booking at all the shops listed remains to be seen (and is, in my opinion, doubtful).
Pocket Concierge - this service charges for the full meal upfront, and includes their fee in the price. They have a good list of restaurants and might be worth a shot.
Tableall - Supposedly, they actually reserve seats in advance (hence guaranteeing availability), then resell the seats to their customers, with their fee built in to the cost. They offer reservations at 8 sushi restaurants in Tokyo including Kimura, Arai, and Harutaka.
Did I miss any services that you have previously used successfully? Do you have a hotel concierge that has gone above and beyond for you before? Please let me know in the comments below.