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Sunday, 06 November 2011

思い込みの怖さ

Bkbkm田馬場は都内でも屈指のラーメン激戦区である。人気店が数多く軒を連ねて、続々と新しい店がオープンしているが、同様に閉店していく店も同じくらい多い。それは右も左も分からない経験の浅い店だけではなく、全国に何十軒も店を構えているような実力チェーン店も同様で、半年や一年経たずして暖簾をたたむ店も少なく無い。しかしその理由は決して競合するラーメン店が多いから、というだけではない。あの街は非常に客層が絞りにくく、捉えにくい街なのだ。

高田馬場は学生街なのか

 高田馬場はどんな街かと聞かれれば、大半の人は「学生街」と答えるに違いない。確かに街には学生があふれ、早稲田大学などの大学生はもちろんのこと、予備校も多いので浪人生や高校生たちも多い。しかし実際にはオフィスも同様に多く、一本道を入れば住宅街が広がる、学生、会社員、商店、住宅が複雑に絡み合う場所なのである。そしてそれは高田馬場に限らず、ほとんどの街がそうと言ってもいい。学生しかいない学生街はないし、サラリーマンしかいないオフィス街もあり得ない。未来の乗り物はトゥモローランドにしかなく、夢と魔法はファンタジーランドにしかないというような、ディズニーランドの中のカテゴライズとは違うのだ。

 また同様に、その街の北と南、東と西でまったく性格が異なることも多い。線路や主要道路を隔ててガラッと街の顔が変わる。例えば、高田馬場、と言っても駅の東と西で違うし、早稲田通りの南北、明治通り以東でもまた違う。それをまとめて「高田馬場はこういう街だ」と語ることは非常にナンセンスであるし、経営者的な視点による戦略的思考とは言い難い。

金持ちの学生、大食いのOL、デザート好きのお父さん

 飲食店が客層を絞る時、どの店もその街がどんな性格なのかを考える。学生街なのかオフィス街なのか住宅街なのか。そこから学生・サラリーマン・OL・肉体労働者・主婦などをイメージする。しかし意外と盲点になっているのは同業の飲食店を始めとする商店の従業員の存在だったりする。オフィス街だから1時を過ぎたら皆お昼を食べに来なくなる。それは正解だけれど、それはサラリーマンの話であって、その人たちが食べに行った飲食店や、商店のスタッフたちはその後にお昼ごはんを食べる。すべてがすべて飲食店が自分の店で賄いを食べるとは限らないし、商店も一段落するのは昼休み後。実際ラーメン店の従業員で、同業他店に調査半分で食べに行ったりするケースは多々みられたりもする。彼らが食べられる時間も昼のピークタイム以降だ。そのタイミングで中休みを取っている飲食店はみすみす売上げの機会を逃している。

 あとは、学生・サラリーマン・OL…というステレオタイプなカテゴライズも結構危険だ。学生は金が無くて大食いとか、OLは小食でデザート好きとかの思い込み。もちろん貧乏学生もいるだろうし、普通の量でも残してしまうようなOLもいるだろうが、押し並べて学生はサラリーマンよりも自由な金をいっぱい持っているし、OLだって二郎マシマシを喰う人が多い。トッピングに悩み、お得なセットはどれだなどと考えているのはサラリーマン。これまでに色々ななラーメン店をプロデュースしてきて、メニュー開発もやってその購買傾向を見て来たが、ラーメン全部乗せにチャーシューごはんで1,200円なんてのを迷わず注文するのは学生だけ。サラリーマンのお父さんたちはとてもそこの金銭感覚はシビア。自分のことだけ考えていればいい学生とは背負ってるものがまったく違うのだ。

 またラーメン店に限って言えば、デザートの注文率はサラリーマンが高い。OL、女子学生、主婦などは色々な場所でデザートを食べられるけど、サラリーマンはなかなか食べるチャンスがない。女性はラーメン屋の片手間デザートに300円払うよりも、ちゃんとしたカフェで500円のケーキを食べる。その属性によって金銭感覚というのはまったく異なる。それをどう見切るかも飲食店経営では重要なことだ。

淡麗系ラーメンに対する幻想

 思い込みといえば、年輩客が油分が少なく和出汁が効いたあっさり味のラーメンを好むというのもそう。年輩の人がラーメン店に来るのは「ラーメンが食べたいから」。ある方がある店で「オレはラーメンが喰いたいんだよ。こんなのだったら蕎麦屋で喰えるだろ」と言ったのが今も頭を離れない。銀座の老舗「共楽」はどちらかといえば年輩率が高いノスタルジックラーメンの店だけど、あっさりでもさっぱりでもなんでもない。旨味は強く油分は多いし醤油ダレも強くてインパクト十分。同じ銀座の老舗でも「萬福」とは対照的だ。

 清湯系や淡麗系のラーメンがここ数年のトレンドというのは間違いではないけれど、ではそれが売れている、客の支持を集めているのかと聞かれれば、もう明らかに幻想以外の何モノでもなく、まさに思い込みの極致だったりするのだ。誤解のないように言えば、淡麗系の新店はここ数年増えているし、どこの店も美味しいし、行列も作っている。しかしマーケット全体を俯瞰した時にはその系統はやはりマイノリティだ、ということ。消費者が10人いて、7人や8人がそういう店を選ぶかといったらそうではないということ。先日発売になったあるラーメン本に掲載されていた読者ランキング。どういうサンプルでどう作られたデータなのか、その信憑性はさておき、結果を見るとベストテンのうちほとんどが濃厚豚骨魚介系のつけ麺だったり豚骨だったりで、あっさり清湯系などは皆無というのがその一つの証左であろうかとも思う。

いつの時代も売れるラーメンは「濃厚」

 ラーメンがブームになってからのこの20年、常に売れ続けているのはやっぱり「濃厚」「こってり」「豚骨」「豚骨魚介」味なのだ。今、この瞬間に全国のラーメン店で食べられているラーメンの数を数えたら、「今流行」の淡麗系や透明な塩ラーメンの占める割合はたかが知れている。よく、千葉の内房エリアは竹岡式をはじめとする醤油ラーメンの支持が強いという話があるがそれもある意味間違いで、市原、木更津、君津などを見てもそれよりも味噌ラーメンの方が売れていると体感する。これは良く言う話なのだけど、竹岡式ラーメンの元祖「梅乃家」がもし味噌ラーメンを出したら、きっと一番人気のメニューになるだろう。面白い実例を一つ挙げれば、今年木更津にオープンした超大型新店は、あっさり淡麗系の醤油ラーメンと、濃厚豚骨魚介系のつけ麺の二枚看板が売り。我々ラーメン評論家はもちろん、世のラーメンフリークもテレビ雑誌もこぞってこの店では濃厚なつけ麺よりもあっさりのラーメンを持ち上げるけど、お店の人に聞くと地元ではラーメンよりもつけ麺の出数が圧倒的なのだそうだ。これも非常に興味深いデータだと思う。

 ラーメン店を営む人や開業しようとする人は、マスコミや僕ら評論家の言う「トレンド」を真に受けてはいけない。僕らは皆が意識しないところを注目するのが仕事であり非常に視野狭窄的だ。トレンドのラーメンダイニングが1日100杯売る横で、ラーメンショップが500杯売ってるのが現実。しかし、テレビや雑誌などを眺めていると、世の中で売れているのはあっさり系のラーメンなのではないかと思い込む。言うまでもなく、その土地立地に即した味や店作りになっているかどうかがまず重要。マスコミやネット上での「作られたトレンド」ではなく、半径500メートル、1キロ圏内での傾向を探ることから始めるべきだ。そのために、自分の店の周辺の性格や客層を思い込みや先入観を取り払っていくことがとても重要だ。

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