Entertainment And News

How A Restaurant That Gets 40% Of All Orders Wrong Has A 99% Customer Satisfaction Rate

Photo: jhengyaolin, coffeekai, MadamLead, eggeeggjiew / Canva
dementia restaurant

If you went to a restaurant and got, say, vegetable tempura instead of the yakisoba you ordered, you're probably leaving pretty perturbed, right? 

But at one Tokyo restaurant, getting the wrong order is the whole point — well, kind of. 

Tokyo's Restaurant of Mistaken Orders gets nearly 40% of the orders wrong but has A 99% customer satisfaction rate.

That's clearly a typo, right? Nope! Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, a 12-seat cafe in the Sengawa suburb of Tokyo, is a place where you're meant to just go and see what happens.

You never quite know what you're going to get, because Japan's legendarily precise restaurant service is off the table, so to speak, and it's all part of the good the restaurant is trying to do for some of its local senior citizens.

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The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders employs people with dementia as a way to slow the progression of the disease.

The Tokyo cafe's staff are elderly people dealing with dementia, which makes for a, shall we say, unique experience for diners. As the restaurant's website puts it, "all of our servers are people living with dementia. They may, or may not, get your order right." And indeed they don't, nearly 40% of the time. 

   

   

But the restaurant says that diners can "rest assured that even if your order is mistaken, everything on our menu is delicious and one of a kind." And that's surely part of why their customer satisfaction rating is at a solid 99%. 

But it's so much more than just good food. The cafe provides seniors with dementia a means of interacting with others, doing something productive, and feeling like they are a needed part of an undertaking. That sort of mental engagement is key to slowing down the progression of dementia, a neurodegenerative disease that impacts memory, cognition, and, in its later stages, motor skills.

So when the restaurant's staff makes mistakes — and they make lots and lots of them — it's treated as a moment for shared laughter or even celebration that helps the staff move past the shame and frustration that often accompanies life with dementia.

restaurant that gets 40% of orders wrong has a 99% customer satisfaction ratePhoto: FG Trade from Getty Images Signature / Canva Pro

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The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders' founder hopes his cafe will change society's perceptions of dementia.

According to Alzheimer's Disease International, the number of people living with dementia worldwide doubles roughly every 20 years, and with one of the fastest-growing elderly populations in the world, Japan is seeing its rates of dementia grow rapidly as well. 

Japan's health ministry estimates that by 2025, there will be 7.3 million Japanese people living with dementia. That's one in five elderly people.

Restaurant of Mistaken Orders founder Shiro Oguni had seen how the disease plays out for all too many elderly people. The isolation he saw on a visit to a group home for those with dementia left him saddened. It also left him determined to do something about it.

Oguni said that despite how common dementia is, it is still poorly understood. Coupled with the burden the disease places on families, dementia can be a very lonely road to travel. 

"People believe you can’t do anything for yourself," Oguni said in a video promoting the restaurant, "and the condition will often mean isolation from society. We want to change society to become more easy-going so, dementia or no dementia, we can live together in harmony."

His efforts are having a profound impact.

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The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders is making a difference for its staff and patrons alike.

A report on the cafe by the Washington Post highlighted a 65-year-old man named Kazuhiko who exemplifies the impact Oguni and his cafe are making.

Kazuhiko had been living with dementia for five years and had become isolated and withdrawn, rarely smiling or making eye contact. But on the day the Post visited, he had a heartfelt interaction with a teenage girl in which he smiled for the first time in ages.

   

   

And it wasn't just Kazuhiko who benefited from the experience. The girl's mother, whose father passed away of dementia in early 2023, told the Post, “When we saw him smile after our ‘thank you’ earlier, it reminded us of those moments we had [with my father], which nearly brought me to tears."

Yui Iwata, who helps run the Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, told the Post they hope the restaurant "will give people with dementia something to look forward to," and that it will offer others "a deeper understanding" that will make living a fuller life easier for those with dementia.

It sounds like it's doing that, and so much more, for its staff and patrons alike.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.