We've previously covered everything you need to know to avoid common Japanese food faux-pas when dining in Japan in our guide, Japanese Table Manners and Dining Etiquette. Now, we're covering the essential Japanese restaurant phrases you'll need to know.
Dining out in Japan is one of the key attractions of this great country, but alas, the language can sometimes present a challenge. Even if the restaurant has an English menu, pictures of the dishes, and so on, English speakers can still have miscommunications if they don't know a few key Japanese phrases, especially if there's a specific dietary requirement involved (the Japan Vegan Guide covers essential Japanese phrases specifically for our plant-based friends).
Don't know how to make a reservation in Japanese? ByFood's system for restaurant reservations in Japan strives to make every restaurant in Japan accessible to foreign travelers and residents of Japan.
The easiest way to learn a new language is through everyday use, so what better way to do so than by eating at Japanese restaurants and exploring the local food culture! And here's a pro tip: check out these 10 Japanese food movies and anime to squeeze in some listening practice with your daily dose of entertainment, from classic Japanese film to popular anime series.
To help you avoid awkward situations and start you off on your Japanese language journey, below are some must-know basic Japanese phrases for dining out, no knowledge of the Japanese writing system required!
Japanese 101: Must-Know Japanese Restaurant Phrases
This guide to Japanese restaurant phrases covers the following situations:
- Entering the Restaurant
- Ordering from the Menu
- Finishing Up and Bill Payments
- Special Requests
Here are the absolute most basic Japanese phrases for dining out that you should learn as part of simple dining etiquette in Japan:
- いらっしゃいませ – (Irrashaimase) is an expression meaning, "Please come in" or "Welcome to my store." You will tend to hear this as you first enter an eatery, izakaya (Japanese-style bar), or bar.
- いただきます – (Itadakimasu) is usually said before people eat a meal. Basically, it translates into, "I humbly accept/receive" this meal.
- ごちそうさま (でした) – (Gochisousama (deshita)) means simply, "Thank you for the wonderful food or drink." This expression is usually used at the end of a meal, either at a friend's place or a restaurant. At a restaurant, you can also use it as a sign that you have finished eating, you appreciate the meal, and would like the check.
1. Entering the Restaurant
Upon entering the restaurant, the staff should greet you and ask you if you have made a reservation. Here are some more useful Japanese words when you arrive.
- こんばんは。いっらしゃいませ (Konbanwa. Irrashaimase) – Good evening. Welcome (to our bar/restaurant).
- ご 予約(よやく) はされているんでしょうか? (Go yoyaku wa sarete irun deshou ka?) – Have you made a reservation?
If you have a reservation, simply tell them the name it is booked under.
- 予約(よやく) をしています。ジェイムズです (Yoyaku o shite imasu. Jeimuzu desu) – Yes, I have a reservation. It is booked under the name James.
If you didn’t make a reservation out can simply say:
- すみません、予約(よやく) してないのですが、空いて(あいて) いますか？ (Sumimasen. Go yoyaku shitenai no desu ga, aite imasu ka?) – Sorry, I haven’t made a reservation, but do you have any seats available/space?
There are a few restaurants that do not take reservations. Instead, they will simply ask you how many people are in your group.
- 何(なん) 名(めい) 様(さま) ですか？ (Nan mei sama desu ka?) – How many people are in your group? (Polite)
Some example responses:
- 1人(ひとり) / 2人(ふたり) です (Hitori / Futari desu) – One person / Two people.
- 3人(さんにん) です (San nin desu) – Three people.
In a lot of cafes and family restaurants, there are separate areas for smoking and non-smoking seating. Thus, they may also ask you for your preference.
- 喫煙席(きつえんせき)、禁煙席(きんえんせき) のどちらに (Kitsuenseki, kinenseki no dochira ni) – Would you prefer to sit in the smoking or non-smoking section?
- 喫煙席をお願いします (Kitsuenseki o onegai shimasu) – The smoking area, please.
- 禁煙席をお願いします (Kinenseki o onegaishimasu) – The non-smoking area, please.
Once this has all been confirmed, they should then take you to your seat.
- お席(おせき) へ ご案内(ごあんあい) いたします (O seki e goanai itashimasu) – I will show you to your seat.
It is quite common for popular restaurants to be fully booked, or have no seating available. Particularly, during the holiday periods or on weekends. In this instance, they will say something like:
- 申し訳(もうしわけ) ございません、本日は貸切(かしきり) になっております (Moushiwake gozaimasen. Honjitsu wa kashi kiri ni natte orimasu) – Sorry, we are fully booked (due to a party or event).
- 申し訳ございません。只今、満席(まんせき) となっております (Moushiwake gozaimasen. Tadaima manseki to natte orimasu) – Sorry, we are full now (there are no seats available at the moment).
If this is the case, you will, unfortunately, need to find another restaurant.
2. Ordering from the Menu
It may seem awkward at first, but getting a waiter's attention is totally natural in Japan. A simple "すみません" (Sumimasen) with your hand raised in the air, at a decent volume, should be enough to get some service. Alternatively, the staff may already be circling your table and just waiting for you to finalize your choices.
Initially, you might like to ask if they have an English menu available, this will no doubt save you a lot of hassle and time.
- すみません。英語(えいご) のメニューはありますか？ (Sumimasen. Eigo no menu wa arimasu ka?) – Excuse me. Do you have an English menu available?
Generally, they should be able to accommodate you, especially in the touristy areas or popular sightseeing spots of Tokyo. If there is no English menu available, you will see them apologize or gesture to indicate that they do not have one.
In the absence of an English menu, you may want to inquire about something that you see. Specifically, pictures of dishes that look appealing. In this case, you can simply ask:
- それは 何(なん) ですか？ (Sore wa nan desu ka?) – What is this? (While pointing to something on the menu.)
You may also want to try the waiter or waitress’s recommendation. It is quite simple to get their suggestion:
- オススメは何ですか？ (Osusume wa nan desu ka?) – What is your recommendation?
Hopefully, everyone in your group has made a decision, so it's time to order. You can use "すみません" (Sumimasen) again to get the staff’s attention, followed by:
- 注文(ちゅうもん)をお願いします (Chuumon o onegai shimasu) – I’d like to order.
- オーダーしてもいいですか? (Oodaa shite mo ii desu ka?) – Can we order, please?
When you order food or drink, the expressions are very similar, so this should be a little easier to master. As an example, to order a beer you can say:
- ビールをお願いします (Biiru o onegai shimasu) – I would like a beer, please.
Similarly, if you would like to order fried chicken at an izakaya:
- 唐揚げ(からあげ) をお願いします (Karaage o onegai shimasu) – I would like some fried chicken, please.
It is also simple to request a refill of the same drink by using:
- お代わり(おかわり) をお願いします (Okawari o onegai shimasu) – Could I have the same again, please.
Of course, there will be times when you need to order more than one of something. In this situation, you would usually insert the number after the name of the drink or dish, for example:
- ビールを 三つ(みっつ) お願いします (Biiru o mittsu onegai shimasu) – I would like 3 beers, please.
Japanese numbers can be a little confusing, as there are hundreds of different counter words for every type of object; from flat, thin objects (like paper) to long objects (like bottles and pens). If you want to avoid using Japanese counters, you can use the universal counters listed below and just fill in the sentence to order:
(Noun) を (universal counter) お願いします ((Noun) o (universal counter) onegai shimasu) - I would like (number) (noun), please.
これを 四つ（よつ) お願いします (Haibōru o hitotsu onegai shimasu) - I would like 4 of these, please.
- ひとつ (Hitotsu)
- ふたつ (Futatsu)
- みつ (Mitsu)
- よつ (Yotsu)
- いつつ (Itsutsu)
- むっつ (Muttsu)
- ななつ (Nanatsu)
- やっつ (Yattsu)
- ここのつ (Kokonotsu)
- とう (Tou)
It is also easy to combine multiple requests, by using the following:
- ビールを3つと、ワインを 1つ(ひとつ) お願いします (Biiru o mittsu to, wain o hitotsu onegai shimasu) – I would like 3 beers and 1 wine, please.
The above phrase can also be used for ordering meals, by substituting the name of the drink with the dish instead.
Finally, we hope you were able to successfully order your meals and drinks. The waitstaff will usually confirm the order with you, thank you for the order, and then tell you to wait. Something similar to:
- 少々(しょうしょう) お待ち(おまち) ください (Shou shou omachi kudasai) – Please wait a moment. (Very polite)
3. Finishing Up and Bill Payments
You’ve finished your meals and hopefully everyone is feeling full and satisfied, so it's time to finish up by paying. You can simply get the staff’s attention by saying:
- すみません。お 会計(かいけい) をお願い(おねがい) します (Sumimasen. O kaikei o onegai shimasu) – Excuse me, could we get the bill/check, please.
In this phrase, "お会計" (おかいけい or O kaikei) means the check, but you can also use "チェック" (ちぇっく or Chekku), which is another way to say bill.
As mentioned before, you can also use the expression "ごちそうさま (でした)" (Gochisousama(deshita)) indicating you are finished eating, and you are showing appreciation for the food. The staff should understand this to mean you are ready to pay and will bring the bill to you. The expression is also a good way to show appreciation as you exit the restaurant.
Please note that in some restaurants, they will leave the bill on your table, and others will request you to bring a number to the register. It really depends on the eatery as to how their system works.
4. Special Requests: Other Essential Japanese Phrases for Dining Out
There may be times when you need to make special requests, so we have provided the following additional phrases to help you:
- お子様(おこさま) メニューはありますか？ (Okosama menyuu wa arimasu ka?) – Do you have a children’s menu?
- ベジタリアンメニューはありますか？ (Bejitarian menyuu wa arimasu ka?) – Do you have a vegetarian menu?
If you have a particular allergy or prefer a meal without a certain ingredient, you can use the following phrase too:
- サラダは 卵(たまご) を抜き(抜き) にしてもらえますか? (Sarada wa tamago o nuki ni shite moraemasu ka?) – Could I please have the salad without egg?
Ready to face your fears of ordering food in Japan? With these essential Japanese phrases under your belt, you should be on your way to mastering the Japanese language, at least where Japanese cuisine is concerned. In urban areas like Tokyo, restaurants sometimes have English speakers on staff, but you'll always have more interesting personal experiences with local Japanese people when you try to speak Japanese yourself. And food just so happens to be a conversation starter everyone loves. So go forth, try out these useful Japanese words and phrases, and have a mini-adventure at your local izakaya or restaurant!
For further Japanese lessons and info about Japan, be sure to check out FAQ Japan.