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!
This guide to Japanese restaurant phrases covers the following situations:
Here are the absolute most basic Japanese phrases for dining out that you should learn as part of simple dining etiquette in Japan:
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.
If you have a reservation, simply tell them the name it is booked under.
If you didn’t make a reservation out can simply say:
There are a few restaurants that do not take reservations. Instead, they will simply ask you how many people are in your group.
Some example responses:
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.
Once this has all been confirmed, they should then take 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:
If this is the case, you will, unfortunately, need to find another restaurant.
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.
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:
You may also want to try the waiter or waitress’s recommendation. It is quite simple to get their suggestion:
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:
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:
Similarly, if you would like to order fried chicken at an izakaya:
It is also simple to request a refill of the same drink by using:
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:
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.
It is also easy to combine multiple requests, by using the following:
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:
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:
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.
There may be times when you need to make special requests, so we have provided the following additional phrases to help you:
If you have a particular allergy or prefer a meal without a certain ingredient, you can use the following phrase too:
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.