5 Reasons You're Getting Turned Away From Restaurants in Japan

By Lisandra Moor
Updated: March 8, 2024

There are as many types of travelers as there are people, but we've all got one thing in common: we've got to eat. With the rise of social media and more travelers using the likes of Instagram and TikTok to find unique spots to visit during their trips, restaurants, small eateries, and cafes face a whole new set of challenges.

Travelers, even if they're in a country or city for a very short time, should do their best to learn local customs and rules to avoid getting caught in sticky situations — like standing at the front door of a restaurant with nowhere to go. 

A restaurant worker welcomes customers at a restaurant in Japan.

Getting turned away from a restaurant anywhere is not a fun experience, but before you hit the forums to vent or leave an angry review, consider what could've prompted the restaurant to say, "Sorry, we can't serve you today." Here are some possible reasons you're getting turned away at restaurants in Japan:

  1. The restaurant is reservation-only
  2. The restaurant has a hybrid reservation and walk-in-only system
  3. The restaurant cannot accommodate dietary restrictions
  4. The restaurant cannot properly serve inbound travelers
  5. You are violating one of the restaurant's rules

As travelers, we can never be too prepared. If you've found yourself stranded with nowhere to eat, keep reading to understand why and better prepare for your next outing.

1. The restaurant is reservation-only

A plaque that marks that a table is reserved in Japanese and English.

Popular high-end restaurants might operate using a reservation-only system, meaning they will turn away any customer who did not reserve a table. And no, they cannot (and will not) make any exceptions!

The only way to dine at these establishments is to abide by their rules and book in advance. Be extra diligent in checking preferred booking methods, as some restaurants only take reservations via Instagram, for example. It varies from one restaurant to another, so it is best to triple-check to make sure of the best way to secure our spot. 

Leave it to the experts. There are over 2,000 restaurants on byFood, including highly sought-after Michelin-starred establishments in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Let our knowledgeable staff handle your reservation; no Japanese is needed.

2. The restaurant has a hybrid reservation and walk-in-only system

A woman walks down a crowded street in Japan.

Sometimes, you will see what can only be described as a hybrid reservation and walk-in-only system: customers need to arrive at the restaurant at opening time or shortly before and get a digital ticket to keep their spot in line. 

There are many benefits to this system for both the restaurants and the customers. The restaurants reduce their chances of no-shows, reducing the risk of food waste and giving other customers the opportunity to dine; it removes the need for long queues outdoors, which can be hard on the body during humid summer or rainy days; and after they receive their number, travelers are free to roam the neighborhood, allowing ample time for exploration. 

The biggest downside is that with these kinds of systems, it can be difficult to know exactly when you'll be able to eat, and it can feel restricting for some to stay within a certain vicinity for an extended period.

If you're getting turned away from a restaurant that uses this system, it's likely because they have already reached the maximum number of customers they can serve that day.

3. The restaurant cannot accommodate dietary restrictions

Tempura dish at a restaurant in Japan.

Compared to other G7 countries especially, Japan has a lot of work to do when it comes to accommodating foodies with dietary restrictions or who subscribe to certain diets. 

When we talk about accommodation here, we don't just mean identifying vegan dishes on a menu but making adjustments or removing ingredients. Not all restaurants will be open to doing this, with the reasoning being in the same vein as not offering the perfect service they otherwise promise. 

Looking for guides to eating vegan, vegetarian, or halal in Japan? Check out these other blog posts:

One trick for somebody with tons of food allergies is to research the type of cuisine. If you're allergic to shellfish, you should avoid kaiseki restaurants, for example, as they might be less inclined to make changes to their dishes strictly because, logistically, they will mainly have seafood ingredients or condiments on hand. 

4. The restaurant cannot properly serve inbound travelers

A chef is working behind the counter at a high end restaurant in Japan

You don't need to dig deep to read horror stories about travelers getting turned away because an establishment had a "no foreigner" policy. Sometimes, it is just a case of a chef or owner not wanting to serve non-Japanese customers (which we are not at all excusing), but more often than not, there is some context that's lost in translation or forgotten when people share these stories online. 

Restaurants might decide to refuse service to travelers because they are unable to provide equal service or have limited resources to do so. Chefs and owners take great pride in their dishes, menus, and dining experiences, including being able to provide educated explanations and recommendations to every single customer. But to do that in a second language would require restaurants to have knowledgeable and perfectly bilingual staff, which can be hard to find. They would prefer to turn away business rather than give what they would consider poor service. To them, that is a greater offense than providing no service at all. 

The same restaurants that refuse to serve foreign travelers will often do so because they cannot accommodate various dietary restrictions. 

5. You are violating one of the restaurant's rules

A diner takes a photo of a dish at a restaurant in Japan.

If you have made a reservation through the proper channels and you're getting turned away at the door, it might be time for some introspection. High-end restaurants in Japan, like fine dining establishments around the world, request their customers adhere to a specific set of rules. Return the courtesy and respect chefs give their customers. 

These are the basics of restaurant etiquette in Japan:

  • Arrive at the restaurant on time. 
  • If you are late, understand that there is a chance you will not be able to enjoy the entire meal. Some restaurants will cancel your reservation if you are 15 minutes late; others might let you in but not serve you a full course.
  • Wear appropriate attire. Some restaurants will not accept customers wearing T-shirts and jeans or who wear fragrant perfumes or body lotions, even if you have a reservation.
  • If you cannot make your reservation, it's better to cancel it to give the restaurant ample time to adjust its preparations. Edomae sushi chefs, for example, start preparing the ingredients they'll need at least five days in advance.

Restaurants will usually send a few reminders of their rules, so make a note of them when they hit your email inbox to avoid being turned away at the door. 

Bonus tip: Some restaurants also have strict photography rules. If they don't explicitly tell you that it's okay to take photos, ask before taking your camera out!

Check out our blog post on Japanese table manners for more tips.


A chef prepares food or customers in a restaurant in Japan.

Can I be turned away from a restaurant in Japan even if I have a reservation?

Unfortunately, it is possible to be turned away even with a reservation in Japan. This could happen if the restaurant is unexpectedly closed, if they have overbooked, or if there is a misunderstanding with your reservation.

What should I do if I get turned away from a restaurant in Japan?

If you are turned away from a restaurant in Japan, remain calm and polite. It's important to remember that it's not personal, and there could be various reasons for being turned away. You can ask if there is a waitlist, try another nearby restaurant, or make a new reservation for another time.

Are there any cultural differences to keep in mind when getting turned away from a restaurant in Japan?

Yes, in Japan, it is important to respect the decision of the restaurant staff, even if you are turned away. Avoid causing a scene or getting confrontational, as this goes against the cultural norm of maintaining harmony. Instead, accept the situation gracefully and look for alternative dining options.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Lisandra Moor
Hailing from multicultural Montreal, Lisandra moved to Japan in 2019. She writes about off-the-beaten-path travel destinations and showcases notable creators from Japan through insightful interviews with insatiable curiosity.
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