Japanese cuisine is delicious and one of the best ways to get an understanding of it is to visit restaurants and try the food. However, you’ll need to navigate your way around it with some useful Japanese phrases used in a restaurant. Don’t worry, going to a restaurant in Japan is similar to anywhere else in the world. There are some etiquettes that are different from what you may be used to, but ultimately the process is the same. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be prepared though! Some preparation will ensure you can be polite and order the food you want properly.
As you arrive at the restaurant, you’ll need to specify how many people you would like a table for. This is where learning your counters is important. As you may already know, counting in Japanese is not the same as it is in English, where you would simply say two people. The counter changes depending on what you are counting. For example saying “two beers” is different compared to “two people” in Japanese.
Futari desu (二人です) – Table for two.
Did you know that in Japan, you are still able to smoke in some restaurants? As such, it is not uncommon to be asked whether you would like to be placed in the smoking section or not.
Kinen seki onegaishimasu (禁煙席お願いします) – a non-smoking table please.
Kitsuen seki onegaishimasu (喫煙席お願いします) – a smoking table please.
Did you know that quite often there are private rooms available in some restaurants? To ask for this use koshitsu wa arimasuka? (個室はありますか？)
Ordering food and drinks
When ordering, it’s as simple as ordering what you want and telling them how many you want just like in any other country. This can only get a bit tricky when you’re trying to remember all your counters again! Between each item use と and at the end of the sentence add お願いします.
For example, biiru wo futatsu to shochu haibooru wo hitotsu onegaishimasu (ビールを一つと焼酎ハイボールを一つお願いします) – “two beers and one shochu highball please.”
If you’re feeling unsure about how to pronounce the menu items, you can always point and politely say Kochira wo onegaishimasu (こちらをお願いします). Furthermore, if you don’t know what you’re asking for either you can use kore wa nan desuka (これは何ですか？).
It may be that you have specific dietary requirements as well but like what you see on the menu. The first thing you may want to know is if a dish contains a particular allergen. natsu ga haitteimasuka? (ナツが入っていますか？) can be used to say “Does this contain nuts?”
To ask for something without a particular item you can use “butaniku” nuki onegaishimasu (豚肉抜きお願いします) or alternatively, to ask if they can make something without use “butaniku” nuki ni dekimasu ka? (豚肉抜きにできますか?). This particular example uses pork.
If you’d simply like to replace an item then you can use butaniku no kawari ni toriniku ni dekimasuka (豚肉の代わりに鶏肉にできますか?) can be used. This particular example asks them to replace pork with chicken.
You should have everything you need on your table but you may need the phrase torizara wo nimai kudasai (取り皿を二枚ください) which are the small plates when sharing food. Kozara (小皿 ) is also used for this purpose.
Now before you dive into your food, don’t forget to be thankful. You’ll almost certainly have heard itadakimasu (いただきます) said before people start a meal. There are also some rules around drink etiquette but the easiest and most important phrase is kanpai (乾杯) before you all start your drinks!
A useful phrase that many people forget until they’re desperate is asking where the toilet is:
Toire wa doko desu ka? (トイレはどこですか？) – Where is the toilet?
At the end of the meal
Getting the bill at the end of the meal is relatively straight forward. First, get the waiters attention:
Sumimasen (すみません) – Excuse me.
Then ask for the bill:
Okaikei kudasai (お会計ください) – Bill please.
Not feeling too generous or out with a big group? You may want to get the bill divided:
Betsu betsu no okaike wo onegaishimasu (別々のお会計をお願いします) – please separate the bills.
You may find you want to thank them and tell them how delicious the food was.
Oishikatta desu (美味しかったです) – That was delicious.
When leaving the restaurant after your meal, especially in small places, you may hear a lot of people saying Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした), which roughly translates to thanking the owner or cook for the meal.
While this is a short list, these key Japanese phrases used in a restaurant should be enough to help you get going.