Eating in Japan: How to Order Food Using Japanese
Have you ever wanted to walk into your favourite sushi restaurant and order in Japanese? Maybe you've travelled in Japan and found it difficult to communicate with the restaurant staff. Regardless of the reason you want to learn, we're here to teach you everything you need to know about ordering food in Japanese, from entering a restaurant to paying the bill. We also cover a number of useful Japanese cultural factors to be aware of when ordering food. We hope this newfound knowledge will open up a world of new experiences and flavours for you!
We'll start by covering the most useful language to learn when visiting a restaurant. For more general language to learn when travelling in Japan check out our useful phrases page.
1. Entering a Restaurant
Upon entering a restaurant in Japan, you will most likely hear the greeting "irasshai mase“ (いらっしゃいませ), which means "welcome". After this your server will probably ask you how many people you will be dining with - "nan mei sama desu ka?" (何名様ですか?). To answer, you can simply respond with the correct number and "nin desu" (人です). For example, to say you want a table for 5 you can say "goh nin desu" (五人です).
2. Getting Served
Service in Japanese restaurants is usually excellent and your server will probably be extremely attentive. However, if you do need to get their attention politely, you can simply use the word for excuse me - "sumimasen" (すみません).
3. Asking for a Menu
To ask for a menu in Japanese you can say "menyuu ga arimasu ka?“ (メニューがありますか?). To ask for an English menu, simply change this to "eigo no menyuu ga arimasu ka?" (英語のメニューがありますか?). Once you've decided what you'd like to eat just state the name of the dish followed by "onegai shimasu" (お願いします”). However, if you want to order something singular like a sushi roll or onigiri, you can say the name of the item followed by "...wo hitotsu onegai shimasu" (… を一つお願いします), meaning "can I have one of … please?".
4. Asking for the Price
To ask for the price of individual items you can say their names or point to them followed by "kura desu ka?" (いくらですか?), which means "How much does it cost?".
5. Ordering the Special
To enquire about popular dishes or chef's specials, you can ask your server what they recommend by saying "osusume wa nan desu ka?" (お勧めは何ですか?). This phrase is guaranteed to impress and will almost definitely help you discover new and delicious things!
6. Ordering Vegetarian
Vegetarian in Japanese is "bejitarian" (ベジタリアン). To ask for a vegetarian menu you can adapt the phrase we learned earlier to "bejitarian menyuu wa arimasu ka?" (ベジタリアンメニューはありますか?”).
7. Dealing with Allergies
Allergies can be a concern if you're eating in a place where the staff don't speak your language. For this reason it's important to learn how to say the name of the thing(s) you're allergic to. To tell your server you're allergic to something, simply state the name of the thing followed by "ni arerugī ga arimasu" (にアレルギーがあります). For example, I'm allergic to sesame would be "goma ni arerugī ga arimasu" (ゴマにアレルギーがあります).
8. Asking for Cutlery
Most Japanese restaurants will give you chopsticks as standard. You will more than likely also receive a spoon, especially if you're eating something soft or soup based. While it is good to practice your chopstick skills as much as possible, you can always ask for a knife and fork by saying "naifu to fōku o motte kite kuremasen ka?" (ナイフとフォークを持ってきてくれませんか?).
9. Asking for the Bill
Once you've enjoyed your food an you're ready to leave, the next step is to pay. To ask for the bill you can say "okanjou wo onegai shimasu" (“お勘定をお願いします).
10. Saying Goodbye
“To exit a restaurant politely you can say "gochisousama deshita" (ごちそうさまでした), which means "thank you for the food". This expresses your respect for the restaurant and it's staff and will help to create a good atmosphere.
Being able to speak the language is incredibly useful but there are also several important cultural conventions to be aware of when ordering food in Japanese, in Japan or elsewhere. Knowing these can help you come across as polite and propel your understanding of Japanese language and etiquette to new heights.
1. Attracting Attention
Japanese culture places great value on manners and politeness. This means most service staff are extremely attentive and will make a point to ensure you have everything you need. If you ever do need to attract attention from somebody in a service roll you can try to catch their eye or politely say "sumimasen" (すみません). Try to avoid shouting, whistling or anything else that could be considered rude as this will cause the staff to lose face.
Since Japanese place such high importance on providing a good service, it's actually expected as part of the job and therefore not necessary to "reward" staff by tipping them on top of their wages. In fact leaving tips can actually be seen as disrespectful in Japan, implying the person you're giving it to doesn't earn enough to get by. For this reason it's perhaps best to avoid tipping all together unless you see a tip jar specifically designated for that purpose.
3. Drinking Alcohol
There is a strong drinking culture in Japan with many local beverages for you to try. However, Japanese drinking culture differs slightly from that in the West, with reciprocity playing a huge part in the way drinking occurs. For example, it's customary to pour drinks for the other people at the table and never your own. While this is totally acceptable in the West it can be considered selfish in Japan, where you show consideration for your drinking partners by ensuring their drinks are full before attending to yourself. In fact by the end of the evening, everyone at the table will have poured at least one drink for everyone else. While this practice is integral to the consumption of alcohol in Japan, the locals will not necessarily expect tourists to understand or abide by it. This being said, we recommend you take part if you want to learn the true nature of Japanese culture!
Expressing manners in general is very important in Japan. For the most part, these are similar to those we have in the UK. In relation to eating, one useful phrase to keep in mind is "Itadakimasu" (いただきます). This is often said just before eating, much the same way as we would say "bon apetit". It means “let’s eat!”.
5. Eating and Drinking in Public
Anyone who travels to Japan may be surprised to notice that you almost never see anyone eating in public, outside of restaurants or the home. It's considered somewhat rude to eat and drink on the street or public transport so bear this in mind when out on your travels.
6. Complementing the Food
Having your food complimented is a great honour in any culture. Japanese for delicious is "oishii" (おいしい) and this is probably the most common term to use when talking about good food. However, if you want to look like you really know what you're talking about you can use the more traditional "hoppe ga ochiru" ほっぺたが落ちる), which literally means something along the lines of "this food is so nice my cheeks are falling off!".
Now you know everything you need to order Japanese food like a pro. The next step is to get out there and practice! We know this can be scary so take it slowly and don't forget, people almost always respect that you are trying to communicate with you in their language and will help you where they can.
If you want to advance even more quickly, you can book some course time with one of our professional Japanese teachers, who will help you learn in a structured environment with ongoing support and opportunities for practice. Good luck!