Japan’s food culture is amazingly rich not only just in its long-held traditions, but also in its value on taste, presentation and hygiene. It also offers great depth and diversity in terms of its international dining experience, with an array of options in to suit all kinds of foodies.
Of course, some restaurants are versatile in terms of their multi-lingual support. The Tokyo Government even created a website that lists all restaurants which provide multi-lingual menus.
However, if you wish to indulge in this culinary journey, particularly using Japan’s native tongue, then the breadth of your options will also skyrocket. In this guide, we will try to cover some of the most common terms and phrases that will help to boost your restaurant experience.
Introduction to the Basics
Here are some phrases we have covered before in previous posts, but which are good to review, both in terms of language review and etiquette. These include the following:
いただきます – (Itadakimasu) in simple terms means ‘I humbly accept or receive’ this food or dish.
ごちそうさま (でした) – (Gochisousama (deshita)) this simply means ‘thank you for the delicious meal or drink’. The expression is commonly used in both restaurants and when eating at a friends or family member’s place, usually after finishing a meal or drink.
いらっしゃいませ – (Irrashaimase) directly translated it can mean either ‘please come in’ or ‘welcome to my store’. This is a common phrase you will continue to hear every time you enter a restaurant, izakaya (Japanese style bar) or bar and more.
Reserving the Restaurant
So you’ve got your eyes on a particular dining experience, the ratings are great, and you have lined up a time and date with your friends/partner, but the restaurant in question only accepts telephone bookings. This section is for you to take you through the recommended polite language you should use, and the various situations you may come across:
お電話(でんわ) ありがとうございます。アメジングジャパンレストランです。 (Odenwa arigatou gozaimasu. Amejingu Jyapan Resutoran desu) – Thank you for calling. This is the Amazing Japan Restaurant.
予約(よやく) を お願い(おねがい) したいんですが (Yoyaku wo onegai shitan desu ga) – I was hoping to make a reservation.
If the staff need you to wait a moment they will usually say something like:
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 minute (Very Polite).
Once they are able to answer your phone call, they will usually ask you the following phrase:
お日(おひ) にちと 時間(じかん) は、 お決まり(おきまり) ですか？ (Ohi nichi ojikan wa okimari desu ka) – Have you decided on a date and time?
It is good to provide both month and date, simply to avoid any misunderstandings with days (ie – Monday this week, next week? etc), similar to the following:
6月(ろくがつ) 3日(みっか) に 7時(しちじ) から 三人(さんにん) で予約したいのですが、空いて(あいて) いますか (Rokugatsu mikka ni shichiji kara sannin de yoyaku shitai no desu ga, aite imasu ka) – I would like to make a reservation on June 3rd, from 7 pm for 3 people. Do you have seating available then?
You may also go through these items (date, time, number of people, etc) one at a time, something like:
お日にちはいつでしょうか (Ohi nichi ha itsu deshou ka) – When would you like to make a reservation?
9月(くがつ) 14日(じゅうよっか) です (Kugatsu Juuyokka desu) – For September the 14th.
If they continue with the questioning, this is probably a good sign that the date is ok. They will then continue to ask for time and number of people:
お時間は何時(なんじ) からでしょうか (Ojikan wa nanji kara deshou ka) – From what time would you like to make your booking?
6時半(ろくじはん) です (Roku jihan desu) – From 6.30.
何名様(なんめいさま) でしょうか (Nan mei sama deshou ka) – How many people?
4名です (Yon mei desu) – For 4 people.
Once they have taken your request, they will usually want to request at least your name and telephone number for the booking. Similar to the following:
お名前(なまえ) を 教えて(おしえて) 頂けます(いただけます) でしょうか (Onamae wo oshiete itadakemasu deshou ka) – Could you please tell me your name?
マットと申します。 – (Matto to moushimasu) – My name is Matt.
お電話番号(でんわばんごう) を教えて頂けますでしょうか (Odenwa bango wo oshiete itadakemasu deshou ka) – Could you please tell me your phone number?
070-4567-9456 です。(Zero-nana-zero no yon-go-roku-nana no kyuu-yon-go-roku desu) – My phone number is 070-4567-9456.
Once the details have been confirmed, the staff should then confirm the details back to you.
ありがとうございます。それでは9月14日6時半より、マット様4名でご予約承りました(うけたまわりました) – (Arigatou Gozaimasu. Sore de ha kugatsu juuyokka rokujihan yori, matto sama yonmei de goyoyaku uketamawarimashita). Thank you for your details. I would like to confirm your reservation on September 14th from 6.30, for 4 people under the name Matt.
If for some reason they cannot accept your booking you will usually hear one of the following replies:
申し訳(もうしわけ) ございません。只今(ただいま)、 満席(まんせき) になっております (Moushiwake gozaimasen. Tadaima, manseki ni natte orimasu) – Sorry, we are full now (there are no seats available at the moment).
申し訳ございません。その日は予約が一杯(いっぱい) です (Moushiwake gozaimasen. Sono hi yoyaku ga ippai desu) – Sorry, we are booked out on that day.
Sometimes the day might be ok, but they may not be able to cater for your time, in which case they should ask you something like:
申し訳ございません。その時間は予約が一杯です。7時半はいかかがでしょうか? (Moushiwake gozaimasen. Sono jikan ha yoyaku ga ippai desu. Shichi ji han ha ikakaga deshou ka) – Sorry, we are booked out at that time. How about 7.30 ?
If this works you can simply say:
はい、お願いします (hai, onegai shimasu) – Yes, that will be fine.
or if you know this time will not work, better to ask for another time or day altogether.
すみません、別(べつ) の日に予約したいのですが (Sumimasen, betsu no hi ni yoyaku shitai no desu ga) – Sorry, I would like to reserve on a different day.
From there you may have to start the process all over again …
Entering the Restaurant
Initially, when entering a restaurant, you may get asked if you have a reservation.
こんばんは。いっらしゃいませ (Konban wa. Irrashaimase) – Good Evening. Welcome (to the store/restaurant).
ご 予約(よやく) はされていますでしょうか？ (Go yoyaku wa sarete imasu deshou ka) – Do you have a reservation?
If you do, you can just tell simply the name the reservation is under.
予約(よやく) をしています。マットです (Yoyaku wo shite imasu. Matto desu) – Yes I do. The reservation name is under Matt.
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 shitai no desu ga, aite imasu ka?) – Sorry, I didn’t make a reservation, but do you have any seating available?
Some restaurants do not accept reservations, so in this instance, they will simply ask you:
何(なん) 名(めい) 様(さま) ですか？ (nan mei sama desu ka?) – How many people? (Polite)
For which you can reply the number of people you have with you:
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.
The restaurant may also be separated by smoking and non-smoking areas, in that case, you are given a choice:
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 smoking or non-smoking seat?
喫煙席をお願いします (Kitsuenseki wo onegai shimasu) – Smoking area, please.
禁煙席をお願いします (Kinenseki wo onegaishimasu) – Non-smoking area, please.
Once that has all been worked out, the staff may say something similar to:
お席(おせき) へ ご案内(ごあんあい) いたします (O seki he goanai itashimasu) – I will show you to your seat.
When the resetaurant is full or has been fully booked they may 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 ha 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、は 満席(まんせき) になっております (Moushiwake gozaimasen. Tadaima manseki ni natte orimasu) – Sorry, we are full now (there are no seats available at the moment).
Unfortunately, then it is time to find a different restaurant.
Ordering from the Menu
It is common in Japan to call the waiter when you are ready to order, and a simple ‘すみません’ in a fairly moderate volume is enough to get someone’s enough attention. Alternatively, the staff may already by circling your table and just waiting for you to finalise your choices.
At first, you may want to also check if they have an English menu, to ensure you have a better idea of the options. Then you can try:
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?
To which they will either bring you the menu or politely apologise that they don’t.
Unsure of something you see on the menu? You could always ask:
それは 何(なん) ですか？ (Sore wa nan desu ka) – What is this? (by pointing to something on the menu)
In the event that they don’t have an English menu, you could always try to get their recommendation with:
オススメは何ですか？ (Osusume wa nan desu ka) – What do you recommend?
Once you have got that stage, it is customary to open with:
注文(ちゅうもん)をお願いします (Chuumon wo 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?
Ordering food or drink from the menu is basically the same, with the key difference being just the name. For example, ordering a beer is simply:
ビールをお願いします (Biiru wo onegai shimasu) – Can I have a beer, please.
The same applies to food, for example, if you would like the fried chicken from an izakaya:
唐揚げ(からあげ) をお願いします (Karaage wo onegai shimasu) – Can I have the fried chicken, please.
In terms of drinks, you can always ask for the same again with the simple phrase:
お代わり(おかわり) をお願いします (Okawari wo onegai shimasu) – Same again, please.
When you need to ask for more than one of something, you would usually insert the number after the beverage or dish name, for example:
ビールを 3つ(みっつ) お願いします (Biiru wo mittsu onegai shimasu) – Can I have 3 beers, please.
You can also combine your requests for example:
ビールを3つと、ワインを 1つ(ひとつ) お願いします (Biiru wo mittsu to, Wain wo hitotsu onegai shimasu) – Can I have 3 beers and 1 wine, please.
The above phrase can also be used for selecting meals.
Assuming everything has gone relatively smoothly, then the waiter will thank you for your order and tell you to wait for the food and drinks. 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 minute (Very Polite).
Finishing Up and Bill Payments
You’ve finished your meal and hopefully, it was good as your expected, and its now time to finalise the bill. You can actually make a simple gesture to request the check with your two index fingers in an X formation, similar to the picture below:
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 wo onegai shimasu) – Excuse me, can we have the bill/check, please.
In this phrase, ‘お会計’ (おかいけい or O kaikei) means the bill, but you can also use ‘チェック’ (ちぇっく or Chekku), which is another way to say bill or invoice.
Another alternative is just to use ‘ごちそうさま (でした)’ (Gochisousama (deshita)) indicating you are finished and thanking them for the meal, in which they understand it is time to bring you the bill. You can also use this phrase as you leave the premises, which is usually the best way to show appreciation for all the dishes you ate.
More Useful Phrases
There maybe circumstances where you need to make special requests, so we have provided the additional useful phrases below for menus:
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 vegitarian menu?
If you need to request an item without a particular ingredient you can use the following sentences:
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 wo nuki ni shite moraemasu ka?) – Can I have the salad without egg?