A linguistic journey through Japanese restaurant culture

Naturally, wherever we travel, we want to get to know the local cuisine. But each country has its own rules and subtleties, even in such simple matters as going to a restaurant. How do we behave in a restaurant abroad and how do we place an order? Let’s find out!

Japanese cuisine is one of the most popular in the world and is continuously gaining more fame as it is considered to be not only beautiful but healthy as well. However, finding a Japanese restaurant with an English-speaking staff is unexpectedly hard. Surely, you can go with the flow and try to place an order using gestures or basic English. Or you can try placing an order in Japanese with our Japanese phrases guide from this article!

Entering a Japanese restaurant the Japanese way

You can notice small shelves when entering some restaurants. It might be surprising, but they are usually designed for shoes. Therefore, it is only natural that you take off your shoes, placing them in one of the drawers before you enter the restaurant.
When entering, be ready to be met by the staff, whose job is to show you to your place. This is a practice even in small restaurants. In diners like McDonald’s, however, you are free to choose your own spot.

As you get into the restaurant you will be met with the Japanese greeting “Irasshaimase!” (いらっしゃいませ!). This is the phrase Japanese people use to meet customers in all shops and restaurants in Japan. A question that might follow is “Nan-mei-sama desu ka?” (何名さまですか?). If you hear this, it means that the staff asks for the number of guests. You can either combine a number with the Japanese suffix for a person (人 which is read ‘nin’ or ‘ri’). Also, 名 (mei) is commonly used along with 人 E.g. Ni mei desu (二名です) Alternatively, you can show the number with your fingers as kids do. This is something Japanese people often do, so don’t worry – nobody is going to judge you.

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Japanese phrases for ordering food

Japanese PhrasesWhen you are ready to order, you can call your waiter by loudly saying “Sumimasen!” (すみません), which literally translates to “excuse me”. As we have already written in the previous article, you shouldn’t be scared to raise your voice. Speaking loudly is not considered rude in a Japanese restaurant.

When your waiter reaches your table they will as if you’re ready with your order, which will sound like this: “Go chūmon wa okimaridesu ka” (ご注文はお決まりですか). To make an order in Japanese, you will need to name the dish you would like to order and the number of such dishes. For example:
English phrase: Three tempura dishes, please.
Japanese phrase: Tenpura se tto, mittsu kudasai (天ぷらセット、3つください).
“Kudasai” means “please” and it’s the exact word to use when you want to ask for something nicely and politely. In the case you can’t pronounce or read the name of the dish, you can just point at it on the menu and say “Kore o kudasai” (これをください).

What to say when your order is late

There are people who consider the service in Japanese restaurants one of the best in the world. However, it is still possible for your order to get slowed down even in a Japanese restaurant. If you’re waiting for a long time, wondering what happened to your food, then you can use this simple phrase:
English phrase: The tempura I ordered hasn’t come yet…
Japanese phrase: Chūmon shite ita tenpura ga mada kite inai ndesukedo… (注文していた天ぷらがまだ来ていないんですけど…)
Where you should switch the underlined words with the name of the dish you have ordered.

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The language you need to ask for the bill

When you’re ready to pay, you can loudly say the already known phrase “Sumimasen!” When the waiter comes to your table use the phrase (Okaikei onegaishimasu, お会計お願いします) to ask for your bill. In Japanese eating places, the bill is usually left on a shelf under the table or by your side. After receiving it, you should go to the cashier, who is usually located by the entrance. Don’t forget that most Japanese restaurants work with cash. It is also very important to know that Japanese are not used to tips. As strange as it might sound – don’t leave a tip on the table. More often than not, the staff will just consider you have forgotten it and will run after you to give you the money back.

We hope this short guide on Japanese phrases which we have taken straight out of the experience of our Japanese translators and localization experts, will be useful for your understanding of the Japanese culture. Whenever you need a localization or translation advice, we are just a click away!