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Ultimate Guide to Ordering Food in Japanese

By Yuki Kobayashi Purwanto | February 25, 2022

We know Japan has some of the world's greatest cuisine. But, eating out in Japan can also be annoying and stressful, especially when ordering food in Japanese and the staff could ask you something that you don't understand. Sure, you can always just point and gesture, but you could accidentally say something misleading or foolish right? Besides, what’s the fun in that? 

All this time you are trying to find ways to overcome your fears of ordering food in Japanese. Luckily, this guide will help teach you how to order food in Japanese using typical words and phrases told by waiters and servers. We will also provide you with extra valuable keywords that you may use in unexpected situations such as(the food is taking too long, wrong order, and canceling order).

You might also wonder why many restaurants in Japan do not have workers that are fluent in English or even English menus. Many foreigners find it difficult to communicate with staff, particularly in restaurants and izakaya. That is why this guide will help you in ordering food in Japanese that will make your dining experience more enjoyable. Thanks to this easy ordering guide, you'll be eating wonderful Japanese food that you proudly ordered! So make sure you read all the way to the end! 

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    How to order food in Japanese

    Ordering food in Japanese restaurants

    If you are wondering, where can I eat delicious food in Japan? Don't worry, Japan has a wide variety of restaurants of all styles, ranging from very high-end to mid-range and fast food. If you live in Tokyo or most of Japan's populous cities, you will almost certainly never run out of dining alternatives. 

    There are several affordable "family eateries" restaurants, izakaya, and ramen shops operating 24 hours a day that provide pretty tasty meals. Chinese and Italian cuisine, as well as Indian-style curries and Korean cuisine, are also particularly popular. Large cities also include British-style pubs, which are a popular alternative for evenings out. In Japan, international fast food companies such as McDonald's and Burger King are also extremely popular, and they provide specialty foods that are not accessible in other countries.

    You might feel anxious about ordering food in Japanese and the fact that you may need to communicate anything special about your order at times such as an allergy. Or even ask a particular question such as whether the restaurant does take-out. So sit back and relax, because we created this guide that will teach you all the steps and key phrases you need to know from making a reservation until leaving the restaurant.

    How can I make a reservation in Japanese restaurant/izakaya

    What kind of food do you want? What kind of environment or ambiance are you looking for? This is your first step which is to decide where you want to eat. There are huge izakaya chains, such as Watami, Shirokiya, or Shoya, where communication may be simpler. That isn't to mean that the employees will be fluent in English; nevertheless, English menus may be accessible (with pictures). Smaller, family-run izakaya are also available if you're searching for a more "genuine" Japanese experience and you will enjoy an open-table environment and the opportunity to socialize with the locals.

    Is there any restaurant that doesn't allow smoking? Yes!, smoke-free restaurants exist in Japan, as do various restaurants that are divided into smoking/non-smoking areas. So no need to worry if you are a non-smoker, since times are changing in Japan, and more and more facilities and areas are now completely non-smoking or have a small room or area designated specifically for smoking. You might be lucky to enjoy a good meal without worrying about inhaling secondhand smoke. 

    Although, keep in mind that izakaya in Japan is most likely a smoking restaurant. Of course, if it's a smoking restaurant, you just have to deal with it, because they are well within their rights to smoke. So make sure to do some research before deciding where you want to eat!

    After you decide on a restaurant to go to, now it's time for you to make a reservation! Note that some restaurants are quite busy during the opening hours so it is best to reserve beforehand. Now before you start dialing, remember that you're calling a restaurant in Japan. You need to be polite. To make your request more polite, you could simply add です(desu) at the end. 

    For example, “...予約をしたいです”(youyaku wo shitaidesu). This means, "I'd like to make a reservation." 

    You could also say “...予約をしたいんですが”(youyaku wo shitaindesuga) which means the same thing but it is more polite. 

    Now that you know how to ask for a reservation, you're ready to start giving them information for when, how many people, your name, your telephone number, and make sure to say thank you before ending the call. These are the key information that you need to share with the staff. 

    Let's say you want to reserve a tonkatsu (cutlet) restaurant. I will show you how the conversation goes:

    *Telephone ringing

     

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    Restaurant

    はい。とんかつ亭別府本店でございます。

    Hai. Tonkatsu-tei Beppu honten de gozaimasu

    Hello! This is Tonkatsu-tei Beppu Honten

    You

    こんにちは。ディナーの予約をしたいんですけど… 

    Konnichiwa. Diina no youyaku wo shitain desukedo

    Hi! Well, I'd like to make a reservation for dinner, and…

    Restaurant

    はい。予約はいつにしますか?

    Hai. Youyaku wa itsu ni shimasuka?

    Sure. When do you want to reserve?

    You

    3月2日の木曜日、5時にお願いしたいんです。

    San gatsu futsuka no mokuyoubi, go-ji ni onegaishitain desu

    At five on Thursday, March 2nd, but… (is that possible?)

    Restaurant

    かしこまりました。何名様ですか?

    Kashikomarimashita. Nanmei sama desuka?

    Understood. For how many people?

    You

    二人です。

    Futari desu.

    Two people.

    Restaurant

    お名前と連絡先をお願いします。

    Onamae to renraku saki wo onegaishimasu

    Can I get your name, address and telephone number?

    You

    (name)...です。

    (name)...です。

    My name is…

    You

    (telephone number)...です。

    (telephone number)...です。

    My telephone number is…

    Restaurant

    かしこまりました。3月2日の木曜日、5時に二人でよろしいでしょうか。

    Kashikomarimashita. San gatsu futsuka no mokuyoubi, go-ji ni futari de yoroshidesyouka

    Understood. So reservation for two people at five on Thursday, March 2nd. 

    You

    はい。お願いします。

    Hai. onegaishimasu

    Thank you very much!

    Congrats! Now you just made a reservation and completed the first step. Now that you have reserved the restaurant/izakaya, be careful not to come late and be on time! If you are still not confident or confused about the phrases, you can go check this article on useful Japanese phrases to help you make a reservation in Japanese like a native!

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    Japanese phrases for entering izakaya

    How should I respond to the greetings by the staff when entering the restaurant?

    What should I do if I don't make a reservation? Well, don't worry because you can also just enter the store right away in most cases just like you would back home. The moment you enter the store, you will be greeted with a "いらっしゃいませ”(irasshai mase), which means "Welcome," as you go inside the store. This greeting is commonly heard in restaurants, coffee shops, and izakayas. 

    What should you say in return? Absolutely nothing. Your turn to speak comes after they proceed to ask you "何名様ですか?”(Nan mei sama desu ka?) which will most likely be the first question from the waiter/waitress. This is a question that asks, "How many people?" You could reply “二人です”(futari desu) for two people, etc. Or you could simply raise your fingers to indicate the number of guests at your party. 

    • 1 person: ひとり(hitori
    • 2 people: ふたり(futari
    • 3 people and above: number + にん (nin)
      E.g. 5 people would be ごにん (go nin)

    After that, you will be led to a table. Then, the waiter/waitress will say "こちらへどうぞ(kochira e douzo) meaning "Please sit here" to show you your table. Once you are seated, you will be given a menu and your waitress may say, "メニューになります”(menyuu ni narimasu) which translates to "Here is the menu."

    Asking for recommendations when ordering in Japanese

    If you are new to the restaurant/izakaya and you are having a hard time picking your order, then you could also ask for a recommended menu by asking the staff about the “おすすめ” (osusume). "Osusume'' is a term used to describe a product or service that someone recommends because it refers to a good or popular dish that the restaurant highly recommends to all clients. In this scenario, you could easily say this to the staff:

    “おすすめは何ですか?”

    (Osusume wa nandesuka?)

    “What do you recommend?” 

    Ordering in Japanese from an English menu

    If you don't feel comfortable reading a Japanese menu, you can request an English menu by simply asking:

    "英語のメニューはありますか?"

    (Eigo no menyuu wa arimasu ka?

    “Do you have an English menu?”

    Remember that not all restaurants have an English menu and you most likely have to read kanji/hiragana. 

    If you are like me, having a hard time learning and memorizing Kanji, then go take a look at this guide to learning Japanese kanji. This article will help break down the steps you need to be able to master Japanese kanji, provide resources for efficient study, and most importantly actually remember them.

    You have only needed to use basic words or phrases like "はい" (hai - “Yes”) or "ありがとうございます" (arigatou gozaimasu – “Thank you”) up to this point in your eating experience, but now get ready to level up your Japanese!

    A step by step guide to ordering food and drinks in Japanese

    A step by step guide to ordering food and drinks in Japanese

    You have finally reached the very important step! It’s about time to order your food! When you are ready to order, you must call the waiter or waitress to your table. Raise your hand, make eye contact, and say "Sumimasen" in a loud voice (this means "Excuse me") or if available, press a call button on the table. You may notice that Japanese people tend to say "Sumimasen" quite loudly to get the staff’s attention unlike in other countries where you simply wait and make eye contact. 

    Once you have the attention of the staff. It is quite simple to order food or drink items in Japanese. Simply ask for a favor by saying "kudasai," or "onegaishimasu," followed by the name of the item and the quantity you want to order.

    [Food/drink name] + wo + [Quantity] + [Asking for a favor]

    Let's pretend you want to order one Ramen and you are going to say...

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    ラーメンを一つお願いします

    Ramen wo hitotsu onegaishimasu

    Can I have one Ramen, please?

    [Food/Drink]

    [Quantity]

    [Asking for a favor]

    Ramen + wo

    hitotsu

    onegaishimasu

    This is good if you just want to get one of each item, but there may be occasions when you need to order more. To do so, you'll need to use a different counter to describe the quantity. When ordering food or drinks, there are several counters to choose from, two in particular that will get you through any situation: the "tsu" counter and the "ko" counter. 

    It's simple to use the "ko" counter. Most numbers may be expressed simply by saying the number followed by "ko." The other counter, "tsu," is more common, but it is also more difficult to use because most of the numbers don't seem like conventional numbers. So here are the “ko” and “tsu” counters for numbers one to ten.

    Number

    Ko

    Tsu

    one

    ikko

    hitotsu

    two

    niko

    futatsu

    three

    sanko

    mitsu

    four

    yonko

    yotsu

    five

    goko

    itsutsu

    six

    rokko

    mutsu

    seven

    nanako

    nanatsu

    eight

    hakko

    yatsu

    nine

    kyūko

    kokonotsu

    ten

    jukko

    If you are looking for useful tips to help you learn counting numbers and quantities in Japanese, then go ahead and check our comprehensive guides to counting in Japanese.

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    ordering drinks in Japanese pubs

    Ordering drinks in Japanese

    In most restaurants, ordering beverages before ordering food is a bit odd, but in izakaya (drink-only restaurants), you order your drink first. Why order a beer first? Well, because it will give you more time to look over the menu. Plus, once everyone has their drink in their hand, you can toast or clink your glasses together with your friends or colleagues with a “Kanpai !” (cheers!). 

    Anyway, the staff will ask what would you like to drink?

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    お飲み物は何にしますか?

    Onomi mono wa nani ni shimasuka?

    What would you like to drink?

    To which you reply by following the [Drink name] + [Quantity] + [Asking for a favor] format. Let's say you want to order a beer: 

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    ビールを一つお願いします

    Biiru wo hitotsu onegaishimasu

    One beer, please

    ordering food in Japanese izakaya

    Ordering food in Japanese

    While you're waiting for your beverages, have a look at the menu. What dish has a special place in your heart? Depending on the restaurant, food such as salad, Karaage (juicy fried chicken), yakitori, edamame (boiled green soybeans), fried potato (potato chips), and potato salad are common izakaya orders. In general, each person costs around 3,000-4,000 yen (US$30-40) in an izakaya and you may sample a variety of dishes for a very reasonable price.

    When you are ready to order, call your server over by saying, “Sumimasen” (すみません) or “Excuse me!”. Most Japanese restaurants will have a button at each table. You can also push the button to call over a server.

    After serving your drinks, the waiter/waitress will ask you:

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    ご注文はお決まりですか?

    Gochuumon wa okimari desu ka?

    Have you decided what you want to order?

    When you are ready to order, remember to follow the structure as mentioned before. In this case, it would be [Food name] + [Quantity] + [Asking for a favor].

    Let's say you want to order one karaage:

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    唐揚げを一つお願いします

    Karaage wo hitotsu onegaishimasu

    Can I have one Karaage, please…

    Once you’re done ordering, you can say, “Toriaezu, ijou desu,” for “That’s it for now.” 

    The staff then will say:

     “はい、少々お待ち下さい” 

    (Hai, shou shou omachi kudasai) 

    “Okay, please wait”

    And congratulations! You have successfully ordered your food!

    When your food arrives, don't forget to say “itadakimasu” before digging in. This word literally means “receive”, and is a polite way of expressing your gratitude for the meal that has been provided for you. If you are a complete beginner that has just started to learn Japanese but has no idea what to do when you go out to eat in restaurants or cafes, we have that covered for you in one of our articles on a guide to beginner Japanese.

    Making a special request

    Many sorts of meals that you have never seen before may be found in Japan. Even if the menu includes images of the dish, you may not recognize it. You may also wish to make specific requests concerning your purchase, such as replacing an item or telling your allergies. Most people have some ingredients that they can't or won't consume. If this is the case, it is critical that you learn the term for the food item as well as how to express your dissatisfaction. Here are several phrases that you can use to inquire about the cuisine and make requests for your order. 

    ”これはなんですか?” 

    (Kore wa nandesuka?)

    What is this?

    ”これは辛い/酸っぱい/甘い/苦いですか?”

    (Kore wa karai/suppai/amai/nigai desuka?)

    Is this spicy/sour/sweet/bitter?

    “…は入っていますか?”

     (...wa haitte imasuka?)

     Does this have…in it?

    Let's say you are going to order Ramen but you don't like onion, what should I say if I don't want any onion in my Ramen? Well, you can say:

    “玉ねぎを抜きにしてもらえますか?”

    (Tama-negi wo nuki ni shite moraemasuka?)

    Can I have it without onions?

    Below are examples of common situations/unexpected circumstances that you may encounter in a restaurant/izakaya. The following are the phrases you can use in those situations and remember to start your sentence by saying Sumimasen.

    What to say when you’ve been waiting for your food for 30 minutes or more.

    “すみません、注文した(food name)は後どのぐらいかかりますか?”

    (Sumimasen, chuumon shita (food name) wa ato dono gurai kakarimasuka?)

    Excuse me, how long will it take to get the (food name) I ordered?

    What to say when you’d like to cancel something you ordered.

    “すみません、注文した(food name)をキャンセルしたい”

    (Sumimasen, chuumon shita (food name) wo kyanseru shitai)

    Excuse me, I'd like to cancel my order of (food name).

    What to say when you receive the wrong order.

    “すみません、これは私が注文した料理ではありません。取り替えてもらえますか?”

    (Sumimasen, kore wa watashi ga chuumon shita ryouri de wa arimasen. Tori kaete moraemasuka?)

    Excuse me, this is not the dish that I ordered. Could you please replace it?

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    Bills and Payment

    Once you have finished eating and you are ready to leave, it is time to ask for the check. To do this, you can simply say: 

    Japanese

    Romaji

    English

    すみません、お会計をお願いします

    Sumimasen. Okaikei wo onegaishimasu

    Excuse me, check please

    In many places, the check is left after all of your meals have come. (Of course, when you receive the check, you can add your order.) You take the check and proceed to the cashier or you could also pay the bills by tapping on a touchscreen pad. If it isn't that sort of place, then you should ask for the check. The cashier is usually at the front door near the entrance. Keep in mind that not every restaurant/izakaya only accepts credit cards. When eating at such a place, make sure you have cash on hand. Also, keep in mind that you are not required to tip in any circumstances!

    If you go to a restaurant with a group, you may be asked;

    Staff: “お会計はご一緒ですか?”

    (Okaikei wa goissho desuka?)

     Do you pay altogether?

    You: “いいえ。別々に払います”。

    (iie. Betsu betsu ni haraimasu)

    No. We pay separately.

    If the server doesn’t ask if you pay separately but you want to do it, you can ask:

    “別々に払えますか?”

    (Betsu betsu ni harae masuka?) 

    Can we pay separately?

    How can I politely thank the staff in Japanese?

    Keep in mind to thank the employees for your meal as you leave the restaurant/izakaya. When you leave the restaurant, the staff will say:

    “ありがとうございました”

    (Arigatou gozaimashita)

    Thank you very much!

    You can respond to this greeting simply by bowing, but you can also say:

    1. ありがとうございました (arigatou gozaimashita)
    2. ごちそうさまでした (gochisousama deshita)

    This expression is usually used when you finish the meal, appreciating the food, the cook who made the dish, and the fact that you can eat the food. But when you say “ごちそうさまでした” to servers, it shows your gratitude towards the food and their services. And there you have it! You now know how to place a Japanese cuisine order. You'll be able to navigate izakaya, yakitori businesses, and cafés with ease once you've learned what you've studied.

    ordering Japanese food online

    Ordering delivery service

    We all have those days when we just want to lay down in our bed and are too lazy to get out of the room, but we can't seem to get that delicious sushi roll out of our heads. Well, don't be concerned. Thankfully, Japan has absurdly convenient online food delivery services. One of the "go-to" delivery services such as Demae-can is very convenient when we don't feel like cooking or going out to eat. 

    The drawback of using this delivery service on a website or in your phone app is that the website does not offer an English option, and it can be difficult for those who cannot read Kanji. On top of that, it also requires a Japanese telephone number. Of course, many browsers offer page translation, but that isn't always the reliable solution. While there are other delivery websites that are offered in English, Demae-can has far more choice and reasonable prices than any others. If you are still struggling ordering from their browser or phone app and you prefer to call them right away, then this article will show you the useful Japanese expressions to use when ordering through a phone call.

    Concluding Remarks

    So there you have it! All the essential Japanese words to get you through your next meal in Japan. Try them out the next time you go out to eat and let us know how they turn out. We hope this guide helps you order food in Japanese at restaurants and makes your dining experiences much more fun!

    If you are thinking of stepping out of the foreign or English-speaking bubble you’ve built and challenging yourself to speak more Japanese, we have created a special guide to improve your Japanese conversation skills here.

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