Going to restaurants and ordering food are essential activities in our daily lives, regardless of which country we are in. Especially in a country where the native language isn’t English, it can prove to be rather difficult to get your foodie desires across to the waiter.
In Japan, the first language of the country is Japanese. Even though the locals are taught English in school, don’t count on them being anywhere near fluent; they’re more on the level of easy and basic words. Going to a Japanese restaurant with little to no idea on how to communicate your order in their native language can be an issue.
To make your Japanese restaurant visit a more seamless experience, why not learn a few easy phrases? It’s a great step to immerse yourself in the culture during your Japan trip. For those looking to or are already learning Japanese, they’re perfect to get the language learning ball rolling.
What are you waiting for — read on for 10 easy phrases you need to know when you visit a Japanese restaurant!
1. Sumimasen (すみません)
One of the first few things you will need to do when in a restaurant is getting the waiter’s attention so he can make his way to your table and take your order. What do you say during that situation in a Japanese restaurant? The Japanese equivalent of “excuse me” is sumimasen (すみません).
Just like how you would raise your hand up in the air and call out to your waiter, instead of saying “excuse me”, try saying “sumimasen” instead. This word is extremely versatile — it can be used in numerous situations, just like English’s “excuse me”.
Other than to get your waiter’s attention, you can also use it when you need to get across a bunch of people to go somewhere or even when you accidentally bump shoulders with someone. Basically any situation where you can use “excuse me”, you can use “sumimasen”.
2. Kore kudasai (これください)
You’ve decided what you want to order. You’ve got the waiter’s attention. Now all you need to do is to order from the menu. What do you say in that situation? Easy enough — just point at the item you want and say “kore kudasai” (これください) which translates to “this, please”.
If you’re looking to order more than one item, just add “to” (と) in between each item, or “kore” (これ) in this situation. For example, if you have three items, point at each one and say “kore to kore to kore kudasai” (これとこれとこれください).
You can even say it like how you would in English — by pausing at the commas; so it would be “kore, kore to kore kudasai” (これ、これとこれください). Isn’t that as simple as ABC?
3. … wa arimasuka? (。。はありますか？)
Want something but you don’t see it on the menu? Ask the waiter if they offer it at the restaurant you’re dining at. How, you ask? Well, simply add the item name before “wa arimasuka” (はありますか) to ask “Do you have …?”
For example, you’re craving for coca-cola but the drinks menu only has juices and cocktails. Ask the waiter, “koka kora wa arimasuka?” (コカコラはありますか？) He’ll either respond yes or no, and you’ll be able to figure it out based on the body gestures. For reference, yes is “hai” (はい) and no is “iie” (いいえ).
A bonus tip: if the waiter says that they do have the item you enquire about and you would like to order it, respond with “jaa, koka kora onegaushimasu” (じゃあ、コカコラお願いします) to order your refreshing glass of fizzy sweet drink.
4. Tennai de (店内で)
Some might argue that you won’t need this phrase, but I personally have been in quite a few situations where I have to use this. Especially for cafes and bistros — not so much dine in-only restaurants — the staff that greets you at the door would ask if you’re eating in or getting takeout.
To dine in, use the phrase “tennai de (店内で) which literally translates to “in store”. This means that you’re going to be in the store while you savour the food you’re ordering. Another way of saying it — a less common way but still understandable — is “koko de tabemasu” (ここで食べます) which means “I’ll be eating here”.
Of course, if you’re taking out, you can just say the Japanese way of pronouncing “take out” which is “teku outo” (テークアウト).
5. Dorinku wa tabemono no ato de kudasai (ドリンクは食べ物の後でください)
In Japan, you’ll always be given a choice of getting your drink served before your main meal or after. The staff will more often than not ask for your preference. Usually, drinks are served after so that you’ll be able to enjoy them freshly made instead of it being diluted (if you ordered iced) or cold (if you ordered a hot drink).
To request to have your drink served after the main dish, just say to the waiter “dorinku wa tabemono no ato de kudasai” (ドリンクは食べ物の後でください). This roughly translates to “serve the drink after the meal, please”.
6. Omizu kudasai (お水ください)
In Japan, you will always be served with complimentary water. I personally love this aspect of customer service. What’s more, you’ll get free refills! Most of the time, the waiter that goes around checking on the guests are the ones refilling the cups of water automatically when they see any empty, but there’s also a chance of them missing yours out.
In that case, call out to the water and say “omizu kudasai” (お水ください) which translates to “water, please”. You can also use this phrase when the restaurant doesn’t automatically serve water to you at the start. Don’t worry, they’re almost always complimentary, even if it’s not served at the start.
7. Osusume wa nandesuka? (オススメはなんですか？)
If you’re like me, you’ll always want to order the chef’s recommendation menu item or the most popular one — especially if it’s at a restaurant I haven’t been to before. I wouldn’t want to spend on something that’s second-best; I want the best!
Get the waiter’s attention and ask what he would recommend on the menu. To do that, say “osusume wa nandesuka?” (オススメはなんですか？) which means “what are your recommendations?” Don’t be taken aback when the waiter replies in all Japanese — simply gesture him to point at the menu. Most of the time, they will.
8. Okaikei onegaishimasu (お会計お願いします)
After your delicious, hefty meal, you’re satisfied and full — and it’s time to get going to your next adventure in Japan. If the bill isn’t already on your table (the Japanese tend to have a system of billing the customers before they even have a bite), ask for it. Call out to the waiter, “okaikei onegaishimasu” (お会計お願いします) which translates to “bill, please”.
Once you’ve got your bill, there are two ways to pay them: either the waiter comes to you with a bill holder or you’ll be given a slip to hand it to the cashier who’s usually at the entrance of the restaurant. Most of the time, it’s the latter situation.
9. Betsu betsu de haraimasu (別々で払います)
When you’re eating out with a group of friends, splitting the bill can get rather confusing. Who ate what, how is it splitting, tax-calculating, having exact change and payment method — there are so many things to consider. It’s supposed to be a leisurely meal, not a calculating episode.
Don’t worry, Japan has got you covered. Almost all of the restaurants and other eateries have gotten the system of splitting the bill set up. Simply tell the cashier “betsu betsu de haraimasu” (別々で払います) to mean “we’re paying separately”. Then, tell the cashier what menu items are yours and they’ll key in the exact amount, including tax, for you. It’s as easy as that! No hassle about calculation — it’ll all be done for you!
10. Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした)
You’ve had a wonderful time at the restaurant and enjoyed the delicious meals and the high quality of customer service. You’d want to show your gratitude and appreciation. However, unlike in other countries, Japan has no tipping culture. How does one do it then?
Before you go out the door, turn back and say “gochisousama deshita” (ごちそうさまでした) to whichever staff that is sending you off. This phrase has a few different meanings, but it roughly translates to “thank you for the food”. It’s a common saying after a meal in Japanese culture to show appreciation to the person or place that provided your meal.
And there you have it; you’re on your way to ordering like a pro at any Japanese restaurant! Don’t worry if you don’t remember all the phrases or any helping vocabularies — the pointing technique usually works for most. It does take a while to get used to, but rest assured that by the time you’re ordering food at your tenth restaurant, you’re more than capable. Who knows, you might even know more than what is on this list!