How to Order Food at a Japanese Restaurant in Fluent Japanese
Ordering food at a Japanese restaurant is quite straightforward. Much as in other countries, you can use a few gestures and individual words to communicate your order. However, if you learn some general restaurant phrases, the whole experience will go much more smoothly.
Plus, there may be times when you need to convey something specific about your order (such as an allergy). Or ask something specific (such as whether the restaurant does take-out). This article will teach you everything you need to know to place orders, ask questions, and make requests at any kind of Japanese restaurant.
How to Order FOOD at a Japanese Restaurant
If the part of Japan that you are visiting is metropolitan, some menus may have their items written in both Japanese and English. However, if you are patronizing a more traditional restaurant, or if you are in a more rural or suburban area, menus may have Japanese text only.
Here are some tips to remember:
1. Point at the item
If you do not read hiragana/katakana, or if the menu item is written in kanji only, or if it is simply a food with which you are unfamiliar, you can point at the item and ask:
Kore wa nan desu ka?
What is this?
2. Describe the item
If you want to be more specific with your question, you can use the same sentence construction but with other words in place of the “what”:
Kore wa niku desu ka?
Is this meat?
Kore wa su-pu desu ka?
Is this soup?
3. ask the ingredients
Food items with which you feel you are very familiar (such as cheeseburgers, pasta, or omelets) may still have unexpected ingredients (such as fish flakes or mayonnaise). If you have any allergies or strong preferences about particular ingredients, you may want to ask what is in a food item before ordering or purchasing it:
Kore ni nani ga haitte imasu ka?
What is in this?
Or, you may want to ask about particular ingredients:
Kore ni ____ ga haitte imasu ka?
Is there ____ in this?
4. ask to remove the ingredient
If you determine that a food item has an ingredient in it that you do not want or cannot eat, you can try ordering it sans that ingredient.
Depending on what it is, this may or may not be possible (for example, some restaurants may use a fish-based broth stock and thus be unable to make a fish-free version of some items). If your reason for avoiding the ingredient is a serious allergy, you may want to say so to make absolutely sure that you are not served anything that is made with that ingredient:
____ nashi ni dekimasu ka?
Can you make it without ____?
____ ni arerugi- ga arimasu
I am allergic to ____.
5. ask the inclusions
On the other hand, perhaps you want to ask whether something (such as soup, or salad) is included with what you are ordering:
Kore wa ____ tsuki desu ka?
Does this come with ____?
When talking about quantities, Japanese pairs numbers with counter words (also called measure words). Counter words indicate the type of object being counted – objects which are flat, for example, get a different counter word than objects which are electronic/mechanical devices.
There are more than a few common counter words, and which objects fit into which counter word category can be a little confusing even for native speakers. Fortunately, there is also a set of numbers that can be used without counter words if you feel unsure about which counter words to use.
These are the counter words:
- one 一つ hitotsu
- two 二つ futatsu
- three 三つ mittsu
- four 四つ yottsu
- five 五つ itsutsu
- six 六つ muttsu
- seven 七つ nanatsu
- eight 八つ yattsu
- nine 九つ kokonotsu
- ten 十 too
These ten numbers are native Japanese numbers. The numbers which are usually taught first to students of Japanese (ichi, ni san, etc) is a Sino-Japanese set of numbers. The native Japanese number set goes up only to ten, but for the purposes of ordering in a restaurant this is plenty sufficient.
Dango o san ko onegai shimasu
three dango, please.
Dango o mittsu onegai shimasu
three dango, please.
Dango are small sticky-rice-and-bean desserts. Because they are small and of no particular shape, they can be counted using a Sino-Japanese number plus the counter word “-ko.” You can use the generic native Japanese word “mittsu” if you do not know the counter word “-ko” – the sentence pattern is the same either way.
When leaving a restaurant in Japan, even a Western-style one, remember not to tip. Restaurants in Japan do not use a tip system, and if you leave a tip you may glance back and find that an employee is running to catch up with you and give you back your money.
Here are the tips on paying in Japanese restaurants
1. Ask if they accept credit cards
It is also a good idea to ask whether a restaurant takes credit cards before deciding to eat there. Some small-business restaurants in Japan do not take credit cards.
Kurejitto ka-do wa tsukaemasu ka?
Can I use a credit card?
2. Ask the price
To ask the price of a menu item, the sentence pattern is the same as when we were asking “What is it?,” just with the word “what” replaced with the word “how much”:
Kore wa ikura desu ka?
How much is this?
3. Confirm the price
Also similarly to the patterns at the beginning of this article, if you know the price of an item but want to confirm, you can simply replace the word “how much” with the price:
Kore wa nihyaku gojuu en desu ka?
Is this 250 yen?
4. Pronounce Yen Correctly
Note that in Japanese, yen is not pronounced yen – it is pronounced “en.” (Incongruously, the ¥ symbol is nevertheless used on a large percentage of prices. Sometimes the kanji for yen (円) is used instead).
5. Use one card to pay
Just as in other countries, you will often have the option of dividing payment between yourself and other people. But also same in other countries, if you are eating at a small business and paying by credit card, paying cumulatively using just one card may be more courteous.
Kaikei wa betsubetsu de onegai shimasu
Have the bills be separate, please.
That’s the end of our Japanese restaurant phrases for now! Many foods in Japan will seem strange or even off-putting at first glance. (Examples: fried soba noodles on a hotdog bun? Slimy and chewy seaweed salad?) But give them a try. They may not taste at all the way you would expect.
If you’re interested in reading about Japanese food, check out our article on different types of sushi. The range of foods that are considered sushi may surprise you. For example, I love sushi. But I do not eat fish or seafood!
If you have any questions, or if there are any future articles you would like to request, please leave us a comment.