To the uninitiated, ordering food in Japanese can be intimidating – and stressful. Sure, you can always just point and gesture, but that could mean getting the wrong thing! Besides, what’s the fun in that? Here's our quick and dirty guide on how to order food in Japanese.
If you want to enjoy the food and drinks that Japan has to offer, try picking up some of these key phrases to help you order. And, if you forget anything, menus at popular restaurants usually come with pictures! Eating out for a meal isn’t revolutionary: you go in, sit down, order, eat and then pay. So, don’t be worried about holding a complex conversation in Japanese just yet.
Let's get started!
How to Order Food in Japanese
Decide where you want to eat
This is your first step – what kind of food do you want? What kind of environment or ambiance are you looking for? There’s the large izakaya chains, like Watami, Shirokiya, Shoya, or Isomaru Suisan, where it might be easier for you to communicate. That’s not to say that the staff will speak English, but that there may be English menus available (with pictures). Or, if you’re looking for the “authentic” Japanese experience, there’s the smaller, family-run izakayas.
Here, you’ll have an open-table atmosphere and be able to mingle with the locals, but there’s usually no English to be found at places like this.
Entering the restaurant
When you enter the restaurant, you’ll be greeted with an “irasshai mase,” (いらっしゃいませ) which means “welcome.” You typically hear this greeting in restaurants, coffee shops, and stores.
Next, the host or hostess will probably ask you, “Nan mei sama desu ka?” (何名様ですか?) which means, “How many people?” Here, feel free to just raise your fingers with the number of people in your party.
Or, if you want an extra challenge:
1 person: Hitori desu
2 people: Futari desu
3 people: San nin desu
4 people: Yon nin desu
Then, your party will be taken to a table. Your waiter or waitress may tell you, “Kochira e douzo,” (こちらへどうぞ) or “Please sit here.” Upon sitting down you’ll get the menu, and your server may say, “Menyuu ni narimasu,” (メニューになります) for “Here is the menu.”
In Japan, it’s customary to order drinks first. After you’re seated, your server could ask, “Onomi mono wa?” (お飲み物は?) for “Would you like a drink?” or, “Onomi mono wa ika ga itashimasu ka?” (お飲み物はいかが致しますか?) for “What would you like to drink?” Luckily, ordering a drink in Japanese isn’t too hard. Some words sound like their English counterparts – beer is biiru (ビール-) and Coca Cola is koka koora (コカ・コーラ-).
Why order a beer first? For one, it’ll give you more time to look over the menu. Plus, the Japanese say that many things happen over the first glass of beer. And, they say that those who like beer have a lot of influence.
“Toriaezu, nama o kudasai!” – ”Draft beer, please!”
Want to order more than one? Let’s go through some basic numbers in Japanese:
1: hitotsu2: futatsu3: mitsu4: yotsu5: itsutu6: mutsuOne for every person: ninsu bun
“Biiru mitsu o kudasai!" – “Three beers, please!”
While you’re waiting on drinks, thumb through the menu. What food stands out to you? In most izakayas, salads, karaage (fried chicken), yakitori, edamame, or even pizza can be on the menu. Ready?
Call your server over by saying, “sumimasen,” (すみません) or “excuse me!”
Additionally, most Japanese restaurants will have a button at each table you can push to call over a server.After you get your drinks, they’ll ask you, “Gochuumon wa okimari desu ka?” (ご注文はお決まりですか?) for, “Have you decided what you want to order?”Now, let’s get on to the food – if you know what you want to order, follow this structure:
[Food] + [number] + [please]
“[...] wo hitotsu onegai shimasu” ([...] を一つお願いします) means, “Can I have one of … please?”
Want to order more than one thing at a time? Use the Japanese word “to” to mean “and.” “A tonkotsu ramen and a beer, please” is “Tonkotsu ramen to biiru onegai shimasu.” If you have a menu with pictures, ordering is as easy as pointing to what you want and saying, “Kore to kore to kore onegai shimasu” (“This one and this one and this one, please.”)
Once you’re done ordering, you can say, “Toriaezu, ijyo desu,” for “That’s it for now.”
Your server will then tell you, “Hai, shou shou omachi kudasai!” (はい、少々お待ち下さい) for, “Okay, please wait!”
Receiving your meal
When your drinks arrive, feel free to clink your glasses together with a “kanpai!” (cheers!). When your food arrives, it’s polite to say “itadakimasu,” which literally means, “receive,” to express gratitude for your meal. It’s kind of like the Italian “bon appetite” or the Spanish “provecho.” Now, enjoy your meal! Take your time to savor each dish – surely it’ll taste amazing. But, don’t forget what you ordered! It probably won’t all come out at once, so keep an eye out for what’s coming.
Getting the check
Once you’ve finished eating and you’re ready to leave, it’s time to ask for the check. To do that, just ask your waiter this: “Okanjou wo onegai shimasu?” (お勘定をお願いします) or, “Can I have the bill, please?”
In some places, paying the bill can be as easy as tapping on a touchscreen, or your server may ask you to pay at the cash register.
Leaving the restaurant
As you’re leaving the restaurant, it’s polite to thank the staff for your meal. This can be done in two ways:
Arigatō gozaimashita – this is “thank you,” but in past tense
or Gochisōsama deshita – this literally means “That was a feast,” but is the same as saying, “Thanks for the meal.”
And…. there you go! Now you know how to order food in Japanese.
With everything you’ve learned, you’ll be able to navigate izakayas, yakitori shops, and cafes with ease. Where will you go on your next adventure? Want to learn more Japanese? Check out our blog posts on the 30 basic phrases you need to know and why you should learn the language.