What is a standing restaurant? A standing restaurant is a restaurant where people have to stand while eating, albeit, there is usually still a limited number of chairs available. If you have traveled to Japan before, you might have already seen one. Standing restaurant is deemed unordinary for foreigners because it can only be found in Japan. Standing restaurants are not only popular among Japanese but also a good option for budget travelers due to their low-priced food (typically ranging from 300 to around 1,000 yen) and can be easily found in or nearby railway stations. No worries, the portion of food is enough to make you full. The cheap prices do not make the food portions smaller in return. So what should you know when you want to dine in a standing restaurant?
Standing restaurants can be effortlessly recognized by a ticket machine which is normally placed outside of the restaurant. So, it means that there is no one to take your order but you have to order your meal using the ticket machine. Prices and pictures are shown on the buttons and all you have to do is just select your meal and pay the amount displayed. To assist foreigners, normally names of the food are written in both Japanese and English.
Notwithstanding, if you cannot see any English words and have no idea about what you are looking at, there are a few Japanese words that you will normally see which are カレー (curry), 天ぷら (tempura), 牛 (cow or in this context, it can be understood as beef), チキン (chicken), 豚 (pork), ライス (rice), そば (soba), うどん (udon), and 丼 (don). Just by memorizing all these words, it may help you in selecting your meal. For instance, if “カレーうどん” is displayed, it means Curry Udon and “天ぷらうどん” means Tempura Udon. Once you have paid the required amount, you will get a meal ticket. Then, go into the restaurant and hand it over to the staff at the counter.
Before moving to the next point, just for your information, if you happen to dine in other types of restaurants, say a conventional restaurant or fast food restaurant and there is no English translation on the menu, you can always ask for an English menu from the staff which I had no problem to get one during my stay in Japan. Though some restaurants in less touristy places may not have it, you should have no problems for obtaining an English menu in popular restaurants like McDonald’s.
One of the reasons why food in standing restaurants is cheaper is because you have to serve yourself. There is no one to serve you at all other than the chef whose job is to cook you a mouth-watering meal. If you expect a beautiful Japanese waitress to take your order and bring your food all the way from the kitchen to your table, perhaps standing restaurants will not meet your dining preference. So, once you have handed over your meal ticket to the staff, DO NOT GO STRAIGHT TO YOUR TABLE AND WAIT! Just wait at the counter and queue up if necessary until your food is prepared (no worries, it will not take too long, typically within 10 minutes and the staff will call out the name of the food served).
One thing that you should bear in mind is, the ticket collected will normally not be returned, so make sure you know what you are ordering to avoid taking other’s food (it is quite an embarrassment, isn’t it?) Or, to be safe, always confirm with the staff if the food served is what you ordered. If yes, you can now steadily grab your meal to your table. As mentioned earlier, it is a standing restaurant, so if all the chairs are occupied, you have to go to the “standing area” to enjoy your meal.
Normally in any standing restaurant, an empty cup will be given along with your meal at the counter. So, where are the drinks? What can you drink with an empty cup? Well, listen, guys! The good news for you here is, in Japan, cold plain water is normally served free not only in standing restaurants but in any restaurants (except for fast food restaurants) and it is REFILLABLE! So if you are a budget traveler and do not wish to spend extra money on drinks, Japan is definitely an ideal country to travel!
Back to the topic, a water machine is normally placed near the counter and that is where you can refill your cup. If you are not sure with the contains of the machine, try to look for the Kanji (Chinese character) “水” which means water in both Japanese and Chinese. What I have to tell you here is, the water is normally cold. But why? Well, in Japan, it is customary to serve cold water to customers even during winter. It is a Japanese tradition that means the restaurant owner is welcoming his customers with utmost respect. What if you need warm water or anything else? No worries, you can always ask the staff for assistance.
As I mentioned earlier, you are expected to lessen the shop owner’s burden in return for getting cheaper food. So you should never leave your bowl and cup on the table after treating your hungry stomach. Instead, you have to take everything along with the tray to the “return counter.” That is where you should return the bowls, plates, cups, etcetera after finishing your meal! There are typically two counters in every standing restaurant, one is the counter where people collect their meals, and another one is where people return the dishes which is normally next or adjacent to the first counter (where you collect your meal). If you can read Japanese, sometimes there is a small piece of board with the kanji “返却口” written on it (as shown in the picture above). That is the returning counter!
While Japan has a vast range of food to offer, dining in a standing restaurant should be something that you ought to try at least once in Japan. It does not only impress your taste buds with authentic Japanese cuisine but also provide you an opportunity to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture. In fact, standing restaurants are very popular among the Japanese, especially those who do not fancy spending too much on food. Thus, when you travel to Japan next time, go to a standing restaurant and eat like a Japanese!