‘Irasshaimase’ is a very common Japanese phrase which means ‘welcome’ or ‘please come in’, and it can often be heard when you step into a restaurant in Japan. Imagine the scenario of the staff greeting you, then leading you to your assigned table. Now, if you are new to Japan, you may ask yourself the following questions: Do I pay before or after I eat? How do I read the menu in Japanese? Do I have to pay for the drink that they served but that I didn’t order?
For foreigners who are not used to the systems and cultural practices in Japan, these kinds of questions will probably pop into your mind when you go out to eat. This article will give you a few tips to help you have a satisfactory and stress-free meal!
Being served a glass of water when you take your seat at a restaurant in Japan is pretty common. However, some restaurants in Japan will serve you tea instead, and sometimes the tea might be so nice that you will wonder whether it comes free of charge. The answer is yes!
Further to this, you can even get refills of these drinks throughout your meal, or specify whether you want a hot or cold beverage. This aspect of service when dining out is a huge part of Japanese culture and a good fact to know before trying out a restaurant.
Unfortunately, not all restaurants, cafes, or eateries in Japan offer an English menu, even in popular tourist areas and shopping malls. Places that have an English menu will tend to have a sign at the entrance or near the cashier that might say something like “English menu available here”.
You might be surprised to find that some of the older looking restaurants near famous tourist areas might have English menus, and some more modern looking establishments may not. Certain restaurants even have a Chinese menu, due to the increasing number of Chinese tourists in Japan. In the case that there is no English menu available, you can always check the display windows and cabinets, many of which show pictures or plastic replicas of the dishes available!
One important thing to know is that on occasion, Japanese and English menus may differ in terms of what they offer. It’s not uncommon that an English menu may show fewer dishes than its Japanese counterpart, perhaps because the restaurant doesn’t know the English word or just translates the dishes tourists tend to enjoy most. Therefore, do try to compare the two menus before ordering, and always ask if you have any inquiries.
Eateries in Japan usually provide you with a pair of chopsticks for eating noodles, with the exception of, for example, western-style restaurants serving spaghetti. If you are not familiar with chopsticks, don’t try and force yourself. You can always ask for a fork or a spoon, and staff will be happy to provide these for you.
If you are served disposable chopsticks, please be mindful not to rub them against each other to get rid of the small bamboo or wood strands. This might be a tempting thing to do but will be viewed as a rude gesture. Also, drinking your soup straight from the bowl without a spoon is pretty common in Japan and not seen as rude at all. You should definitely try it out!
You will usually find that restaurants who offer a takeaway service will hand you a separate menu. Some options on the dine-in menu might not be available for takeout. However, if you are unable to finish your food, you can request the leftovers to be packed up so you can bring them home. While this request might have been rejected a few years back, it has become more common now and will usually be fine.
However, it is still down to each individual restaurant to decide whether they allow this or not. Do not be surprised if your request is rejected, particularly if you go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. One reason restaurants may not offer to pack up leftovers for you is that they don’t want to give customers any chance of getting food poisoning if food is left for too long.
Paying the bill in Japan is always done after the meal, and has to be made at the counter. Usually, you will be provided with a bill slip after ordering and you will have to bring that slip to the counter for payment at the end of the meal.
Giving tips at restaurants in Japan is a no-no, even at western-style restaurants or high-end establishments. It is considered to be a rude gesture in Japan, and will most likely not be accepted at a restaurant. However, you can show your appreciation by praising their food and they will be more than happy. After all, serving good food should be the main focus of the restaurant.
Dining in Japan is not troublesome as long as you know the rules. Armed with these facts, I hope that you can dine comfortably in this country! If you are still worried about making mistakes, don’t worry too much! Customer service here is known to be helpful and eager to assist, so I am sure staff will always try their best to give you a good experience. Enjoy your time in Japan!