Want to dine at a Japanese restaurant the Japanese way? Here is a brief rundown of what to say and what to expect.
When you enter a restaurant, you’ll be greeted with a cheerful irasshaimase (Welcome). In all but the most casual places the waiter or waitress will next ask you, nan-mei sama? (how many people?). Indicate the answer with your fingers, which is what the Japanese do. You will then be led either to a table, or a place at the counter, or a tatami room.
At this point you will be given an oshibori (hot towel), a cup of tea (or water) and a menu. The oshibori is for wiping your hands and face. When you’re done with it, just roll it up and leave it next to your place. Now comes the hard part: ordering. If you don’t read Japanese, you can use the Romanised translation in this section to help you, or direct the waiters attention to the Japanese script. If this doesn’t work, there are two phrases which may help: o-susume wa nan desu ka? (What do you recommend?) and o makase shimasu (Please decide for me). If you’re still having problems, you can try pointing at other diners’ food or, if the restaurant has them, going with the waiter outside to point at the plastic food displays in the window.
When you’ve finished eating, you can signal for the bill by crossing one index finger over the other to form an X. This is the standard sign for “cheque please”. You can also say o-kanjo kudasai. Remember, there is no tipping in Japan and tea/water is free of charge. Usually you will be given a bill to take to the cashier at the front of the restaurant. At more upmarket places, the host of the party will discreetly ask to be excused and pay before the group leaves. One doesn’t usually leave cash on the table by way of payment. Only the bigger and more international places take credit cards, so cash is always the sure option.
When leaving, it is polite to say to the restaurant staff gochiso-sama deshita. (It was a real feast).