Going out and trying the local foods is something that every traveler should do when they go to Japan. Our article will help those who may be confused about how they should order their food.
It is always a treat to try out the foods in different parts of the world. But first-time visitors to Japan might encounter some difficulties preventing them from having an amazing food experience. For one, it can be a little hard to spot some restaurants in Japan because they tend to blend in with their surroundings. Or, the signs could be in kanji and unreadable for foreigners.
Once you do find a restaurant, it can be confusing trying to figure out the menu, how to call the waiter or waitress, tipping, and paying the bill. We will go through the different kinds of restaurants, the way you should act while you are there, and how eating out generally works in Japan.
Finding a Restaurant
One of the more interesting aspects of Japan is the way that they plan out buildings and how restaurants occupy their spaces. Most places have restaurants in a single building to themselves or on a single floor or room.
Most buildings in Tokyo have stores going up each floor of the building. So instead of looking at what is on the street side or first-floor, you should look up at the signs on the sides of buildings. Buildings usually have multiple small restaurants going up a six-floor structure. You will find a variety of places to eat in one building and could try different dining experiences without having to travel far.
Most places have begun to add English to their signs to attract more foreigners. If you want the most authentic experience, try to find a place that has everything written in kanji and almost no English.
Reading the Menu
Ordering at a Japanese restaurant can be very difficult if you can’t read hiragana or katakana, and there are a lot of restaurants that have kanji only menus. This can be frustrating and seem almost impossible but you can use a simple phrase that will help you in any restaurant.
If you don’t know what you should order, and there are no pictures to help you, you can say “Osusumewa?” It means “What do you recommend?’ They will usually say what their special dish is and you can agree to it. You may end up with something you didn’t think you could order but it could be a new dish that you might instantly enjoy.
Restaurants that have picture menus are the easiest to use as you can simply point to the picture on the menu and the staff can easily figure out what you want. These kinds of menus are in most restaurants and you will have an easier time ordering your meal.
Other restaurants, especially ramen stands, use ticket machines for customers to order their food. The machines look like vending machines and they will have a menu item on each button. Most have pictures above each selection to make it easier to find the food you want. Many have English translations on their machines for foreigners.
These machines are fast and easy to use. Put your money in first, push the button for your meal, then give the ticket to the wait staff.
Ordering and Wait Staff
In a traditional-style restaurant, you will be waited on like most western restaurants. After you walk in the door, you will be seated or instructed to wait for the next available seating area.
Once seated, the staff will greet you and give you menus or explain how their tablets work for the restaurant.
The biggest cultural difference is that in Japanese restaurants, the customer must call the wait staff instead of the wait staff checking on them over and over. Just raise your hand and say “Sumimasen” aloud and they will go see you. Make sure to add a “kudasai” to be polite when ordering food. Some restaurants have bells for calling the wait staff and when you are ready to eat or get the check you can ring it.
Finishing the Meal
Once you have finished your meal you will need to take your check to the cashier and pay. Many restaurants have begun to have card readers installed, but the majority of restaurants are cash only.
One thing that everyone must remember is that there is no tipping in Japan. They feel that the service is paid for through their salaries. If you leave money as a tip the wait staff will chase after you to give it back.
It is always a pleasurable experience to go out and enjoy some food with friends. It should never be hampered by an inability to order your food. Relax and enjoy the time as most wait staff have experience with foreigners having trouble ordering their food. Try your best and enjoy eating Japanese food!