Updated: August 19, 2019
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Beginner's Guide to Ordering in Japanese (Restaurant Survival Guide)

If you're not familiar with Japanese, don't worry! This guide will equip you with the basic phrases you need to successfully navigate through a meal at a Japanese restaurant!

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Entering the Restaurant

entering_the_restaurant
When you enter a Japanese restaurant, you'll be greeted and asked the question ’何名様ですか?' (nan mei sama des ka?) which means 'how many people in your party?' If you don't speak Japanese, the easiest thing to do is simply hold up your hand, showing with your fingers the number of people in your party. You'll then either be told to wait or be shown to your seat. Watch for visual cues to help you out here.

In case you want to be fancy and practice your Japanese, here's how you say the number of people in your party:
1. 一人です (hitori des)
2. 二人す (futali des)
3. 3人です (san nin des)
4. 4人です (yo nin des)
5. 5人です (go nin des)
6人です (roku nin des)

Getting an English Menu

looking_at_the_menu
Oftentimes, if you look like a foreigner, the waiter will automatically bring an English menu to your table. In case they don't, however, you can ask for one like this:

英語のメニューはありますか? (eigo no menu wa alimas ka?)

In the rare case that no English menu is available, you'll probably have to resort to pointing and hoping for something that you like (luckily, many restaurants have pictures on the menu or in the window).

Ordering Drinks

server_taking_the_order
After being seated, the waiter will typically take the drink order by asking something like 'お飲み物はいかがでしょうか?’ (onomimono wa ikaga deshouka?). The keyword to remember here is 'nomimono,' which means 'beverage.' If your server asks you a question that includes the word 'nomimono,' they're probably asking what you want to drink.
The basic way to order is: ~お願いします (~o negai shimas). Many beverages will pretty much translate from English to Japanese so, for example, you could say 'coffee o negai shimas' to order coffee (coffee in Japanese is 'co-hee'). However, there are a couple of beverages with a different name in Japanese that are worth remembering:

1. Water: お冷 (o hiya): 'o hiya o negai shimas'
2. Tea: お茶 (o cha): 'o cha o negai shimas'
3. Sake: 日本酒 (nihonshu): 'nihonshu o negai shimas'

Calling the Server

calling_the_server
At most Japanese restaurants, the servers will not come to your table unless they are called. Some restaurants have a call button, but at many places, you will need to call for the waiter by raising your hand and saying 'sumimasen!' which means 'excuse me' in Japanese. It might feel strange at first, but you'll get used to it.

Call your server when you're ready to place your order, whenever you need anything during the meal, and when you would like your check at the end.

Ordering Food

ordering_food_from_the_menu
When ordering food, the same ~'o negai shimas' format is used. 'O negai shimasu' is a polite phrase that roughly means 'I request.'

When ordering from the menu, it's probably easiest to point at the item that you want and say 'これ、お願いします' (kore, o negai shimas). 'kore' means 'this,' so if you're ordering for multiple people, you'll need to break it up by adding the word 'toh'(と) which means 'and.' For example, if you're ordering 3 different things from the menu, you would say 'kore toh kore toh kore, o negai shimas' (this and this and this, please).

If you want to order multiples of the same item, all you need to do is add a counter to your sentence:

2 of the same item: '2つ' (futatsu) 'kore o futatsu o negai shimasu'
3 of the same item: '3つ' (mitsu) 'kore o mitsu o negai shimasu'
4 of the same item: '4つ' (yotsu) 'kore o yotsu o negai shimasu'

Getting the Check

paying_the_bill
When your meal is finished, you might have to ask for the check, if the server didn't bring it to your table already. In this case, first call the server (see above), and then say 'お会計お願いします' (o kaikei o negai shimasu), which means 'check, please.' When you have the check, you can take it to the counter to pay.

Special Orders

Hot or Cold

When ordering certain beverages or dishes (such as soba and udon), you might be asked if you want it hot (atatakai) or cold (tsumetai). Remember these words, and try to keep an ear out for them in case you're asked. The words hot and iced will also be understood, so you can say 'hotto' for hot or 'aisu' for iced, if that's easier.

Hold the Wasabi

If there's an ingredient that you can't or would prefer not to eat, you can ask for it to be removed with the phrase '〜抜き、お願いします' (~nuki, o negai shimas).

For example, most sushi comes with wasabi already added to it, so you could say: 'salmon, wasabi-nuki, o negai shimas' to order salmon sushi without wasabi.

Ramen-Specific Ordering

Ramen is typically ordered by purchasing a ticket from the vending machine next to the entrance. If you want to the ramen to be served in the standard, unaltered way, all you have to do is hand the ticket to the chef or server and wait for the ramen to be served.

However, it's possible to customize your ramen at pretty much every ramen shop. When handing your ticket to the chef or server, use the following phrases:

'Men o katame de o negai shimas' (firmer noodles, please)
'Men o yawarakame de o neagi shimas' (softer noodles, please)
'Abura o sukuname o negai shimas' (less oil, please)
'Abura o oome o negai shimas' (extra oil, please)
'Aji o koime o negai shimas' (extra thick soup, please)
'Aji o usume o negai shimas' (thinner soup, please)

Use the above phrases to customize your bowl of ramen to your preferences.
ramen_vending_machine
A ramen ticket machine

For Vegetarians

Finding vegetarian food in Japan can be a huge challenge, especially if fish is also off-limits, as dashi (broth) made from fish is included in a huge number of Japanese dishes. Here are some phrases that might come in handy if you're trying to figure out whether or not you can eat something on the menu.

-I'm a vegetarian: '私はベジタリアンです' (watashi wa bejitalian des).
-Is there meat in this? '肉が入っていますか?' (niku ga haitte imas ka?) (note that meat doesn't include fish in Japanese)
-Is there fish in this? '魚が入っていますか?' (sakana ga haitte imas ka?)

Finally...

Hopefully this guide will equip you with the confidence to be able to order at a Japanese restaurant! Luckily, most restaurants in popular areas these days have English menus, and most Japanese people have at least very basic English skills, so somehow or another you should be able to get what you need. Good luck and happy eating!
DeLong
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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