Speaking Japanese: Talking like a Pro in Restaurants

2011 September 15
by Rinko

It’s easy to imagine the scenario: you’re at a formal restaurant with your manager or customer for the first time. It’s your big chance to impress him/her with your Japanese. You’ve read every guidebook and know exactly what you want, but the waiter’s speaking suddenly overwhelms you. He’s using an uncommon form of Japanese, keigo. You begin to break a sweat.

Don’t panic! We’re here to help you speak Japanese in restaurants. Before getting into common phrases used in restaurants we’d like to explain a little bit about Japanese formal language, or Keigo.

Explanation of Keigo

So what is Keigo? It’s basically what you would call “The honorific form of Japanese.” It is extremely necessary in the business world, or in front of your fiance’s parents (among other situations). In English, you only need to add “please” or “thank you,” and have the right tone to seem “polite.” However, in Japan it’s a whole different world.

There are three different types of Keigo; teineigo, sonkeigo, and kenjyougo, and all three have their own forms for saying things like “Mr. Takahashi was saying–”, “OK, I will arrive there shortly”, or simply “I’m sorry.” It all depends on who is speaking, who it is you’re talking about, and your position in the conversation.

But we won’t get too detailed, or else this article will end up looking like a book. Let’s get back to the subject of speaking Japanese in a restaurant.


There is a saying in Japan that simply states “the customer is god” (お客様は神様です!, or okyakusama wa kamisama desu). Luckily, this means that when you speak to the waiter, you only need to use teineigo, the most basic of the keigo forms, in order to talk about what you would like to eat.

You do still need to recognize the kenjyougo and sonkeigo that the waiter uses, but this is much easier than speaking it yourself.


1. 「いらっしゃいませ。ご注文はお決まりですか/何になさいますか?」
Irrasyaimase. Go-chuumonn wa okimari desuka/nani ni nasaimasuka?
Welcome. Have you already decided on your order? / What would you like?
Your response would usually be in this format:

はい, _______をお願いします。
Hai, _______ o onegaisimasu
(Yes, I would like _______ please.)
As an example, when ordering for tempura (delicious!) , you would say:


Hai, tenpura o onegaisimasu
(Yes, I would like Tenpura please)

When ordering more than one item, just add “と” (toh) after every order.

はい、てんぷら と みそしる と サラダ をお願いします。

Hai, tenpura to misoshiru to salada o onegaishimasu.
When ordering more than one item as an afterthought, say:

Ah, tsuide ni _______ mo onegaishimasu.
(Oh, may I also have _______ as well please?)


Confirming the order

After everyone at the table orders, the waiter will repeat the list back to make sure everything is  okay.

はい、では てんぷら一つみそしる二つ、以上でよろしいでしょうか。
Hai, dewa tenpura o hitotsu, misoshiru o futatsu, ijyou de yorosii deshou-ka.

(Ok, so is the order one tempura and two miso-soups? )


If the order is correct, reply with
Hai, arigatougozaimasu.
(Yes, thank you very much.)
If it isn’t, say
_____ ではなく___です。
_____dewa naku ______ desu

It’s not ______, it’s _______.)


The first blank in the sentence has what is wrong with the order, and the second blank has what should be in the order.

Ah, misoshiru wa futatsu dewa naku mittsu desu.
(Oh, it’s three miso soups, not two.)


Wrapping it Up

The waiter had brought you your food, saying:

kochira _________ ni narimasu.
(This is the _________)
And after everyone’s done eating, it’s time to ask for the check and leave. Don’t forget to say  itadakimasu (いただきます、) before eating, and gochisousama (ごちそうさま) after you’re full. Both these phrases are used to show your thanks at meals.
For the check, ask for it as if you’re ordering one more food item:
Sumimasen, okanjyou (check) o onegaishimasu
(Sorry, could we have the check please?)

**Did you know?**

Although it is always common sense to give good waiters a tip in America, this is not always the case in Japanese restaurants. In fact, some waiters feel insulted if you hand them one. So if you feel that your wallet is a little thin that night don’t feel guilty about not tipping.


And that’s about it for ordering in restaurants. Stay tuned for next time for more detail on the different forms of keigo. Or, if you want to improve faster, take some lessons at Hills Learning to be better prepared for dinner meetings.


6 Responses leave one →
  1. February 9, 2013

    It would be very helpful to have sylable emphasis detailed as well as phonetic pronunciation. For instance is it “a-RI-ga-to” or “ari-GA-to” as in ‘tow’.

  2. Mr. Potato Head permalink
    March 8, 2013

    Reply to Michael Dawson: The Japanese language does not have stress like English. It may kind of sound like it sometimes when they drag out a syllable, but no, they don’t stress. So “Arigato” would not be said as “a-ri-GA-toh” or “a-RI-ga-to”, it would be said like “a-ri-ga-tohh”. You don’t stress the “o”, you just drag it out a bit. Hope I helped

  3. Kento permalink
    June 3, 2013

    There is no tipping in Japan. It’s not an issue of tipping when you feel like it, there is no concept of giving a tip in restaurants in the first place. The cost of paying the worker a proper wage is included in the price of the food. This is the same with taxis. In the US, the workers are paid under minimum wage if they don’t receive tips, so it’s mandatory, but in Japan, the workers’ paid wage is fair for the job.

  4. Kento permalink
    June 3, 2013

    Reply to Michael Dawson and Mr. Potato Head: There is a pitch accent system in Japanese, but it’s different from stresses in English, where the syllable is dragged out as well. For a word like arigato, in Tokyo dialect, the “ri” is at a higher pitch than the rest of the words. However, all the words are spoken at an even rate. Some words will change in meaning if this isn’t correct. For example, “ka-e-ru”, pronounced low-high-high in pitch, means “frog”. “Ka-e-ru”, pronounced “high-low-low”, means “to return”.

  5. Mike permalink
    October 1, 2013

    No tipping except in a ryokan (lodge) if you had special service esp in the country side

  6. Mike permalink
    October 26, 2013

    Japanese does not have emphasis on certain parts of the dialect (unless you are Japanese), so stay neutral, pretend you can hear Hashi and Hashi are different words etc. etc. Meet someone from Tokyo and someone from Aomori and see if the accent is different.

    Use NHK-ben, neutral no accent (BBC, CBC etc.) national broadcaster dialect and you will be ok, Not cool but ok.

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