Normally, ordering food is quite easy. We walk up to the counter of a fast food restaurant and we say a few words to the staff to place our orders and pay. This changes only slightly when we go to restaurants, but most of the vocabulary we use in these situations hardly change. That being said, what seems like second nature to the native language speaker can be extremely daunting for those still learning a new language. In my case, I had to take a crash course on ordering in Japanese because I never covered this scenario in any of my Japanese classes back home. To help those that want to order correctly in Japanese, I decided to write a blog entry on eating in Japan. In this blog we will cover: vocabulary, useful phrases, and how to order at different locations.
What should I eat?
Rest assured that thinking about what to eat is still easy in Japan but putting your thoughts into words may prove to be a bit challenging. For instance, at most fast-food restaurants, the menus usually have a large amount of Katakana. This can be difficult for several reasons. First, reading the katakana can take time, especially when a few of the symbols look very similar, like シ(shi) and ツ(tsu). I know that on more that one occasion, I’ve spent at least 2-3 minutes trying to decipher all the katakana in the Japanese McDonalds near my university.
(My first McDonalds in Japan. It looks the same to me ^^)
Secondly, when at a restaurant, especially a fast-food restaurant, the staff always speak quickly, so you can get easily overwhelmed. But, don’t fret over the small stuff, like using the wrong counter, or messing up a conjugation because failure is a part of the learning process. If you have to ask the shop staff to repeat what they just said, they will always do so. Also, Japanese people will try to attend to you as best as they can in English, but don’t always count on that. That’s why it’s important to study up on a few key words that are always used at restaurants, so that the Japanese people at wherever you’re eating will look at you in astonishment and respect. They might even say, “日本語が上手ですね”. Which roughly translates to, “your Japanese is quite good.”
ハンバーガー Hamburger お弁当(べんとう)（からげ弁当、ぎょうざ弁当）Bento
フライドポテトFrench Fries ラーメン（しょうゆ、とんこつ、みそ）Ramen
チキンナゲット Chicken nuggets 焼肉(やきにく) Grilled meat
サラダ salad 焼き鳥(やきとり) Grilled Chicken
紅茶(こうちゃ) European Tea 水(みず) Water
お茶(おちゃ) Japanese Tea 生(なま)ビール Beer on Tap
コーヒー Coffee お酒(さけ) Sake/liquor
ジュース Juice コーラ Cola
Misc Words (色んな言葉)
(ご)注文 (ちゅうもん) Order （お）かんじょう Bill/check
メニュー Menu セット Set (Set at McDonalds)
予約(よやく) Reservation おかわり Second Serving
One Phrase to Rule them All
Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, isn’t that vocab list a little too small.” Well, you are absolutely right! I would put more vocabulary words in the sections above, but the sheer quantity of words in Japanese that pertain to eating could fill up about 15 pages (that’s a low estimate). However, the list above includes many of the most common words I have encounter while eating out in Japan.
Because you know the word for the thing that you are trying to buy, we can now move onto the act of ordering. Ordering food can feel really stressful because we all just want to be understood, so that we can eat. Well rest assured, from what I’ve learned in class and in person, the most important phrase to use when ordering is おねがいします. It is literally used to end every sentence when placing an order because it means “please”. ください can also be used interchangeably with おねがいします, it just depends on preference.
_______を１つおねがいします。This sentence is the basis of any order (ご注文) because you are asking for one of something. That something can be a food or a drink, but as long as you know this simple set phrase you can order in Japanese. I would like to emphasis the importance of the standard Japanese counters for “things” because they are used every time you order (The hiragana in red). Also, to make a more complex order, you simply need to add と after the counter.
Let’s Try a Family Restaurant
With the “One phrase to rule them all” in mind, you can now see how useful it is in various situations. For instance, below I will type-out a typical conversation between a waitress and a customer at Saizeria (the most common family restaurant I’ve seen in Tokyo).
Shop Staff: いらっしゃいませ。ごちゅうもん、よろしいですか。(Are you ready to order?)
Customer: はい。チズピザ１つとサラダ１つおねがいします。(One cheese pizza and one salad, please.)
Shop Staff: おのみものはどうなさいますか。(Would you like some drinks?)
Customer: セットドリンクバーをおねがいします。(Set drink bar please)
Shop Staff: かしこまりました。チズピザ１つ、サラダ１つ、セットドリンクバー１つ、いじょうでよろしいでしょうか。(Ok. One cheese pizza, one salad and one set drink bar. Is that all?)
Customer: はい (Yes)
Shop Staff: かしこまりました。しょうしょう、お待ちください。(Okay. Please wait a moment.)