Is eating good food one of the most important things for your life? If your answer is yes, you share the same value with most people in Japan. The best thing about living in Tokyo is probably that restaurants are everywhere and they are not expensive for the quality.
There are some things that it’s better to know before trying out local restaurants simply so that you don’t get confused. Here are the questions I often get asked.
■Do I need to order drinks?
In Japan, water is usually served for free in restaurants. In some Izakaya (Japanese style dining bar) however, the waiter/waitress doesn’t give you water and just asks you what you want to drink. It makes you feel like you have to order something but you can just ask for water and that’s fine.
■Can I ask for something off the menu?
You like Brrito but you don’t really like beans. Eating onion makes your stomach feel funny. or drinking milk makes you sick. Everyone has their preferences on food but people in Japan doesn’t seem to ask for something of the menu. You’re right. Most people in Japan don’t ask things off the menu. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have preferences. They think it’s inappropriate or disrespectful to ask things off the menu.
Sometimes, the staff isn’t very flexible (probably because no one really asks in the first place) I have a friend who asked for BBQ sauce instead of mustard sauce for a chicken nugget he got in a McDonald. Maybe it’s because this kind of fast food shops are too manualized.
Do ask to things off the menu if you have a medical reason of course. People do (should) understand.
■Would it be rude to leave food on the plate?
It is true that Japanese people in general think that it’s a sin to waste food. Books say that it’s because our grand parents generation went through the war and they lived when everyone was starving. Wasting food back then was really a sin. Even though it was more than 60 years ago and none of my generation know what starving was really like, people still make a big deal about wasting food. I’ve seen so many people who eat too much not because the food is good but because they think it’s a bad thing to do.
So, yes. It is probably rude to leave food in Japan. If you know you don’t like some ingredients or the food is simply too much, you can ask the staff to change it or get a smaller portion. I also see many girls doing it for dieting.
■Can I pay individually? / Do I need to tip?
You usually pay for what you ordered in Japan. Izakaya, however, is kind of exceptional. Izakaya rule is that you order many kinds of food in small portion and you share with everyone else. Drinks can be unfair coz some people drink more than others. People go for Nomihodai (all you can drink) to avoid the awkwardness. It’s still not fair if you don’t drink much though.
You may already know but you do not need to tip in Japan. When I say you don’t need to, I mean you can’t. What happens if you are content with the quality of the service from a pretty Japanese waitress and you decide to put some extra money on the table kind of secretly? The waitress literally chases you down and give you back the money. Trust me that’s what really happens.
■Would it be rude call the waiter / waitress in a restaurant?
You go in the restaurant you always wanted to try. The waitress takes you to the table. You look at the menu and decide what you want. But she doesn’t come back to take your order. You wait and wait and wait… She probably just forgot about you.
When a restaurant is busy, this is what happens sometimes. but you can call the waitress by saying like “Hey!” or “sumimasen!” and it’s not rude at all. In fact, waiter/waitresses get yelled by customers like this all the time. Some people don’t yell at waiters like this but it’s not because they think it’s rude but because it feels embarrassing to be loud in front of people. In some places, there is a button on the table to call a waiter/waitress.