5 Tips for Enjoying Japanese Izakaya

By YamamotoChika

5 Tips for Enjoying Japanese Izakaya

Welcome to Japanese Izakaya! You can enjoy drinks and all sorts of delicious dishes from meat and fish to veggies and desserts, where friends and family gather to have a great time. Izakaya have characteristics of both bars and restaurants.

1. Call out to the waiter for service.

  • There are no waiters per table, so feel free to ask the staff closeby for service.
  • In Japan, it’s typical to raise your hand or say ‘sumi-ma-sen’ (excuse me) in a fairly loud voice when you want a waiter's attention. Please feel free to communicate with the staff when you need to. Depending on the place, there might be a bell to ring for service.
  • There will be a wet towel presented initially to clean your hands, try saying ‘arigato’ (thank you) to initiate conversation with the staff.
  • Many Izakaya have seasonal or specialty dishes. Its a great idea to ask the staff what they recommend.

2. Izakaya are places to enjoy drinks and food together.

  • Start your order with drinks; ordering at least one drink during the meal is customary., That is, other than tap water, which is usually free. You can select dishes to order while you wait for drinks to arrive.
  • Depending on the food item, serving sizes differ; some portions are smaller than others. This is because some are intended for sharing and some are side dishes for combining with other dishes.Please ask the staff if you want to know the portion size of a particular dish.
  • Try ordering varieties of dishes to discover your new favorites.
  • ‘Otoshi’ are small appetizer dishes that Izakaya service starts with, but they're similar to a table charge, typically a few hundred yen per person. They're not something you ordered but also not something to decline. They're usually seasonal items to try it with your first drink while other main dishes arrive.
  • Two to three hours is how long people usually stay in one Izakaya. After that, you can try out other establishments in the area. Izakaya hopping is a fun way to enjoy multiple venues with different foods, themes, and atmospheres. Asking the staff where else to visit can be a good way to discover other local favorite Izakaya.


3. Don’t order too many dishes at once, especially not for your first order.

  • At Izakaya, people usually add orders when they want those dishes to be served next. Start with what you want to eat first, then add things later. You can prevent food waste that way as well, especially when you’re traveling.
  • Many parts of Japan have a humid subtropical climate, which makes it difficult to maintain food quality outside. Many places are hesitant to give you food to-go after the meal because food poisoning will be at Izakaya’s fault when it happens.


4.There are very few allergy notes on menus.

  • If you have an allergy, ask the waiter for help.
  • There’s a lot of dishes available, but vegetarian and vegan diets are not very common or widely understood in Japan.

5. Dishes are made to be completed as is, customization is not within Japanese food culture. Try it as is to see how you like the food.

  • Unless specified on the menu, you cannot change toppings or serving methods.
  • There’s no customization on how it’s cooked or seasoned (e.g. salt).
  • Dressings usually are selected by the Izakaya and paired with the salad.

Keep these five tips in mind and you will have a great Izakaya experience in Japan. There are all kinds of Izakaya, more than 300,000 establishments across Japan, with some interesting regional twists in different locales. Discover your favorite Izakaya by trying Izakaya hopping!