Surprising Service in Japan

I went to a small, ramshackle Japanese restaurant this evening, and the impossible happened.  Namely, I ordered, ate, paid, and left.  The food was great, as Japanese food always is, but the service . . . well, I was, as we say in Japan, shock-u.

Specifically, the hostess seated me and handed me a menu.  A waiter came and took my order.  A tray of soba, rice, and pickles arrived promptly, and when I was finished, I paid at the register.  Everyone thanked me on the way out.

To prevent this from ever happening again, let me offer a few tips to aspiring Japanese restauranteurs for dealing with the not-so-teeming-masses of foreigners (or gaijin, if you prefer) of which I am apparently a part.

First of all, when I walk in the door, greet me promptly.  Your greeting should be either “Japanese OK?” or “No English menu.”

You should then reply to the next word that comes out of my mouth– regardless of what it is–by remarking on how amazing my Japanese is.  Please choose from one of the following:  “jyouzu,” “umai,” or “pera pera.”  A “sugoi” would also be a nice touch.

At this point I will be feeling at home, so allow me a few moments to glance at the menu, but keep a watch on me out of the corner of your eye.  After I order, feel free to query me about my food preferences.  Can I drink green tea?  Can I eat natto?  Have I ever tried umeboshi?  Express surprise at my answers.

Now it’s time for a few personal questions.  Try something original like, “What country are you from?” or “How long have you been in Japan?”  Don’t forget to ask how old I am and whether or not I’m married.  If my food arrives, don’t let that disturb you.  We’re having a conversation.

By now we’re practically old friends, so don’t hesitate to invite others to talk with me, especially drunk salarymen.  Maybe they’d like to sit with me?  If there’s anybody within a five mile radius who speaks English, be especially sure to introduce them.  Calling someone on the phone and then handing it to me is also a good option.

If I manage to finish my meal and show signs of wanting to leave, make sure everyone I’ve spoken with gives me business cards, shakes hands with me, and exchanges email and phone numbers.  One can never have too much email.

As you can see, providing great service in Japan isn’t that difficult.  With just a little effort, you can make all of your “foreign visitors” feel right at home.

10 Replies to “Surprising Service in Japan”

  1. The service in Japan for me is absolutely amazing compared to what I see here. The waiters/waitresses talking to each other and not taking your order when you’re seating there waiting for someone to take your order.

    Haha I do believe that it’s nice to be treated as a Japanese, rather than them going “Japanese ok, etc” I guess it’s personal preference with what service as some might feel discriminated when asked those questions^^” I know some people who dislike that additional service, where the waiters/waitresses pester them and ask questions. It’s very hard to find that type of service that you wrote about. I’ve never experienced great service like that before. Hopefully you don’t take my comments as an insult, as I don’t mean it in that way^^”

  2. If it makes you feel better Ken, I’ve heard of a Japanese couple visiting in America and dining at a Pizza place too hesitant to speak English and ask for a bag to take their leftovers home so they decided to use their map to wrap them up instead. In cases like this there should be a Japanese version of yelp to critique restaurants for upset diners to vent and prevent others from patronizing these places.

    1. There are plenty of restaurant review sites here, but I wouldn’t bother writing about any particular place, since being treated like a “foreigner” is par for the course, regardless of where you go. If you look white or black, you’ll be treated differently a lot, no matter how you behave or how good your Japanese is. Not necessarily bad, but different.

  3. Haha. “Calling someone on the phone and then handing it to me is also a good option.” That one was too much!

    Maybe I never stayed long enough in enough restaurants alone. I don’t think I ever got this much attention. Sometimes I think it’s a Kansai vs Kanto thing but the week I spent in Tokyo was no different. People looked at me but I never went through that pain of the 7 questions. Probably my crappy Japanese made them afraid.

    Love your stories starting from meeting random people in bars/restaurants

  4. Never get tired of reading your blog lol. I mean i had to re-read them, like, every 3 months, which I kind of believe to be more often than how my mom used to make me take periodic worm-killer med

    All the best
    Your fan from Vietnam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *