You've probably noticed that Tofugu regularly publishes informational reviews of Japanese restaurants as part of our travel articles. We love dining out! Here's a tip, though: when visiting a restaurant in Japan, be sure to make a reservation first.
Most US restaurants that require a reservation will allow you to make it online. Few restaurants in Japan have this capacity, however, so you'll need to learn to do so over the phone. It's not as intimidating as it sounds—plus, it's a great way to practice speaking Japanese and learn something practical.
To make the process easier, we've created an insanely detailed guide, which walks you through the basic vocabulary you'll need to reserve a table over the phone and some sample sentences for when you arrive. It gives you the chance to practice beforehand and even make your own cheat sheet before you call.
- Starting with the Basics: よやく
- Date and Time
- Is This Okay?
- How Many People Are Coming?
- Who are you?
- A Little More Information, Please
- Final Notes and Role-Play
- Your Reservation is Done!
- Free Reservation Role-Play Giveaway
Prerequisite: This guide is going to use hiragana and some katakana, so we highly recommend you learn it beforehand by reading our guides. Don't worry! They can be learned in a day or two, just come back when you're ready.
Starting with the Basics: よやく
The Japanese word for reservation is 予約 (よやく), which consists of two kanji: 予, meaning "beforehand," and 約, meaning "promise." Used for bookings, appointments, or subscriptions, this kanji for "beforehand promise" is for a commitment made at an earlier time and then executed later.
There are several variations on the phrase "to make a reservation":
- 予約をする/よやくをする (or the verb 予約する), "to do a reservation"
- 予約を取る/よやくをとる, "to get a reservation"
- 予約を入れる/よやくをいれる, "to put in a reservation"
For now, however, you only need to remember the first one: 予約をする.
The first phrase you'll need to learn to say is simple: "I want to make a reservation." For that, the verb する, which means "to do," conjugates to したい, which means "want to do." Here it is in Japanese: 予約をしたい.
Note: you can also say 予約がしたい, using the particle が instead of を, to emphasize a little more what it is you want to do (in this case, 予約).
Before you start dialing, however, remember that you're calling a restaurant in Japan. You need to be polite. Merely saying "I want to make a reservation" is too blunt and a little unmannerly—like a samurai from long ago. What should you do instead?
To make your request more polite, you could simply add です at the end: 予約をしたいです. This means, "I'd like to make a reservation."
And yet… that's still not quite polite enough, because you're still bluntly stating what you want to do. In Japanese conversation, if possible, it's best to opt for gentle requests rather than bold declarations. To make one in this case, replace です with the magical phrase んですけど, or んですが, as in: 予約をしたいんですけど…
This phrase is worth knowing. It's a combination of the verb します (do) and たいんですけど (want [to], but…), and it's used when you want to connect one sentence with another. In this case, if you omit the second sentence, it indicates a request or wish that could be expected from the preceding sentence. The final "…" is important. "…" in a sentence with んですけど is often used to indicate one's desire for approval, as in: "I'd like to make a reservation, so/but/and…" It's an implied request: "Is that okay with you? Is it possible?"
It's a roundabout way of being polite, of course, but the implication in the "…" is useful and practical. In the actual conversation, you can use it as is:
Restaurant: Hello. This is Restaurant Tofu & Blowfish.
Hi! Well, I'd like to make a reservation, and…
Restaurant: Sure! For which day?
Note: I didn't yet translate what the employee would say in Japanese. We'll learn that later!
Of course, you can make it a full sentence and include all the information they'd probably need, such as:
- I'd like to make a reservation at one o'clock on January 1 for eleven people, but is it available?
Before you start dialing, however, remember that you're calling a restaurant in Japan. You need to be polite.
If you do, however, odds are you'll probably be asked to say it all again, since a busy restaurant employee likely needs a moment to grab a reservation book (and a pen) to write it all down.
When making a reservation, although you might mention whether it's for lunch or dinner, we suggest using んですけど or んですが, implying the unfinished "…", and let the conversation flow. It's better to not go into too much detail at first over the phone. Instead, provide key points—the date, the time, and the number of people—one by one. It's also the best way to make yourself understood.
Conversation Starter: もしもし or Hello?
Here's a tip. When you make or answer a call, it's common to start the conversation with もしもし. Yet this phrase is considered to be a casual greeting. If you're making a business call or something similar, to be polite, avoid もしもし and instead say, こんにちは (hello) or こんばんは (good evening). For restaurants, this is more appropriate.
Date and Time
Now that you know how to ask for a reservation, you're ready to start giving the information for it. Let's start with the when (いつ). In Japanese, use the following order: date (with month first), day of the week, and time.
If you wanted to make a reservation for 7 p.m. on your friend Steve Buscemi's birthday, the conversation would begin like this:
Restaurant: Hello. This is Restaurant Tofu & Blowfish.
Hi! Well, I'd like to make a reservation for dinner, and…
Restaurant: Sure! For which day?
On Thursday, December 13 at 7 p.m.
Note: when speaking the date, it's okay to omit the 日 (び), which means day, and say either 木曜日 (もくようび) or 木曜 (もくよう). And be aware the restaurant worker might do it, too.
Now that you know the order of the information, let's jigsaw-puzzle together your actual reservation dates and time. We've provided charts for each one below. (And you can always start with our article How to count anything in Japanese!)
|January||１月 / 一月||いちがつ|
|February||２月 / 二月||にがつ|
|March||３月 / 三月||さんがつ|
|April||４月 / 四月||しがつ|
|May||５月 / 五月||ごがつ|
|June||６月 / 六月||ろくがつ|
|July||７月 / 七月||しちがつ, なながつ|
|August||８月 / 八月||はちがつ|
|September||９月 / 九月||くがつ|
|October||１０月 / 十月||じゅうがつ|
|November||１１月 / 十一月||じゅういちがつ|
|December||１２月 / 十二月||じゅうにがつ|
Day of the Month (日)
|1st||１日 / 一日||ついたち|
|2nd||２日 / 二日||ふつか|
|3rd||３日 / 三日||みっか|
|4th||４日 / 四日||よっか|
|5th||５日 / 五日||いつか|
|6th||６日 / 六日||むいか|
|7th||７日 / 七日||なのか|
|8th||８日 / 八日||ようか|
|9th||９日 / 九日||ここのか|
|10th||１０日 / 十日||とおか|
|11th||１１日 / 十一日||じゅういちにち|
|12th||１２日 / 十二日||じゅうににち|
|13th||１３日 / 十三日||じゅうさんにち|
|14th||１４日 / 十四日||じゅうよっか|
|15th||１５日 / 十五日||じゅうごにち|
|16th||１６日 / 十六日||じゅうろくにち|
|17th||１７日 / 十七日||じゅうしちにち, じゅうななにち|
|18th||１８日 / 十八日||じゅうはちにち|
|19th||１９日 / 十九日||じゅうくにち|
|20th||２０日 / 二十日||はつか|
|21st||２１日 / 二十一日||にじゅういちにち|
|30th||３０日 / 三十日||さんじゅうにち|
|31st||３１日 / 三十一日||さんじゅういちにち|
Day of the Week (曜日)
|Which day of the week?||何曜（日）||なんよう（び）|
|The week after next||再来週||さらいしゅう|
|Tomorrow||明日||あした / あす|
|Day after tomorrow||明後日||あさって|
|Zero o'clock||０時 / 零時||れいじ|
|One o'clock||１時 / 一時||いちじ|
|Two o'clock||２時 / 二時||にじ|
|Three o'clock||３時 / 三時||さんじ|
|Four o'clock||４時 / 四時||よじ|
|Five o'clock||５時 / 五時||ごじ|
|Six o'clock||６時 / 六時||ろくじ|
|Seven o'clock||７時 / 七時||しちじ, ななじ|
|Eight o'clock||８時 / 八時||はちじ|
|Nine o'clock||９時 / 九時||くじ|
|Ten o'clock||１０時 / 十時||じゅうじ|
|Eleven o'clock||１１時 / 十一時||じゅういちじ|
|Twelve o'clock||１２時 / 十二時||じゅうにじ|
|Twelve in the afternoon||（お）昼の十二時||（お）ひるのじゅうにじ|
|1 p.m.||１３時 / 十三時||じゅうさんじ|
|2 p.m.||１４時 / 十四時||じゅうよじ|
|3 p.m.||１５時 / 十五時||じゅうごじ|
|4 p.m.||１６時 / 十六時||じゅうろくじ|
|5 p.m.||１７時 / 十七時||じゅうしちじ, じゅうななじ|
|6 p.m.||１８時 / 十八時||じゅうはちじ|
|7 p.m.||１９時 / 十九時||じゅうくじ|
|8 p.m.||２０時 / 二十時||にじゅうじ|
|9 p.m.||２１時 / 二十一時||にじゅういちじ|
|10 p.m.||２２時 / 二十二時||にじゅうにじ|
|11 p.m.||２３時 / 二十三時||にじゅうさんじ|
|0 a.m.||２４時 / 二十四時||にじゅうよじ|
|1:30||１時３０分 / 一時三十分||いちじさんじゅっぷん|
|3 p.m.||午後３時 / 午後三時||ごごさんじ|
|Lunch time, afternoon||昼||ひる|
|Breakfast||朝食, ブレックファスト||ちょうしょく, ブレックファスト|
|Lunch||昼食, ランチ||ちゅうしょく, ランチ|
|Dinner||夕食, ディナー||ゆうしょく, ディナー|
|Around||頃||ころ / ごろ|
|I’m sorry / Excuse me||すみません。||すみません|
|available (spot, date)||空いている||あいている|
|Is it available?||空いていますか？||あいていますか？|
|Can / To be able to||できる||できる|
|Can I reserve/book ~ ?||予約できますか？||よやくできますか？|
Although you'll be able to piece together a lot of the information from the tables above, here are some additional things to be aware of:
Did You Say しち or いち?
Sometimes the Japanese words for "seven" (しち) and "one" (いち) can be hard to distinguish, especially over the phone. To keep from being misunderstood, we suggest using なながつ for "July" and ななじ for "seven o'clock" rather than しちがつ and しちじ.
ようび: Day of the Week
When you make a reservation, providing the date and time should be enough, though it's a good idea to add the day of the week as well. It makes sense. Have you ever told someone something was happening on the tenth, even though you actually meant the eleventh? Or thought an event was on a Thursday when it's was really on a Wednesday? Everybody does it now and then. To avoid misunderstandings, it's a good idea to mention both.
This Saturday vs. Next Saturday in Japanese
Also, keep in mind that Japanese speakers have a different understanding of "this" and "next," as in "this Saturday" (この土曜日) or "next Saturday" ( 次の土曜日) than English speakers. Say it's Monday, for example: in English, Saturday of that week is referred to as this Saturday. In Japanese, however, it's called next Saturday—as in "the next Saturday that will fall in the month." Until you fully understand how to use "this" and "next" in Japanese, be careful using them.
A 24-Hour Clock
For afternoon, evening, or nighttime, instead of saying "1 p.m.," "2 p.m.," "3 p.m.," and so on, Japanese people prefer to say "thirteen o'clock," "fourteen o'clock," "fifteen o'clock," etc. If you're not comfortable using a 24-hour clock, you can just say 午後１時 (ごごいちじ) for "1 p.m." or 昼の１時 (ひるのいちじ) for "one in the afternoon," but be aware that the person on the other end of the phone may still use "thirteen o'clock" when they confirm it.
Is This Okay?
We recommended that (when possible) you avoid making declarations or statements when asking for things.
In the previous section, when we were discussing 予約, we recommended that (when possible) you avoid making declarations or statements when asking for things. With that in mind, let's look closer at the last line of the date-and-time example above:
At seven on Thursday December 13.
In this case, being declarative is okay because you didn't state what you wanted; you simply answered their question. Yet you can be more polite by adding the verb お願いする (おねがいする)—which means "please," "I ask of you," "I beg you," and other such nuances—and combining it with んですけど. Here's an example.
- At seven on Thursday December 13, but…
That's right—the "…" again. Remember that the "…" refers to something being omitted—in this case, a question such as "…but is it possible?" or something similar. You can also make the sentence into a complete question, as in:
- I’d like to make a reservation at seven on Thursday December 13, but is it available?
The restaurant employee will answer yes or no, so it's time to move on to the next question.
How Many People Are Coming?
You're getting closer to completing your reservation for Steve Buscemi's birthday. But how many people are coming? Is it a big party, or is it just an intimate dinner for you and Steve?
Restaurant: Hello. This is Restaurant Tofu & Blowfish.
Hi! Well, I'd like to make a reservation for dinner, and…
Restaurant: Sure! For which day?
At seven on Thursday December 13, but… (is that possible?)
Restaurant: 7 p.m. December 13… It's probably fine, but for how many people?
You: 二人です。（二名です） Two people.
Because you're answering a question, using a statement is fine, especially if it's a small group. If the group was a large one, and you were worried the restaurant may have trouble accommodating them, you might say:
- It's for ten people… (but is it okay?)
Note: in the above example, we provided you with two forms of "two people." For one person it would be 一人 (ひとり), for two 二人 (ふたり), and for three+ it is just the number plus 人 (にん). Then there's the more polite version, which is __ 名 (めい). No exceptional readings here, just the number plus 名.
Either of the versions above is okay to use, but the best rule of thumb is to mirror the other person: if they ask how many people using 何人 (なんにん), answer in the ~人 form; if they ask it by 何名 (なんめい), use the ~名 form. But in the end either will work out just fine.
If you decide to change Steve's birthday dinner for two into a family gathering by adding a child, definitely mention it to the reservationist. In that case, you would say 大人２名と子供１名です。(おとなにめいとこどもいちめいです。), which means two adults and one child.
Number of People (人)
|0 people||０人 / 零人||ぜろにん, れいにん|
|1 person||１人 / 一人||ひとり|
|2 people||２人 / 二人||ふたり|
|3 people||３人 / 三人||さんにん|
|4 people||４人 / 四人||よにん|
|5 people||５人 / 五人||ごにん|
|6 people||６人 / 六人||ろくにん|
|7 people||７人 / 七人||しちにん / ななにん|
|8 people||８人 / 八人||はちにん|
|9 people||９人 / 九人||くにん / きゅうにん|
|10 people||１０人 / 十人||じゅうにん|
|11 people||１１人 / 十一人||じゅういちにん|
|12 people||１２人 / 十二人||じゅうににん|
|13 people||１３人 / 十三人||じゅうさんにん|
|14 people||１４人 / 十四人||じゅうよにん|
|15 people||１５人 / 十五人||じゅうごにん|
Number of People (名)
|2 people||２名 / 二名||にめい|
|3 people||３名 / 三名||さんめい|
|4 people||４名 / 四名||よんめい|
|5 people||５名 / 五名||ごめい|
|6 people||６名 / 六名||ろくめい|
|7 people||７名 / 七名||しちめい / ななめい|
|8 people||８名 / 八名||はちめい|
|9 people||９名 / 九名||きゅうめい|
|10 people||１０名/十名||じゅうにん, じゅうめい|
|11 people||１１名 / 十一名||じゅういちめい|
|12 people||１２名 / 十二名||じゅうにめい|
|13 people||１３名 / 十三名||じゅうさんめい|
|14 people||１４名 / 十四名||じゅうよんめい|
|15 people||１５名 / 十五名||じゅうごめい|
Number of People (Other)
|In total (people only)||全員で||ぜんいんで|
|How many people?||何人, 何名||なんにん|
Who are you?
Before we finish our basic reservation vocabulary, let's learn how to provide your name and number. When making a restaurant reservations in the US, you might be able to just give your first name, but in Japan you're expected to give your last name—your family name. In our case, then, instead of "Steve" (スティーヴです), you'll say "Buscemi" (ブシェミです). If you'd like to spell it for them, say:
- The spelling is b-u-s-c-e-m-i.
As for your phone number, just say the numbers and add です at the end: １２３-４５６-７８９０です。Should the restaurant ask for both name and number at the same time, you can respond with a combined sentence:
- My name is Buscemi and my phone number is 123-456-7890.
|Spelling||綴, スペル||つづり, スペル|
|0||零||ぜろ / れい|
|4||四||し / よん|
|7||七||しち / なな|
Yay! We were finally able to make a reservation to celebrate Steve Buscemi's (or should I say Buscemi Steve's?) birthday. "Finally" is ようやく in Japanese, so let's take a break by making a 駄洒落 (Japanese pun).
「ようやく予約ができた」, which means, "We were finally able to make a reservation!"
A Little More Information, Please
- I have an allergy.
Now you're armed with the basics for reserving a restaurant table. Most of the time, when speaking to someone on the phone, your needs will be simple. But what if you needed to know about a few other details? What if you preferred a table seat rather than one in the room with tatami mats? What if you have a particular food allergy? What if you needed to know about wheelchair access? Because my boss told me to go crazy with the details, let's fill in those gaps for you.
When making a request, you can simply say リクエスト and they would understand that you have a request. To state you have a question, say 質問 (しつもん). However, a request is like a statement, so even though it's a request from you, it's better to make it into a question, so it's more like asking if that request is okay with them. After you've made the reservation, if you still have questions, before they hang up the phone, quickly say, 「すみません！まだ質問があります。」, which means, "Excuse me! I still have some questions."
The following are a few typical vocabulary and example phrases you may need for making a request or asking questions. This isn't an exhaustive list—if it's missing something common, please let us know!
If you have specific food preferences, let them know. Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Does yogurt make you sick? Do eggs make your throat swell shut? Use the following chart and example sentences to help you.
Keep in mind that many Japanese restaurants specialize in a specific dish, and often can't accommodate special requests. Even so, it's good to give them a heads-up and ask if they have something on their menu you can eat.
|Severe||重い, ひどい||おもい, ひどい|
|Pregnant woman||妊婦, 妊婦さん||にんぷ, にんぷさん|
|Can eat ~||食べられる, 食べれる||たべられる, たべれる|
|Can’t eat ~||食べられない, 食べれない||たべられない, たべれない|
|There is, there are (people)||いる||いる|
|There isn’t, there aren’t (people)||いない||いない|
|There is, there are (things)||ある||ある|
|There isn’t, there aren’t (things)||ない||ない|
|Pork||豚肉, ポーク||ぶたにく, ポーク|
|Chicken||鶏肉, チキン||とりにく, チキン|
|Beef||牛肉, ビーフ||ぎゅうにく, ビーフ|
|Milk||牛乳, ミルク||ぎゅうにゅう, ミルク|
|A lot of||多い||おおい|
|Ok||大丈夫, OK||だいじょうぶ, オーケー|
|All, everything, anything||一切||いっさい|
|Except for ~||~ 以外||~ いがい|
|In addition to ~, besides ~||~ 以外にも||~ いがいにも|
|To bring something in||持ち込む, 持ち込みする||もちこむ, もちこみする|
|He, him, his||彼||かれ|
|She, her, her||彼女||かのじょ|
|The other person, one more person||もう一人||もうじとり|
|Chef’s choice/Chef’s tasting menu||お任せ||おまかせ|
|à la carte||アラカルト||アラカルト|
- I have an allergy.
- I have an egg allergy.
- I cannot eat dairy.
- I have an allergy and cannot eat nuts.
- I have a nut allergy, and I get a reaction even when other people eat it around me.
- I have a severe crustacean allergy. Do you serve them at your restaurant?
- I'm a vegetarian.
- There is one person who is vegetarian.
- There is one person who is vegetarian and cannot eat any meat or fish, including fish broth.
- Eggs and dairy are okay.
- Is there anything he can eat?
- There is one person who is vegan and cannot eat anything produced from animals, which includes not only meat, fish, and fish broth but also eggs, dairy, honey and so on.
- There is a woman who is pregnant, and she can't eat uncooked food or fish that contains a lot of mercury.
- Is it possible for you to cope with that?
- Is it possible that only she will bring her own food that she can eat?
- Is it possible that only he orders from the menu when we get there, while other people have the course?
Speaking, Writing, and Requesting a Menu in English
Once you're at the restaurant, unless you're relatively fluent in Japanese, you may want to ask (early on) for an English menu or if someone there can speak English.
Here's a tip, though: since English is compulsory in Japan, most Japanese people have learned it. They often have difficulty hearing native English spoken and speaking it themselves. Yet many can read it more easily. If you need to convey something, you may have a better chance of being understood if you write it down—or use Google Translate to display what you wrote as well as its translation.
|Good at, well||上手||じょうず|
|Bad at, poor||下手||へた|
|A person who can speak English (1)||英語が話せる人||えいごがはなせるひと|
|A person who can speak English (2)||英語の話せる人||えいごのはなせるひと|
|A person who can speak English (3)||英語を話せる人||えいごをはなせるひと|
|not ~ much||あまり〜ない||あまり〜ない|
- Is there a person who can speak English?
- Is there an English menu?
- I can speak Japanese.
- I can’t speak Japanese.
- I can’t read Japanese.
- I’m poor at Japanese.
- I can’t speak Japanese very well.
- I can’t speak Japanese very well, but is there a person who can speak English?
- We can’t read Japanese very much, but is there an English menu?
Where Would You like to Sit?
At the restaurant, you may have specific seat preferences. Here's how to talk about them.
|Shop, store, restaurant||店||みせ|
|Seat, place, table||席||せき|
|All seats, all tables||全席||ぜんせき|
|Separation from smoking/non-smoking||分煙||ぶんえん|
|Barrier-free, wheelchair accessible||バリアフリー||バリアフリー|
|Tatami mattress seat||座敷||ざしき|
|Near the window||窓際||まどぎわ|
|At the back||奥||おく|
|I prefer ~||〜がいい||〜がいい|
|Leaving it to you||よろしくお願いします。||よろしくおねがいします|
- Is smoking allowed in your restaurant or not?
- I prefer non-smoking seats, but… (is it possible?)
- I prefer a table near the window, if possible.
- If possible, a private room with tatami mats, please.
Planning a Party
If you are arranging a party, you'll have quite a few details to talk about with the restaurant. Here are the basic vocabulary and phrases.
|Discount coupon||割引券, 割引クーポン||わりびきけん, わりびきクーポン|
|A la carte||アラカルト, 単品||アラカルト, たんぴん|
|Reserve the whole place||貸切 / 貸し切り||かしきり|
|Birthday party||誕生日会, バースデーパーティー||たんじょうびかい, バースデーパーティー|
|There (over there)||そっち, そちら||そっち, そちら|
- I’m planning to reserve the whole place for a party with about 30 people, but… (is it possible?)
- Our budget is ¥5,000.
- The ¥3,000 girl’s party course, please.
- This will be a birthday party, so is it possible for you to prepare some cake?
- I have a discount coupon. May I use it?
- May I use a credit card?
- We will decide what to order when we get there.
- What kind of course do you have?
- Is there a dress code?
Babies and Children
Please don't assume you can bring children into a restaurant; you'll need to ask first. If it's okay, you may need to clear up a few things ahead of time. You don't want to be rude once you get there!
|Accompanied by children||子供連れ||こどもづれ|
|Bringing ~ in||〜の持ち込み||〜のもちこみ|
|Kid’s chair||子供用の椅子、キッズチェア||こどもようのいす, キッズチェア|
- Is it okay to bring children?
- My child is one year old.
- Is it okay to bring baby food?
- Do you have a child’s chair?
- Is there a changing table in the bathroom?
- Is there anywhere I can change the baby’s diaper?
Canceling a Reservation or Running Late
Some restaurants will still charge you full price for the course you reserved if you cancel at the last minute.
If something comes up and you can't keep your reservation, please let the restaurant know ASAP. Japanese restaurants are often very small, and some only have one round of seating per day. If you need to cancel, do it right away!
When you book your reservation, it's smart to ask about their cancellation policy. Ask:
- If we happen to have to cancel the reservation, do you have any rules for it?
Some establishments have a deadline for cancellation—something like:
- Cancellations have to be made by noon one day before the reservation day.
Be aware that some restaurants will still charge you full price for the course you reserved if you cancel at the last minute.
|I’m sorry. (polite)||すみません。||すみません|
|I’m sorry. (very polite)||申し訳ありません。||もうしわけありません|
Here's how to cancel a reservation:
- １０月２９日の１８時からで予約している佐藤なんですが、その日行けなくなってしまって… 申し訳ないんですが、キャンセルしてもらってもよろしいでしょうか？すみません。
- This is Satō, and I have a reservation at 6 p.m. on October 29. I’m afraid that we are not able to go to your place. Could you cancel the reservation, please? I’m sorry.
Tourists who fail to keep their reservations have become a problem in Japan, and many restaurants now ask for a Japanese phone number to confirm them. If you don't have a local number, you can give them the hotel's contact info and/or your email address. If you're staying at an AirBnB and don't have a hotel, or if the restaurant won't accept an email address, tell them:
- I don’t have a phone number that can be used in Japan, so may I call you when the day gets closer for confirmation?
- I don’t have a phone number that can be used in Japan, so may I call you guys a day before for confirmation?
If you're an American tourist whose phone can receive calls in Japan, providing your phone number with a country code (国番号) works fine, although some restaurants will still double-check to make sure they can reach you. If they've told you they'll be calling to confirm, but you haven't heard back, call them. They may be having trouble contacting you.
Also, please don't arrive late! Remember that Japanese restaurants—especially small ones with limited seating—carefully plan their nightly schedules, and parties that arrive late stand the chance of throwing off the entire plan. One sushi restaurant we visited in Tokyo—Sushiya no Nohachi—has been known to refuse entry to customers who arrive late without notice. If you're going to be more than ten minutes late, it's advisable to call ahead and let them know.
Reservations Full? Have a Plan B.
When the date or the time you request is not available, you are most likely to receive responses such as すみません (I'm sorry), 申し訳ございません (I'm sincerely sorry), 恐れ入りますが… (I'm afraid that… [we can't]), or 生憎ですが… (Unfortunately…). Usually they'll tell you clearly that they're all booked up and can't take the reservation. But even if they don't, these expressions all mean "no" in other words.
If you have a Plan B, however, you can still suggest it to them. When suggesting the second option, use では、〜はどうですか？, which means, "Then, how about…?"
|Then||では, それでは||では, それでは|
|How about ~? / What about ~?||〜はどうですか？||〜はどうですか？|
|Is ~ available?||〜は空いていますか？||〜はあいてますか？|
- Then, how about 7 p.m.?
- Then, is 6 p.m. on October 30 available?
Or simply ask when it would be available.
- When would it be available?
- What time would it be available?
Most restaurants accept reservations, but some don't take bookings at lunch, especially on weekends. Casual, fast, dine-in restaurants such as a gyudon-ya, kaiten sushi-ya, or ramen-ya usually don't take reservations; you'll need to wait in line at these. Also, some require you, in order to visit, to be recommended or accompanied by a regular. Without that, they may turn you away! In Japanese culture, this is called 一見さんお断り (いちげんさのことわり).
If they tell you:
- I'm afraid that we don't take reservations.
Or something similar, you have to say:
- Is that so? I understand. Thank you.
And hang up.
Honorifics: What a Japanese Restaurant Employee Might Say
In Japan, restaurant staff and other employees use honorific expressions called keigo when speaking to customers, especially over the phone. As explained in our keigo article, these honorifics can be confusing, even to the Japanese. It's too broad a topic to cover right now, but here are some frequently used expressions:
|English||Japanese (polite, honorific)||Pronunciation|
|There is/are ~ (things)||あります, ございます||あります, ございます|
|Is, are, am||です, でございます||です, でございます|
|It's our rule that ~||〜となっております。||〜となっております|
|To be available (spot, seat)||空いています, 空いております||あいています, あいております|
|Available (spot, seat, table)||空きがあります, 空きがございます||あきがあります, あきがございます|
|Spot/Seat not available (1)||空きがありません||あきがありません|
|Spot/Seat not available (2)||空きがございません||あきがございません|
|Spot/Seat not available (3)||空きがない状況です||あきがないじょうきょうです|
|(Seats are) booked up||ご予約（で席）が埋まる||ごよやく（でせき）がうまる|
|Please||お願いします, お願い致します||おねがいします, おねがいいたします|
|Sure, certainly, I see||分かりました, かしこまりました||わかりました, かしこまりました|
|Sure, certainly, I see||承知しました, 承知致しました||しょうちしました, しょうちいたしました|
|To attend (to your request)||承る||うけたまわる|
|I'm sorry, excuse me (1)||すいません , すみません||すいません , すみません|
|I'm sorry, excuse me (2)||申し訳ございません||もうしわけございません|
|I'm sorry, excuse me (3)||恐れ入ります||おそれいります|
|Visit (to our restaurant)||ご来店||ごらいてん|
|How many people||何名様||なんめいさま|
|We’re waiting for you (1)||お待ちしています||おまちしています|
|We’re waiting for you (2)||お待ちしております||おまちしております|
|Is it okay? (1)||よろしいですか？||よろしいですか？|
|Is it okay? (2)||よろしいでしょうか？||よろしいでしょうか？|
|How about ~ ?||〜はいかがですか？||〜はいかがですか？|
|To come (to go, to be at)||来ます, いらっしゃいます||きます, いらっしゃいます|
|Could you tell me ~ ?||〜を教えて頂けますか？||〜をおしえていただけますか？|
|Excuse me (for end of call).||失礼致します。||しつれいいたします|
|Some, a few, little||若干||じゃっかん|
- It's our rule that we only accept cash for the payment of the bill.
- Could I have your contact information?
- For how many people?
- I'm terribly sorry, but unfortunately that day is booked up... (so we can't take your reservation).
- Do you have any preference for the seat?
- Have you decided what course you are going to have?
- Can you spell the name of the birthday person for me?
- To double-check, the reservation is at 11 a.m. on February 12 for 4 adults and 1 child, just for the seats (no course or specific meal pre–ordered). Is this correct?
Final Notes and Role-Play
If you're staying at a good hotel, take advantage of its concierge service to make your reservation.
Remember that restaurants in Japan tend to be small and fill up quickly, so if you really want to try one out, it's safest to book in advance. If the spot is super popular, you may have to book way ahead—sometimes a year!—but, if you're traveling, a couple of months prior is usually sufficient. For casual eateries, a few days in advance is fine.
Google or the Internet is the best place to do basic research. If the restaurant you're interested in doesn't have a website, you can always use…
- Open Table
- Tabiko app
- Tabelog (Don't miss its informative How to make a reservation on Tabelog.)
- Pocket Concierge
…and some services such as Voyagin can secure restaurant seats for a fee.
If you're staying at a good hotel, take advantage of its concierge service to make your reservation. Also, some credit cards provide a concierge service, sometimes allowing you to score seats in almost impossible to reserve restaurants. Some restaurants make a few tables available exclusively for those fancy services.
If you can't use any of those alternative methods of making a reservation, pick up the phone. Remember that…
- Restaurants are usually very busy between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and 6 and 9 p.m.; if possible, avoid calling then. (Plus, if it's busy, the reservationist may talk faster than usual!)
- If you must call then, try to start the conversation with, "I'm sorry to call you during this busy time" (お 忙しいところすいません).
- For many places, "last call" for ordering food is thirty minutes before the closing time.
- Weekend nights, especially during a busy season like December for year-end and Christmas parties, usually get booked up quickly.
- Because many people in Japan celebrate with family at New Year's instead of Christmas, many restaurants close from December 31 to Jan 3, 4, or 5.
- Be careful about the summer holidays, called Obon, which occur around mid-August. Restaurants may be closed.
In addition to food you order while you're there, some restaurants require you to order a course in advance. Do your research beforehand and decide what you want to do before you call.
Couldn't Hear or Understand?
Don't feel bad if you didn't hear or understand something properly. Here are some phrases for such a situation.
- I'm sorry. I couldn't hear it well.
- Can you say that again, please?
Your Reservation is Done!
All you need to do now is wait until the reservation day (予約の日) and go to the restaurant! When you open the door, say こんにちは or こんばんは with a smile, followed by:
- I'm with the Buscemi party, who has a reservation (at seven).
- I'm with the Buscemi party, who has a reservation (at seven).
Whatever name you made the reservation under, if it's you, have fun, and bon appétit!
Free Reservation Role-Play Giveaway
We put together six(!) different conversations that cover a lot of situations you may run into when making a reservation in Japanese. Included in this download is a PDF with text and translations of all the conversations, plus audio. Even if you don't plan to do that, it's good practice for intermediate and advanced-level students. You'll learn new vocabulary, polite Japanese forms, and more!
Sign up to our email list to download the Reservation Role-Play Giveaway. We'll send you emails to let you know about new Japanese language articles like this one (and we'll just send you every free article giveaway directly from now on), Japanese lessons (a couple times a month), and Tofugu news (just a few times a year).