Planning a special meal, and want to make sure you get a seat? Here’s a quick rundown of how to make restaurant reservations in Japan—with both English and Japanese-language options.

First, though—you’re probably wondering whether, or when, restaurant reservations in Japan are necessary.

Do I need to make a restaurant reservation when eating out in Japan?

As in much of the rest of the world, a good rule of thumb is: if it looks fancy, book a table. This is especially true in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. So if you have your eye on one of Tokyo’s surprisingly affordable Michelin-starred joints, best make that reservation, and stat.

Generally speaking, if you’re planning to go to one of the following types of restaurants, you don’t need a reservation, and can just roll right in:

A possible exception is if you’re eating out in a large group—anything over 5-6 people may need a reservation, especially if the restaurant you want to visit is small. Otherwise, you may need to be prepared to split the main group into smaller groups and sit separately.

Keep in mind that some Japanese restaurants may not accept reservations, or might only accept reservations for dinner, particularly if they are small and/or popular joints with lots of feet through the door at lunch.

Pro tip: Read our guide to basic restaurant Japanese to brush up on key phrases before you head out.

Sushi, chopsticks
Photo by istock.com/Zheka-Boss

How to make restaurant reservations in Japan

There are two main ways to book a table in Japan:

  • By telephone
  • Online (*possible for less than 5% of restaurants)

If you are near the restaurant where you’d like to reserve a table, and can speak Japanese, you could also pop in and make your booking in person. The other two methods are the preferred ones, though.

Booking in English

If you can’t speak much Japanese, there are a few different ways to secure a restaurant reservation.

If you are staying at a hotel with a concierge service, the easiest option is probably to ask them to make the reservation for you. However, you can also use one of the following services.

Note that reservation fees do not include the actual meal.

ByFood

A brand-new restaurant reservation service ByFood provides free, paid and high-end bookings—all in English.

To make a free reservation, you just fill in your details, and ByFood’s automated robot-call system will contact the restaurant on your behalf. You’ll then receive an email confirming the reservation.

The free reservation service is helpful for securing seats at casual restaurants, but for those where reservations are recommended or required, you’ll need to use the paid or high-end services. In these cases, an actual human from ByFood will make the reservation for you, for a jolly reasonable fee of ¥2,000 per guest.

Voyagin

Voyagin also provide an English reservation service for high-end restaurants in Tokyo, including Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi—the restaurant run by the son of the legendary sushi chef Jiro Ono.

The reservation fee is ¥7,000 per person, so you’ll want to keep this service as an option for those really exclusive establishments.

Beef sukiyaki hotpot nabe
Photo by iStock.com/yongyuan

Gurunavi

The Japanese foodie site Gurunavi also has limited English functionality, including a restaurant reservation feature. It’s worth a look, as each restaurant listing has quite a lot of information, including whether it has an English menu or not.

Klook

Another option for English reservations is to book a restaurant directly through Klook. Though their list of restaurants in Tokyo isn’t very long, the meal and reservation fees are combined and the booking process is easy.

Note: Using a restaurant reservation service in English does not guarantee an English menu, nor that the staff will be able to speak English at the restaurant itself. You might be in luck, but take a phrasebook along just in case!

Photo by Adriana Paradiso

Booking in Japanese

If you can speak Japanese, making a reservation is as simple as calling up the restaurant and booking your date, or click-clicking on a restaurant reservation service like those offered by Gurunavi, Hot Pepper, Tabelog and the like.

Here is a comprehensive guide to making a reservation over the phone, in Japanese.

While some restaurants, particularly those that get a large number of international visitors, may be able to handle reservations over the phone in English, the majority of restaurants in Japan won’t be able to.

How far in advance should I make a reservation?

For regular restaurants, a week or two is likely to be sufficient. However, for famous and fancy eateries, including those with Michelin stars, you may need to reserve at least 1-2 months, or even 6+ months in advance!

Photo by Adriana Paradiso

Things to keep in mind when making restaurant reservations in Japan

Before you go, here are a couple of unspoken rules and other things Japanese restaurant owners wish more foreign customers understood:

  • Don’t be late! Try to be 5-10 minutes early. If you are even 5-15 minutes late, in addition to possibly forfeiting your reservation, based on our own experiences, you can expect rather sour service.
  • Don’t cancel unless you really can’t help it. Like your leg falls off, or something like that. If you do need to cancel, give the restaurant as much notice as possible, so that they can rejig their seating and schedule and avoid losses. High-end restaurants might charge you a hefty cancellation fee, too.
  • Reserving a table doesn’t give you an all-day pass. As is usually the case when dining out in Japan, you might be expected to leave the restaurant within a couple of hours, especially if it is busy and other patrons are waiting to enter.

Pro tip: Read about the Go To Eat campaign to see how you can save money at restaurants between October 2020 and March 2021.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.

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