It’s no secret that Tokyo is a foodie’s paradise. From Michelin-star restaurants to one-coin pizzas, the capital has it all. But if you’ve got your heart set on a certain place or are planning a special night out, it’s always better to make a reservation to avoid disappointment. Read on for the lowdown on how to make restaurant reservations in Tokyo (and the rest of Japan), in both English and Japanese.
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 if you have your eye on one of Tokyo’s surprisingly affordable Michelin joints. Even on weekdays and national holidays, it’s better to book — Tokyo is a big city, after all, and there are a good many other people who want to eat out too.
If you’re dining in a large group (5-6 people or more) and want a private room, want a special menu or have food allergies, you should also consider making a reservation. While it’s not essential, it’s helpful to discuss special requirements like this with the restaurant ahead of time via a reservation request. Then you’ll know for sure whether or not they can be accommodated.
Keep in mind that some Japanese restaurants may not accept reservations, or might only accept reservations for dinner. This is especially true if they are small and/or popular joints with lots of feet through the door at lunch.
Places where you don’t need a reservation
If you’re planning to go to one of the following types of restaurants, you don’t need to make a booking. In fact, some of them might not even take reservations. So you can just roll right in (unless it’s busy, then you might need to wait in line for a while):
- Family restaurants like Denny’s, Saizeriya and Gusto
- Conveyor-belt (kaiten) sushi restaurants
- Most other budget and chain restaurants
- Izakaya (call ahead to check, if you’re in a big group, though)
Pro tip: Read our guide to basic restaurant Japanese to brush up on key phrases before you head out.
How to book a restaurant in Tokyo
There are two main ways to make a restaurant reservation in Japan — whether you’re dining out in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or anywhere else:
- By telephone
- Online or through a restaurant reservation app
If you happen to be near the restaurant and can speak Japanese, you could also pop in and make your booking in person. But the other methods are the preferred ones. Also keep in mind that some restaurants do not accept day-of reservations, or will not accept reservations too far in advance.
Booking in Japanese
If you speak basic Japanese, making a reservation is quite simple. Just call up the restaurant and be prepared to tell them the time, date and number of people you’d like to book for. Alternatively, click-clicking on a restaurant reservation service like those offered by Gurunavi, Hot Pepper, Tabelog, Rakuten and the like is also a fairly straight-forward process.
Tofugu have put together a comprehensive guide to making a reservation over the phone, in Japanese.
Booking in English
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 probably won’t be able to. In this case, there are a few different ways to secure a restaurant reservation in English in Japan.
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. You could also try to book online. For example, some restaurants have added booking links to their Google Maps listings, or listed themselves on websites like TableCheck. However, not all restaurants in Japan are that tech-savvy, so luckily there is a third option — English booking services.
Using English booking services to make restaurant reservations in Tokyo
These handy sites will handle the whole reservation process for you. All you have to do is submit a request, and let the magic happen. The time between booking and confirmation will vary between the services, and some may charge a reservation or booking fee separate to the price of the meal. But rest assured, with any of the following services you’re in good hands. Let’s break them down.
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!
ByFood provides booking services for some of the best restaurants in Tokyo — as well as food experiences and gourmet product shopping — all in English.
On their website you can filter restaurants by location, Michelin stars and even dietary requirements. Once you’ve picked a restaurant you’ll be able to see info about it, including opening hours and cancellation policies (if applicable), as well as the average cost of a meal. Then you can choose the number of people, date and time and make a request. This form also clearly displays the reservation fee, which is usually a flat fee of around ¥2,000.
Cooking classes, farm visits and food tours are the kinds of things you’ll find in the Food Experiences section of the byFood website. The booking process is similar, but instead of a reservation fee, you’ll see the price for the experience displayed. The gourmet products section basically functions as an online shop, where you can buy various food and drink products to snazz up your home cooking.
We saved the best for last, though. A key part of ByFood’s mission is their Food for Happiness project. For every booking or purchase made through their website, they donate to and support various NGO-run projects helping children in need accross the globe. By booking with them, you’ll be eating good and doing good at the same time.
Another option for English restaurant reservations in Japan is to book a restaurant through Klook. Though their list of restaurants in Tokyo isn’t very long, there are a number of restaurants offering excellent Japanese cuisine on it, including three Michelin-starred restaurants.
Once you’ve selected a restaurant, you’ll be able to choose from a range of menu options — essentially pre-ordering your meal, so you’ll have speedy service. If you book on Klook, the meal and reservation fees are combined — so you don’t need to worry about unexpected charges at the till. Another upside to booking via Klook is the ability to pay via credit card (including American Express), which is (surprisingly) not always an option at restaurants.
On Klook you’ll also find a number of unique food experiences, including food tours, cooking classes and even a Maid Cafe experience.
Rakuten Travel Experiences
You can also use Rakuten Travel Experiences to reserve a table at a small number of high-end sushi, shabu-shabu and okonomiyaki restaurants in Tokyo. Included in their line-up is Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi — run by legendary sushi master Jiro’s son. You’ll also find Tokyo Bay dinner cruises and foodie walking tours on the list of experiences.
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, your booking might be cancelled. Also, based on our own experiences, if you’re late 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. That way they can rejig their seating and schedule to 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. This is especially true if it is busy and other patrons are waiting to enter.
FAQs about restaurant reservations in Tokyo
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!
What should I do if I need to make changes to the booking?
Sometimes things change, maybe there are more guests coming than you thought or maybe you need to switch the booking to another day. Usually restaurants can accommodate extra guests just by bringing over an extra seat or moving you to another table, but changing days might be trickier. If you booked through one of the English booking services we suggested, you should check their policy. In some cases, they may be able to assist you with changing or re-booking. If you made the reservation yourself, it’s best to give the restaurant a call (Japanese ability permitting), or cancel the booking and make another for the new date.
What day/time should I make my booking for?
Generally speaking, this really depends on your preferences. Restaurants are more likely to be fully booked on weekends, national holidays and special occasions like Valentine’s Day, and many are closed on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. If you’re set on visiting one of the most exclusive restaurants in Tokyo, a mid-week booking close to the venue’s opening time might be easier to get than say, 7 p.m. on a Saturday. But if you absolutely must have this meal at 7 p.m. on Saturday, aim for more casual restaurants.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Last updated in October 2022, by Maria Danuco.