How to Pay a Bill at a Restaurant in Japan
It seems straightforward just to go and pay your bill after you have eaten a nice meal in a restaurant, but in Japan, this can turn into quite an adventure if you don’t know how the systems work. It is not always easy even just to make a payment at a restaurant in Japan. There are some unique customs you need to know about if you are planning a trip to Japan, so let us explain the rules to you before you go.
Payment at the Cashier
Most commonly, you are supposed to pay the bill at the cashier. Firstly, you need to ask for the bill while still at your table and the waiter will bring you the bill. Even though you would expect to pay at your table as well, this is usually not how it works in Japan. You need to bring your bill to the cashier and pay it there. Japanese people normally make payments just before leaving the restaurant so that they don’t need to go back to the table after their payment, and the waiters can start clearing the table as soon as they get to the cashier.
One of the biggest mysteries that can happen is that the bill may not indicate the total amount. It may just indicate what you ordered in Japanese, so you may not think it is the bill. If you are skeptical, when you pay at the cashier, you can ask for the receipt and you can check the itemized prices of all the items that you ordered. It may not be easy, however, because the receipt is normally written only in Japanese.
At some restaurants, especially at Izakaya (居酒屋), a Japanese style pub or bar, an appetizer called otoshi (お通し), or table charge, may be served automatically without you having ordered it. This appetizer is not free of charge, and it will appear on your bill at the end. You can regard this as a kind of cover charge. It sometimes causes trouble between the restaurant and foreign visitors, because they don’t expect this. The waiter normally doesn’t explain this when you enter a restaurant, and it is usually not written on the menu. This is just a traditional custom of Japanese bars that you should know about before visiting any bar, izakaya, or restaurant in Japan. The price of otoshi is about 500 yen per person.
Otoshi is a chance for the restaurant to serve something original to entertain their customers. From the customers’ point of view, they can relieve their hunger without waiting a long time for the food that they ordered.
You may be able to refuse otoshi at some restaurants, but in that case, you should ask the staff at the beginning before you even sit down. We recommend you to try it though, as it may be something you would have otherwise not tried even though these appetizers are often tasty. Plus, some restaurants may indeed not serve you the otoshi appetizer, but still charge you the table charge.
Tax, Charges, and Tipping
There are other things that may make the final total on your bill higher than you expected besides otoshi, as the price listed on the menu may not include the sales tax. As of 2020, the percentage of the consumption tax is 10%. You need to ask the restaurant staff if the tax is included or not, and if it is not, you have to add 10% to the prices so that you will not be surprised at the cashier.
Another mystery charge that can get added to your bill is the service charge. It is especially the expensive restaurants or hotel restaurants that charge this extra fee. It is similar to a tip, even though Japan doesn’t have a tipping culture. The percentage is usually between 10 to 15 percent, and it should be mentioned (in small letters) on the menu that this charge will be added to your bill.
The good news for more budget conscious customers, though, is the non-tipping custom that generally prevails in Japan. You only pay the exact amount that appears on the bill, and you don’t need to add a tip. If you try to give a tip, the staff may actually get embarrassed. In Japanese restaurants, there is not one person in charge of a specific table, as all the waiters take care of all the tables. This means they will not expect a tip from certain customers.
Ticket Vending Machine System
At some restaurants, you need to pay right when you come in and before you sit down. In this case, you need to buy a ticket at the vending machine that will be placed at the entrance. Most restaurant chains and newer restaurants have pictures to go with the dishes’ names, but in some smaller places, all you will see is a bunch of buttons with Japanese characters on them. In this case, you can try to use Google Translate, or ask a staff member for help. You will mostly find this system in Japanese style fast-food restaurants such as ramen joints and beef bowl restaurants (牛丼).
The advantages of this system are that you don’t need to worry about otoshi, consumption tax, and service charge as the prices that are mentioned on the button or on the screen are all-inclusive. You can also just get up and leave once you are done without having to ask for the bill first.
Method of Payment
Japan used to be a cash society; customers preferred to pay by cash rather than by credit card, and restaurants preferred to receive payment by cash. Many shops and restaurants were not willing to introduce the machines that were necessary to accept card payments. Adding to that, the shops need to pay a fee if the customers pay by card.
The switch from cash to electronic payments was already happening before the COVID-19 crisis hit, but the crisis has sped things up considerably, and now many shops and restaurants are accepting cards and other ways of electronic payment. Before that, when the Japanese government raised the percentage of consumption tax from 8% to 10%, they promoted the introduction of electronic payments to shops and restaurants that didn’t have the option yet. If the customers used the cards, they got a return of 5% to their account. To cooperate with this promotion, many shops and restaurants introduced electronic payment methods.
It is, however, good to keep in mind that if you go to a small restaurant in Japan they may still only accept cash. So it is always smart to have a bit of cash in your wallet just in case.
Your Japan Tour
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