Japanese Essentials: Ordering at a Japanese Fast Food Restaurant

Despite the reputation as an expensive city, Tokyo is full of cheap fast food type restaurants for you to get a decent cheap meal. Most meals can be had for under ¥1000 and it’s a great way to get a cheap meal and practice ordering at a Japanese fast food restaurant.
Many chain restaurants have a ticket system to purchase your meal. This is where you would buy your meal from something that looks like a vending machine and then take the ticket that you get to the counter person.
The vending machine, 券売機けんばいき is often placed outside the restaurant or just inside the door. You have to select your meal and pay the machine at which time you will receive a meal ticket (食券しょっけん).
Japanese fast food restaurant meal vending machine
Most vending machines require you insert the money first so buttons featuring food light up. Don’t forget to push the おつり button to get your change! As you enter the restaurant, you give your ticket to the waiter.
This system is very common for:

  • たちぐち: stand and eat restaurants
  • そば: soba (buckwheat noddles) restaurants
  • ラーメン: ramen (Chinese-style wheat noodles) restaurants
  • うどん: udon (thick wheat flour noodle) restaurants

Self-service: セルフサービス
It is very common in these types of restaurants that the customer will have to retrieve drinks, seasoning and condiments for themselves as well as return their own tray. Look for this sign for where you have to return your tray.
Japanese fast food restaurant Tray return sign
Portions in Japan tend to be much smaller than what you might be used to so to ask for smaller or bigger portion of food you would say:
なみ – regular size
大盛おおもり – large size
なみ, regular, and 大盛おおもり, large are used to describe the sizing of dish like どんぶり, a Japanese rice bowl dish with various topping such as meat or fish.
If you want to order a large beer rice bowl, you’ll say:
(I’ll have a large beef rice bowl please.)
だい, ちゅう, しょう
If you’re in a restaurant that serves noodles such as udon you would say:

  • だい – large
  • ちゅう – regular
  • しょう – small

If you want to order a regular portion of udon, you could say:
うどんのちゅう、おねがいします。(I’ll have a regular bowl of udon, please.)

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