All You Need to Know about Izakaya

Eating and drinking like the locals

By Izumi Kershaw   Oct 8, 2015 - 4 min read

Overview

"Izakaya" literally translated to "dine-in sake shop" is an informal drinking establishment where small dishes of food are served to accompany drinks. A Japanese bar/restaurant with a friendly and social atmosphere, the izakaya is a popular place for friends and co-workers to gather. From casual to classy with a wide variety of dishes to choose from, the izakaya is suited for all! 

History 

During the Edo era, it was common practice to enjoy sake in front of  liquor shops. They began to serve basic dishes with the sake and slowly this practice materialised into the izakaya we see today. From nationwide establishments to individually run stores, the izakaya has long been enjoyed by the Japanese. Previously more commonly visited by men after work, you will now find many women, university students, and friends enjoying a social night out. 

Food and drinks

Most izakayas serve food and drinks at a very affordable price. Dishes tend to be smaller than a regular meal so people usually order a variety of dishes to be shared. From tuna rolls, meat skewers, to even french fries, you can expect an impressive range on the menu, all a perfect compliment with beer and sake. Some establishments emphasise difference by advertising their regional and seasonal dishes and drinks, so be on the look out for these specials!  

Upon seating you will be served an "otoushi", a small appetizer that counts as your seating charge. For most izakaya, the otoushi price is a prerequisite for entering, but if you do not want it, there is a chance that it is optional though this is rare. Do not fret, otoushi generally only costs a few hundred yen. 

How to order 

Raise your hand or shout out "onegaishimasu!" (please) to get the attention of a server. Many chain stores will have large menus with photos, so simply point to the dishes you want. Some large establishments may also have electronic pads that will allow you to scroll through the menu and order in English. To pay, call the server again where you will either be asked to pay at the table or go to the register. 

If you are planning on drinking a lot, many izakaya offfer a "nomihoudai" (all-you-can-drink), costing as little as 1,000 yen to average 2,000 for two hours. If you are interested, simply let the server know by saying "nomihoudai onegaishimasu" (all-you-can-drink please) and they will provide you with the drinking menu and details. Some izakaya require a minimal order of dishes with the nomihoudai so make sure you understand these rules before committing! Nomihoudai also tends to end a half hour before the end time, so for 2 hours, expect your last order to be at 90 minutes. 

How to eat and drink

The first “kanpai” (cheers) is often done with a round of beer, followed by cocktails and perhaps nihon-shu (sake, Japanese rice wine). 
The general idea with the food is that it is shared. Take delight in picking at every dish and ordering more as the night continues. 

Vocabulary 

Oshibori – wet hand towel

Otoushi – appetizer / light snack before your start drinking

Suimasen – excuse me

Okanjo onegaishimasu – the bill please

Onegaishimasu - please

Nomihoudai – all-you-can-drink

Etiquette & Points to Note

-Izakaya will give you an “oshibori” (wet hand towel) as you get seated, so use these to clean your hands before eating

- Food is often shared, so it may be seen as impolite if you finish a dish on your own

- The bill is usually split evenly, but if you feel that you had more to drink than everyone it is courtesy to add a bigger share

-Izakayas tend to get smokey and noisy

-Nomihoudai is generally offered on a 2 hour basis, but last order is usually at 90minutes

- Going in a group, everyone is expected to order a drink, whether alcoholic or not

- Many izakayas have specials so be on the look out!

-Izakaya is a social place, feel free to strike up a conversation with a stranger!

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Izumi Kershaw

Izumi Kershaw @Izumi Kershaw

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