The Bald Traveler

Helping Geeks in their Travel Endeavors

Otoshi and Tipping in Japan

There are two money related topics we will be discussing today related to dining in Japan.  The first is Otoshi or seat charge.  This is a way for restaurants and bars to provide a cover fee without making it look like a cover fee.  The second is that there is no tipping in Japan.  Read on for more info…

Otoshi or Seat Charge

When you dine at a restaurant or bar in Japan you may be surprised to get a small dish of food with your drinks.  This is known as an Otoshi or seat charge.  It is a way to charge a cover fee without charging a cover fee.  You get something for sitting down even if you didn’t order it or want it.  Most Otoshi are around 300 to 500 yen. 

Can I decline the Otoshi or Seat Charge?

You can not decline the Otoshi for a few reasons.  One is it legal to charge it under Japanese law.  Two it is considered offensive to the owner especially in smaller places with maybe 5 to 10 seats and you will probably be asked to leave.  And the charge normally is not that bad just look for it when you enter it will most likely be printed outside the entrance with the other prices.

How will I know if I’m going to be charged the Otoshi or not?

If you sit down and get a small plate of food with your drink you will be charged for it.  If you do not you won’t be charged.  Most fast food places and Ramen shops where you use a vending machine to select your ramen typically don’t charge an Otoshi.  If the place serves alcohol you will most likely be charged to sit down and will get the Otoshi when you get your first drinks.

Is there some Otoshi’s I should look out for?

Tourist bars especially in Shinjuku can charge upwards of 5000 yen.  If the bar is offering 100 yen drinks or someone grabbed you on the street and told you of the cheap drink fees look to see what the Otoshi fee is as it will be printed outside the establishment.  Also some bars that cater to locals may refuse to serve you or charge you a higher Otoshi to encourage yuo to go elsewhere and let the locals drink.

Why do Restaurants and Bars use the Otoshi

The Otoshi is a way for the establishment to give you a little something to eat while you are waiting for your food. Normally your drink will come out before your appetizer or main course and the Otoshi is a way to get you some food and wet your appetite for the food that will be coming later.  Also most Japanese will sit and drink for hours at bars in Japan and the Otoshi is a way for the owner to recover some cost for that while saving face.  Remember most bars and restaurants in Japan have between 5 and 20 seats.  Lastly the owner will not lose honor for asking you to pay to come into their place as they are giving you something in return even if you didn’t ask for it.  So enjoy it and look forward to the food coming.

What is up with Tipping in Japan?

In Japan you do not tip.  If you do the waiter or owner will come and hand it back to you.  The Japanese are paid for their work and see tipping as paying for better service when they gave you their best service.  Japanese workers get paid for their work and make a good wage doing it, unlike the U.S. they do not need tips to cover their salary.

It is normal in my country to Tip why can’t I tip in Japan?

Just like in your country a tip is expected, in Japan it is not and can be seen as an insult.  Please don’t try and tip and enjoy your trip.  Just think you won’t need to calculate in your head home much 15% of a meal is in Yen as opposed to dollars.

How do I tell them they did a good job if I don’t tip?

Just tell them, Arigato Gozaimasu (Thank You) or The meal was delicious.  they pride themselves on giving good service so a kind word is all you need.

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