Six Tips for First-Time “Japanese Izakaya” Patrons
5. Split the food...
Like many traditional forms of Japanese dining, at an izakaya the expectation is that each dish will be shared with everyone who wants some, rather than everyone ordering one thing for themselves. That's why the table is supplied with enough individual plates or torizara for everyone. (Feel free to ask for new torizara every so often if you need them.)
There's no obligation to take a serving of things you don't like or can't eat, of course, but remember that the chef doesn't expect any dish to be eaten in isolation. Only trying one or two dishes usually won't be as tasty or as nutritious as sampling the full range of flavors your izakaya has to offer.
6. ... But not the bill!
Most izakaya aren't set up to track individual orders, especially since parties usually share all food between them. Even if you simply split the bill evenly, asking to pay it one by one creates a lot of additional work for the staff. Instead, someone at the table should collect money from everyone else and then pay the whole bill at once (or, if you prefer, pay the whole bill and then collect money from the others once the party leaves the izakaya).
How exactly to split the bill is up to the group, of course, but the traditional Japanese way to do it (except in cases where the whole party is paid for by one senior member) is simply to divide the bill by the number of people present. Recently, though, it's become common to give a discount to the non-drinkers if the drinks made up a significant part of the bill.
Oh, and remember: No need to tip! It's not expected in Japan, and no-one in the izakaya is relying on tips to supplement their wages. Most establishments refuse to accept tips at all, in fact, and offering will usually cause confusion or embarrassment at best.
As you can see, visiting an izakaya is a bit more of a commitment than going to a western-style pub where you can have one drink and leave. Still, once you understand the system, there's nothing too complicated about it. Some trendwatchers are predicting that izakaya to be the next big thing in Japanese dining, so now's your chance to catch the wave early and be a seasoned expert when the rest of the world catches up!
Text/ William Roderick
Ooiriya: The cozy izakaya loved by locals and travelers alike