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In my Japanese class we were taught that one does not need to thank a cashier when they check you out or a server when they bring you your meal, but I always feel awkward remaining silent. Was my sensei wrong? Specifically:

  • What is the usual exchange between customer and cashier when paying for an item?
  • What is the usual exchange when a waiter brings you your food?
  • When leaving a restaurant, is it appropriate to say ごちそうさまでした? 美味しかったです? ありがとうございました?
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5 Answers 5

The thing to keep in mind is that this isn't a ritualized situation, such as the 只今{ただいま}/お帰{かえ}り, "I'm back" / "welcome back", call and response pattern. When you come and go from the office or home, there are set patterns. This restaurant situation isn't like that.

Specific to your questions, there is no usual exchange between customer and cashier when paying for an item, or when a waiter brings you your food. Most Japanese I observe seem almost as if they don't acknowledge the existence of the staff and say nothing. However, some kind of nod or word would be perfectly acceptable if you wanted to do it.

On the way out, there is nothing at all wrong with thanking wait staff at restaurants. The worst that can happen is that they think you're a little unnecessarily polite, and that ain't a bad thing, is it? The words just mean what the words mean, and you can use them as you see fit, in order to represent yourself as you would prefer. Let's look at the implications:

As pointed out, you do not have to say ありがとう as you are a customer paying for a service. But you could, and it won't even raise eyebrows. You could say どうも. It's not inappropriate, but it is casual. Imagine, in English, at a restaurant saying, "hey, thanks man!" to the waiter as you leave. Does it fit the environment? You make the call.

Another one not mentioned so far that you'll often hear at casual restaurants, particularly at 回転寿司{かいてんずし}, rotating sushi places, is お愛想{あいそう} or お愛想{あいそ} which are both ways of saying "bill please".

美味{おい}しかった, "that was delicious", isn't a statement of gratitude for the service, it's a comment on the food. Say it if you actually think the food was good. What restaurant doesn't want to hear that the food was delicious?

Lastly, you can just take care of proceedings by asking for the bill by calling out お会計下{かいけいくだ}さい, "bill please", or お勘定下{かんじょうくだ}さい, "check please", or variants (you could drop the and/or the ください) , without saying any kind of gratitude statement. Just keep it about the business, and no one will mind.


My bonus cultural observation: The Japanese concept of service is that it's not about the people. The person working at a store or restaurant becomes entirely a representative of that place while on duty, and they check their individual personality at the door. So for the customer, the staff does not merit personal interaction the way other people do.

To a non-Japanese mind, it seems a little harsh, as in other cultures, like mine, we tend to think about the person doing the job. I tend to sympathize with the guy doing the minimum wage job. However, in Japanese culture, it's not an attempt to be superior to the service staff, it's an acknowledgement that the service staff are also not necessarily personally invested in the job.

In some ways, there is a certain liberation in the concept, because the staff can also detach themselves from the job so as not to take issues personally.

Hope that helps.

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i've had a the same exact experience with hostess in japan who asked if they could join me and my host-brother at Karaoke. They were completely different in the hostess bar than out. –  Mark Hosang Jul 16 '11 at 11:59
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(1) Your cultural observation is very interesting. I think that it partly explains why not many customers say ありがとう or even どうも to cashiers, because it sounds too personal. (2) The word to ask for a bill in sushi restaurants is not 終わりそう but お愛想 (おあいそ or おあいそう). –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 16 '11 at 16:00
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@Tsuyoshi: Thanks for the correction. Not just here on this answer, but also because for a decade I've been saying 終わりそう, thinking I'm saying "looks like I'm done". I wonder if the Japanese staff just took me at face value, or thought I was mispronouncing おあいそう...? –  Dave M G Jul 16 '11 at 16:19
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@DaveMG One point of nitpickery though: I do not agree with your description of ありがとう and どうも. どうも is casual, but polite (and those are 2 different dimensions). ありがとう, however, is not casual, but it's non-polite, so it sounds slightly patronizing. I would use どうも over ありがとう. –  dainichi Feb 14 '12 at 7:54
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This wont help the conversation, but this is an amazing answer. I wish that I could give it more than a single +1. –  Jamie Taylor Jul 5 '12 at 13:01

Japanese here. I find it fine to say ありがとう for the first two, although どうも is more common. Not saying anything is perfectly acceptable. You can also nod, which is very common.

When you leave the restaurant, it is common to say ごちそうさまで~す or ごちそうさまでした. If you are female, ごちそうさまでした would be more common. It is perfectly ok to leave without saying anything. Nodding is very common as well.

It is true that in Kansai area (particularly in Osaka) and also in rural areas people tend to say something, compared to Tokyo for example.

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@Dave M G: Hm, I was thinking of it as listing the source of the info. –  Enno Shioji Jul 16 '11 at 11:32
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Everyone is always their default source, so it is unnecessary to mention it. We all have origins which contribute to why we believe our answer to be right. –  Dave M G Jul 16 '11 at 13:02
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@DaveMG: I don't understand. The above poster was confirming that their answer was correct, and that they had experience to back it up. It is not important that a poster thinks that (s)he is correct, it is important that others know whether (s)he is correct or not. Foreign cultures are a subject about which there is a lot of widely available crap written by amateurs who once read a Wikipedia article and misinterpreted the subtleties, and I appreciate those with experience (or those with no experience) pointing themselves out. –  Billy Oct 1 '11 at 5:09
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@DaveMG: Native speakers know what is common and what is uncommon, and that's all that was asked. I have no way of checking the validity of others' information. This is not physics: the only way I can check anything is to ask someone more experienced. Besides, I'm not suggesting you should trust, say, a grammatical explanation from a native speaker to be complete or even correct. I'm saying it's wrong of you to berate this person for giving proof that they knew the answer to this question. Appealing to authority, while undesirable, is often the only thing you can do. –  Billy Oct 15 '11 at 10:34
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What an interesting thread of comments! Thank you for identifying yourself as Japanese (unless you're lying of course). For this question it was very appropriate to do so. –  medmal Jul 31 '12 at 6:24

I don't think it is necessary to thank them. I do though out of the habit from america. However, I have heard stories that in Osaka you do thank the waitstaff and cashiers.

I've seen Gochisou used more as an indicator to the staff that you are done with your meal and ready to pay, though that is just an observation. I haven't heard Oshikatta or arigatou used as often though. Though this may be a difference if you are eating at the counter or at a sushi bar.

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For first two, you can say ども, but not ありがとう because you don't have to thanks them, since you are using their service, and you are customer.

And you can use ごちそうさまでした / 美味しかったです at restaurant if you wish to, and may be just whisper those if you don't want other people looking at you for some reasons.

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@Amanda - Generally speaking, I agree with You-san. In fact, I, for myself, almost always say ごちそうさま when I left a chashier. It seems a kind of “see you!” to me. When I’m perfectly satisfied with their food and service, I say “美味しかったです、ごちそうさま!”. If they make me unhappy (but this case is rare), I probably don’t say anything. –  user364 Jul 23 '11 at 22:17
    
(continued from the above) However, when a waiter brings me my food, I always say ありがとうございます!because I want to express gratitude and happiness. But most people don’t do like me. Indeed, my husband doesn’t. All in all, I think you might want to express your feeling as it is, when it comes to this case. Your sensei is right, and your feeling is right, too. –  user364 Jul 23 '11 at 22:19
  • What is the usual exchange between customer and cashier when paying for an item?

I always start with お早うございます、こんにちは or お晩です (Tôhoku-dialect), and finish with あざ〜います。 With some kombini clerks, I add some comments on the weather. In return, they are nice(r) to me, and every one is happy.

  • What is the usual exchange when a waiter brings you your food?

Well, I'd often ask for her age/number/mail… More seriously, I just say something like "はい、ど〜も〜". But I tend to enjoy interacting with the staff. Last time, I ordered "your favourite". And when he came with the order, I said "I hope you have good taste, or I'll complain!" and everyone laughed. I consider those jobs as very tiring, so I try to make it agreable for them too. (oh, I should mention that letting them choose the order is not being very nice here; rather an embarassing situation I reckon.)

  • When leaving a restaurant, is it appropriate to say ごちそうさまでした? 美味しかったです? ありがとうございました?

I always yell my "ごちそうさまでした". I wouldn't say 美味しかったです unless I had something incredibly delicious (so, I never say it). I wouldn't thank them either, since I already did the gochisou part. I expect them to thank me in return.

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Even more casual would be to say "ごそうさま!". Many of my friends in Tokyo say this, none to ill effect. –  yadokari Sep 29 '11 at 20:34
    
"Well, I'd often ask for her age/number/mail…" - once I was worried that I might mispronounce "フォーク o kudasai" as a gairaigo-ization of the f-word. Thankfully, it appears the latter is fairly different from the former. –  Andrew Grimm Oct 16 '11 at 6:11

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