I've been to several restaurants, usually sushi oriented, where I will sit down and order a drink (alcoholic), then within a few minutes of receiving my drink, the chef will either walk out and personally serve me a dish I didn't order, or if I'm sitting at the (sushi) bar, he will plop a dish in front of me and explain to me what it is (even though I have demonstrated that I don't speak a lick of japanese).

The dish is what I would call an appetizer; it's like minced sushi fish with sauce, or a small sticky fungus dish, or like a soup with daikon and tofu and what the chef called "pudding".

Usually I smile and nod/half-bow and repeatedly say "arigato thank you" at any brief pause while he's talking.

Also, most times I don't actually order any food, I just get drinks. This situation exclusively happens for my after work drinks where I'm heading elsewhere to get actual dinner meal. Is it rude to get served the dish I didn't order, consume said dish, and then leave (having only ordered drinks)? I don't think I've ever been charged beyond the price of the drinks and tax and service charges.

So my question is, is this a common Japanese custom or practice? If so, what is the name of this custom? What is the meaning behind it? And what is the proper response?

  • 2
    Why do you want to only drink in a sushi restaurant/bar? It is a place that serves sushi.
    – Blaszard
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 3:41
  • 1
    I assume it's similar to restaurants in the US putting out a free dish of bread or (in Mexican restaurants) tortilla chips and salsa. There's also the concept of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amuse-bouche, which are "different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons but are served gratis and according to the chef's selection alone." Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


This is known as otōshi.

Otōshi is a simple dish intended to whet the customers’ appetite before their food arrives and is provided for each person, or is to be shared at the table, without being ordered. The charge for otōshi is added onto the total bill for food, so someone visiting an izakaya for the first time might be confused by this.

  • 3
    Note: It is possible to attempt to refuse it (and I have sometimes been successful), but most places (at least the ones I have been to) will still try and charge you for it anyway. In the end it is easier to accept this as a "service charge" and factor it in to you spending calculations. Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 2:39

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