If You Want to Impress Someone, Ask For This Seat at a Japanese Restaurant
Whether it’s a date, business client, or just somebody you want to impress, there is a seat to always ask for when making your reservation. If you’re at a Japanese restaurant, hands down, always take them to the counter.
What I’m not referring to is the bar counter you find in American restaurants, where the counter seats are often regarded as a simple waiting area. When I say counter seats, I mean straight-in-front-of-the-chef dining, whether that be sushi, kaiseki, tempura, or yakitori.
Open kitchen, counter dining is no longer exclusive to Japanese food, but the practice began in Japan. This style of eating was first developed in the city of Osaka in the 1800s, then known to be a casual form of eating. But post-WWII there was a rapid social restructuring and growth in the business sector, lending for restaurants to pivot and become a place of socializing and entertainment.
Sushi restaurants initially popularized the format, but restaurant patrons loved it so much that soon all kinds of Japanese fine dining restaurants were following. So if you’re looking to create a dining experience that is great for impressing your guest, look no further than Japanese counter top dining.
What makes the counter seats special
Japanese meals at the counter are designed to have a lateral relationship — instead of a top-down relationship where the chef is tucked away in the back, you interact with the person cooking your meal.
For example, in the simplest form, a Japanese customer at the counter would always begin their meal by saying the recognizable phrase: “Itadakimasu” — which roughly translates to, “Thank you for the food, let us eat”, and would end their meal with “Gochisousama deshita” — which roughly translates to, “Thank you for the food, I’m very grateful for this feast”. When the chef is at the counter, he hears this gratitude, closing the distance between chef and diner. It’s not only an opportunity to sharpen your own relationship-building skills, but shows your guest that you value the people you interact with.
Relationship-building is the core of a good meal
Eating at the counter is quite obviously a wonderful visual experience, but it is also just as much audio sensual. When you order your dish at the counter, you can hear the rhythmic chopping of spring onions, the sizzling frying of shrimp, or the sound of flames grilling your shishito peppers. As you and your guest watch the chef expertly slice fish or top off tofu with a delicate yuzu peel, you can’t help but be amazed by their craft.
A performance is memorable
Finally, counter seating is the best place to learn about the food, making the dining experience something special to remember. Your chef is the most knowledgeable person in the room when it comes to what you're eating, and is an opportunity to leave the meal with knowledge you otherwise would’ve never known about your food.
Where was this fish sourced from? What about these vegetables are special? Why is the tempura shrimp here never sliced and why is the pork cutlet always served with cabbage? It’s an opportunity for an exchange of stories with an expert, something of value for both you and your guest. Learning about the meal will make you more appreciative for the experience, and this gratitude translates to a wonderful memory that won’t be easy to forget.
A learning experience is remembered as a valuable one
So whether it be a first date, business meeting, or a one-on-one dinner with an in-law parent, take them to the counter seating of a Japanese restaurant — it’s an opportunity to show them your best character, and gives them a memorable experience they’re likely to remember. Leaving a good impression on someone will never have been easier.