Translated by Lester Somera
[Izakaya] "Nomihōdai": All You Can Drink For A Fixed Price!?
Written by Ai Yoneda
"Nomihōdai" are all-you-can-drink courses at izakaya and restaurants in Japan with a few specific rules, which we will introduce here. If you would like to taste various kinds of Japanese sake, do enjoy the "nomihōdai" course while in Japan.
"Nomihōdai" 飲み放題 is a service often seen at izakaya (Japanese style bars) and other dining establishments.
By paying a fixed price, you can drink as much as you like from a preestablished menu. No matter how many pints you order, the charge is the same, so big drinkers can get their money’s worth! While there are all-you-can-drink places overseas, the Japanese "nomihōdai" system has some unique rules. These rules don’t necessarily apply at all izakayas, but you should be aware of them so you can freely enjoy the pleasures of "nomihōdai".
Rule 1. The Time Limit And The Price Are Fixed
Most "nomihōdai" plans have a time limit. For example, an izakaya may charge a single customer 1000 yen for two hours, or 1500 yen for three hours. The time limit will vary according to the establishment.
In addition, most izakayas will have a "nomihōdai" menu that is separate from the regular menu, and customers who want to avail of the all-you-can-drink option should order from this menu. The menu offerings will vary from one izakaya to another, and there may be different levels of courses available. For example, there are 1900 yen "nomihōdai" course menus which consist of beer and cocktails, and 2900 yen courses which also include sake. More expensive courses offer more variety.
Most "nomihōdai" courses will also include soft drinks, as well as non-alcoholic beverages. For this reason, an all-you-can-drink course is a convenient option even for customers who aren’t strong drinkers.
Some izakayas also have a soft drink "nomihōdai" option for minors. While the menu is restricted to soft drinks, it will cost less than the normal course with alcohol.
Rule 2. The “Glass Exchange” System
There are izakaya which have adopted a glass exchange system as part of their "nomihōdai" option. This simply means that when ordering your next drink, you must return your empty glass. In other words, “please finish your drink before ordering another.”
Rule 3. The Two-Order System
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When availing of the "nomihōdai" option, you may be informed about a two-order system by the wait staff. Under this system, you must order at least two items from the food menu. The number of orders and the specifics of the system will vary from place to place.
”Nomihōdai” options are a great bargain compared to regular drink prices, so izakayas have to recoup profits through food orders. That is why some izakayas employ this system. Systems like these aren’t necessarily in place at every bar, but people visiting an izakaya for the first time should definitely be aware of them.
What do you think? Nomihōdai options are a great deal, but can come with strings attached. If you can deal with these rules, though, it’s a wonderful thing to take advantage of this system when you visit an izakaya, so keep the points of this article in mind, and enjoy the bounty of the Japanese drinking culture!