For Here Or To Go?


A few of my students have part-time jobs in cafés and restaurants. This post is for them and anyone else who needs to use English in restaurants.

‘May’ or ‘can’?

Generally, when you are taking orders for people, use ‘may’; it’s more formal and customers should be respected. ‘Can’ is more informal and it’s not really a problem if you use ‘can’ instead of ‘may’ but ‘may’ is more appropriate.

How to ask about takeaway service

One of my students has asked:

Which is better, “For here or to go?” or “Is this to eat in or take away?”

The answer is both are fine. The first one is more informal, the second slightly more formal.


Here in Japan, at a lot of restaurants, it is common to take the bill/check to the cashier. At other places it is common to pay at the table.

Other little things

Japanese people can be very particular about how food ought to be served. The photograph at the top is from my class blackboard.

When the sand (in the timer) has all reached the bottom, (your tea) is ready to drink.

Not all of your food will be ready at the same time. We will bring each dish as soon as it is ready.

You might find these posts particularly useful.

Video: Describing Food

Food Descriptions are Better than Dish Names

What vocabulary is important?


Some students worry about the vocabulary that they should make notes of and really try to learn. What vocabulary is important?

There is no easy answer because it depends on the person. If you use English mainly at work, learn vocabulary by listening to podcasts or reading about your industry in English. If you use English with friends, try doing the same thing about your hobbies and your friends’ hobbies too.

If you already know the vocabulary related to your main interests, try reading about things you suddenly become interested in with a quick internet search. Add to that with a podcast search and you should have plenty to work with.

Remember to use word cards and read tomorrow for an easy way to build word power.

Preparing to Interpret at Work

preparation sheet

A couple of months ago I was teaching a student at a company class in Tokyo. “Can you help me prepare for a meeting tomorrow, please?” she asked.

Her company had arranged a meeting with a machine salesman from Korea who spoke no Japanese. My student, an intermediate speaker of English – the best in her company, spoke no Korean. Luckily, they both spoke English.

“My problem is, I don’t know where to start,” she explained. The free checklist and preparation sheet at the bottom of this post can help you. First, continue reading.

Go to their company website

Go to the website of the person or people you are going to meet. Go to the English section if they have one. If not, use Google Translate to translate the pages if they are in a language you don’t understand (If you use Google Chrome, you may not need to do this because it might ask you to translate the site). Write down the key information you need. Write down new words or terms that may be useful. You might want to write these on word cards for later study.

Find out specialist and technical terms

Write down any specialist technical terms and data, including units from their website, brochures, catalogues or from your own technical specifications. If there is more than one possible unit to measure in, write down a conversion formula. e.g. Fahrenheit to Celsius is C = F-32*(5/9) F= C + 32*(9/5).

Ask your co-workers what they want to ask the visitor

Ask your co-workers to give you any questions they want to ask the visitor. This will give you time to translate them in time for the meeting.

Think of questions your visitor may want to ask your company

This means that you can find the answer quickly and have a translation ready in plenty of time.

Make a list of things that you need to take to the meeting

To avoid more stress, make a list of things you need to take to the meeting. If you have no whiteboard pens or even a notebook, this can make you panic. Try to relax by preparing in advance. Here is a free checklist (PDF) to help you.

Good luck!