Japan always has an unusual little trick up its sleeves and I love it. Food ticket machines are part of that. You’ll occasionally come upon a restaurant with a ticket vending machine near the entrance. It can be outside or someone inside near the entrance. This is where you actually order your food. It’s really very simple.
You insert your money, make your selection by pressing on your desired item’s button and collect your ticket (don’t forget your change). You then head inside and one of the employees will simply collect your ticket(s), confirm your order and get things ready for you.
Some restaurants might have a digital vending machine with a touchscreen and a multilingual menu.
If you happen to come across an old school machine like the one below where the menus are all in Japanese then you have a few choices. If you are lucky, there will be photos of the items to help you make your selection. Another possibility is by simply selecting the top left item. It is usually the restaurant’s most popular/main dish. Most people will start looking at items from left to right and from top to bottom so it only makes sense to put the best sellers first. Your last option is to simply go inside and ask one of the employees for help.
Please keep in mind that other people might be waiting in line behind you, especially if it’s during lunch hour on a business day. In this case, it might not be the time to be Google translating each button one by one.