What It's Like to Visit a Maid Cafe in Akihabara
Over the past couple of years, Japan has witnessed quite an explosion of cosplay cafes- cafes in which the wait staff dresses up in costumes and serves diners in character. While the concept of costume-clad waitstaff is by no means new (consider Disneyland's character breakfasts and Hollywood themed restaurants where one is served by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis impersonators), cosplay cafes are unique in their focus on otaku (basically, anime, manga, and idol enthusiast) clientelle.
The most popular form of cosplay cafe is the maid cafe, in which waitresses in maid costumes and address diners with formal honorifics, assume a variety of cute poses, and make diners bless their food with adorable spells.
Are you curious to know what it's like to visit a maid cafe? Not all are the same, but most follow the same basic format, so I can at least share my experience with you as a reference point. Enjoy!
I recently visited a maid cafe in the popular Tokyo neighborhood of Akihabara with my friend Eimi-san. We were both new to the maid cafe experience, so we thought it would be fun to investigate one in Japan's most otaku-friendly neighborhood. We settled on one nestled into the fourth floor of a building that had the slowest, most questionable elevator possible.
As the doors slid back on the fourth floor, two chimes that were taped to the doorway jingled away, and a young girl (well, young as in 18-23) in a maid costume came up to us and did a little cutesy introduction which I could not understand, but which, according to Maid Cafe Practice, involved much use of the word "master" and magical happy anime speak.
We were lead into the cafe (which had two sections- one with tables and chairs and one with three long rows of tables and chairs facing in one direction, theater style) and seated at the table closest to a heart shaped stage.
The place was packed! Even though eight maids were running around, it took a long time for them to get around to catering to all 50 or so people in the cafe.
The serving process involved first being given a special passport (read: rewards/loyalty card), then having a plastic, battery-powered candle lit with "magic", then ordering one of the cute dishes from the restaurant (e.g. Mashed potatoes molded into a heart shape, ice cream dishes arranged to look like animals, omurice with catchup drawings of cute faces...).
When an order arrives, the maid bringing it directs its recipients in casting magical spell that will make the food taste good. I think what we said was "oishiku nare, moe moe kyun!" which means something like make this food yummy, bibbity bobbity boo / abracadabra!" ("Moe moe kyun is an anime-based meme involving a character in a maid costume. There is no simple translation for the word "moe," but it involves good feelings felt by otaku. There is also no simple translation for "kyun," which Eimi-san described to me as that feeling you get when you see a guy (or girl) you like). If you're curious about the phrase, I've written a full explanation of it here.
Clapping was required for the first part of the spell, the "moe" part required the hands to shape a heart which bounced from the right to the left, and the "kyun" part turned the hands from a heart into a gun that I assume is responsible for shooting the good taste into the food.
Some orders warranted extra theatrics. Shaken cocktails required the entire audience/restaurant to clap in unison while a maid shaking the cocktail sang/recited something cutesy. Some dishes involved all those getting served to go up and pose with the maids. Special dishes are typically ordered with a package involving both the dish, the performance, and a commemorative photo.
For an extra charge, diners can pose for a photo with the maids (photos are strictly forbidden within most maid cafes, as they are a lucrative commodity which is best controlled), and Eimi-San generously ordered one for me. I am, therefore, now a proud owner of a maid cafe photo, which has been drawn all over by one of the maids in what I imagine is typical maid cafe fashion.
It was incredibly interesting to watch the diners. Though some groups of both male and female diners were present, the vast majority of the clientele consisted of male otaku. Some were obviously regular visitors (judging by the way they exchanged nods with the kitchen staff) and I wonder what percentage of a maid cafe's guests are repeat visitors. Many, however, were newcomers like Eimi-san and I, who were at once shocked and amused by the pink, frilly interior, the cutesy food, and the singing, fluttering, petticoat, frilly apron and headband, decorated purse, and thigh-high clad maids.
The elevator was so packed every time it opened to the fourth floor that the maids directed Eimi-san and I, along with some other diners hoping for an escape, out the fire escape. We emerged unharmed and very amused.
Maid cafes are...
See one for yourself!
So far as I'm concerned, maid cafes are fabulous. What an amusing way to be served food and drinks!
If you're interested in visiting a maid cafe, you're in luck- you don't have to travel all the way to Japan! There are already maid cafes in New York and LA.
What do you think of maid cafes? Would you visit one? Do you think they could become popular outside Japan? Are they cute, or creepy? Share your opinion in the comments!