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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogMaid Cafés: Everything You Need to Know!

Maid Cafés: Everything You Need to Know!

Thalia HarrisThalia Harris
Published TimeNovember 14, 2022
Modified TimeNovember 22, 2022
Three frilly-dressed maids in Akihabara wear black and white French maid outfits while waving from the balcony.

Maid cafés are a type of themed café where all the waitresses wear maid outfits, and you get to be a Master (goshuujin-sama) or a Princess (ojou-sama) for a day! 

The maids aren’t just adorable, they’re friendly too! On top of having a fun chat with them, they decorate your food with cute character designs and even sing songs to make your experience more enjoyable!

But what is it about these awesome establishments that make them a hallmark of Akihabara, Tokyo? Let’s learn more about maid cafės in Japan!

History

During the 1990s, Japan experienced an economic crash after their economic boom in the 1980s.   Because of this, people’s concept of intimacy changed from group-based to more personal.  

While this might seem like it offered people more freedom to choose their own relationships, it also left others isolated. Anime and game enthusiasts, also known as otaku, were the most alone during this time.

A maid standing outside Akihabara Station canvassing for customers. Image via Shutterstock
Maids often act as touts to get new customers. Image via Shutterstock

Because of this, maid cafés were established as a place where people could safely enjoy the company of others!  In addition, it allows customers to live out their fantasies of being friends with maids. Though it may seem odd at first, it’s more about customers having a place to relax after a stressful day than anything else!

A young woman in a dark maid outfit, setting the kitchen table. This is an aspect of many maid cafes.
Not only are maids entertaining, they’ll always make sure your table looks nice! Image via Pixta

The first maid café , Cure Maid Café, opened its doors in Akihabara way back in 2001. Unlike the popular image of lively maids who sing and dance, this café offers a more sophisticated, Victorian atmosphere! Not only is Cure still thriving, but it’s also a certified tea restaurant where the maids play live music every Saturday evening!

Due to Cure’s popularity, more maid cafés sprouted up around Akiba over the years.  Each new café had a wide variety of gimmicks because they leaned more into the manga and anime aesthetic! Some feature adorable cat maids, idol maids, and even butlers!

While maid cafés in Japan were always popular, they really grew in popularity after they frequently appeared in the TV drama Densha Otoko (lit. “Train Man”).  Not only did this show give a more lighthearted look inside otaku culture, but it also put Pinafore, another legendary maid café, on the map! 

Now that we know about how maid cafés began, it’s now time to experience it for ourselves! What is it like to actually spend time at one?

The Customer Experience

While the maid café atmosphere varies from place to place, customers can generally accept friendly and personalized service.  From the moment you enter the café, a maid greets you as “Master” or “Princess” and guides you to your table.  

The staff’s uniform usually comes from the “French maids” aesthetic. Moreover, they vary depending on the maid’s experience: the frillier the uniform, the higher the rank.

A close-up of some adorably-decorated chocolate and vanilla icea cream sundaes.
Expect to see a lot of cute, decorated treats at a maid café! Image via Shutterstock-

Once there, you have a chance to look at a very colorful menu that features some of the café’s staff! In this menu, you have two options: you can order your food and service a la carte or you can order a set.  This set will include a meal and perks such as specially decorated food, a live performance, and a picture with your maid! 

A maid onstage, singing a song live at the maid cafe. There's a bunch of stage lighting.
Their live performances are awesome and often come bundled with the set! Image via Wowsabi

Live performances from the maids are highly recommended! A lot of the maids are very talented singers who know how to put on a show like your favorite idol! The best part about it is that these performances are exclusively for you and/or your party! So expect a lot of heart beams coming your way!

In addition to live performances, you can also have some polite conversations with the maids and even play board games with them! But be sure to respect their boundaries when you hang out with them!

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The Worker Experience

Working at a maid café, however, can be a very conflicting experience.  While most former staff were happy to do the job, there are a lot of conditions that come with the territory! Even the lesser-known maid cafés have very high standards.

Interviewing for a maid café is more like auditioning for a live theater cast. Maid hopefuls receive a lengthy script detailing how to greet and speak with customers during their entire service. After memorizing the script, they have to perform it in front of the senior maids! Talk about pressure!

The auditioning process takes place over the course of seven hours. After that, the senior maids gather them, and only the ones who succeeded in the audition get to stay. Then the real work begins!

A black-and-white rear photo of a maid walking in the street.
Working at a maid café comes with its own challenges. Image via Shutterstock

Not only are maids on the younger side (18-29), but they have to follow very strict rules. For example, they are not allowed to gain weight. If they are no longer able to fit the largest size uniform, then they have no choice but to resign.  

In addition to the internal hierarchy, intense pressure to fit the mold, there have also been reports of harassment from the customers, and racial discrimination.  Fortunately, there have been recent attempts to make maid cafés a safer environment for the staff.

Now, whenever maids greet customers, they also lay down the ground rules of the café. Remember maid cafés are a classy place, so mind your manners while you’re there! To make things even better, there’s also a foreigner maid café , which gives foreign women working as maids and foreign tourists a chance to enjoy themselves!

The Maid Café’s Influence

Maid cafés are a major influence on Japanese pop culture as well as the cosplay restaurant industry.  There are quite a few anime that feature maid cafes. The most popular ones are Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Blend S and Steins Gate

But the best about the maid café’s influence in real life, is the butler cafés! Even though maid cafés attract a diverse crowd, it’s no secret that men are their main clientele. So butler cafés are a great opportunity for women to be pampered in palace-like restaurants! 

A bunch of handsome butler sitting on a guilded couch in a palatial setting.
Butler cafés are perfect for women to feel like princesses! Image via Wifi Rental Japan.

One of the most famous butler cafés is Swallowtail in Ikebukuro (which also happens to be the otaku hotspot for women in Tokyo). Here, you can experience delicious afternoon tea while being served by handsome butlers! Women really enjoy butler service because it’s relaxing and makes them feel appreciated as princesses.

There’s even a maid and butler café where people can enjoy more lively and upbeat service! But no matter where you go, you can always expect to have a good time!

Summary

In short, maid cafés and cosplay restaurants in general are a very popular but often misunderstood part of contemporary Japanese culture.  Past their super-cute and fun veneer is a rare opportunity for adults to escape in a fantasy world. 

While it may seem childish or even cringe to some people, it’s actually a great opportunity for people to enjoy roleplay while respecting people’s boundaries!

Many people even equate maid and butler cafés like going to a theme park! And just like theme parks, there’s something for everyone to enjoy! So if you’re ever interested in heading to a maid or butler café, be sure to pick one that’s right for you!

Have you ever been in a maid café before? Would you like to go to one? Let us know in the comments below!

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Thalia Harris

Writer living in Tokyo who likes stories, music and video games. <3

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