The first time I heard of the Butler Café in Shibuya, I was intrigued. After seeing countless maid cafes line the streets of Akihabara, I had briefly wondered if the male equivalent existed. It turns out several do exist – the most famous of which is the Butler Café in Shibuya.
What is a Butler Café?
A Butler Café is exactly what it sounds like – a café where men dress up as butlers and serve their clients. The dream child of a Japanese businesswoman who wanted a male equivalent of a maid café (a café where women dress as a Japanese version of French Maids, dance, and serve you beverages). Thus, the Butler Café was born.
The restaurant itself is decorated like a Victorian age castle – except as soon as you start to look a bit closer, you will realize the wallpaper is peeling off the walls, there is mold in the corners, the Butler’s uniforms are ill-fitted, gloves are worn and tattered, and the pipes are visible running across the ceiling. So, if you want to be happy, just don’t look too closely. Live in the fantasy.
Should YOU go to the Butler Café in Shibuya?
Short answer – I don’t recommend it.
There are two types of reviews of the Butler Café; the first is glowing, happy, and hopeful, the second in cynical and jaded.
The former type of review is only really found on websites like CNN. After visiting the Butler Café and having a pretty miserable and uncomfortable experience, I went online to see what other people thought. When I found this review, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Perhaps because the woman was a journalist (and had been identified as a journalist), she was permitted to break the rules (take pictures, talk to the hosts, etc). Or perhaps she is just really good at inflating the few “good” aspects of an establishment. In any case, my experience did not line up with hers at all.
However, I also didn’t have the mind-numbingly awful experience that this person had either (but to be fair, I related with what they said a lot more than the former journalist).
Butler’s Café is like riding the last train home in Tokyo. It’s not bad, per say, it’s just awkward. But everyone needs to do it at some point in their life for the experience.
What is so great about a Butler Café, Anyways?
I watched a lot of Disney movies as a child. I’ve always dreamed about being a princess. Everyone who knows me knows this. In fact, my fiancé proposed to me at Tokyo Disneyland in front of the Princess Castle with a ring, tiara, and carefully thought out (and incredibly cheesy) speech. I’m a sucker for princess stuff. So of course I wanted to go to the Butler Café in Shibuya – to be treated like a princess.
I just… didn’t expect it to be so uncomfortably awkward.
Why is the Butler Café so Awkward? I have three reasons:
I had three main problems with the Butler Café, so bear with me:
1. They were trying to suck money out of you with silly rules, restrictions, and “special charges”
You need to reserve your spot online ahead of time – but beware of cancellations. We reserved for six people, but that morning the last friend was sick and couldn’t come. Worried about an “extra charge” for missing people, we informed the butler at the front desk our friend was sick. He smiled sweetly and told us not to worry about it. And then tacked on an extra 2,000yen ($26) charge to our bill at the end, because of the “missing persons extra charge.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We arrived at the building excited, nervous, and ready to be treated like a princess. A fun mix of guys and girls, foreigners and Japanese – we all had different expectations. None of them seemed to have been met. The building itself is rather sketchy.
We took a tiny, run-down elevator up to the fifth floor. As the elevators beeped open, we were greeted by a chorus of “Welcome Princesses” from the Butlers in the café. I grabbed my camera to take a picture, but was intercepted by a butler, explaining that pictures were expressly prohibited. Unless, of course, you paid for the “Special” – then you could take a picture with the Butlers (for like 3,000yen).
He sat us down and explained the menu. It was pretty straightforward. The Butler Café requires patrons to purchase a minimum of two “items” every two hours. Ranging from teas to cakes and full meals, an hour in the Butler Café should run at around 2,000yen per person (if not more).
Was it worth it?
2. The Waiters at the Butler Cafe were creepy
First of all, no offense to anyone who works there. Really, I’m not trying to be mean. In fact, I’ve had three friends work at the Butler Café – all of which who quit after about a month (or less). If you work at the Butler Café, you’re not necessarily creepy by nature; the creepiness comes from the rules, the memorized monologue, and their apparent uncomfortableness with their job.
Part of the training requires the future butlers to memorize a monologue about going to “Butler College” in Europe, with a dream of becoming a butler. If you ask them about their past, they have an already memorized response. Creepy- right?
We had three waiters. One, the main waiter (and co-owner) was fine. He was almost smooth and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. The other two were very poor Butlers, not because they were poor people, but because they had poor training (and weren’t so in love with their job).
You see, most men do not know how to hit on women.
And even if, by chance, you happen to be one of the men that is actually good at flirting with women in a classy, non-creepy sort of way (a dying breed), you will probably have better options that working at a run-down Butler Café in Tokyo.
And IF you happen to be working at that café (for some reason), you probably do not understand how princesses should be flirted with.
Women are difficult. We all like different things. Some of my friends like dating effeminate, skinny men with impeccable fashion sense. Some like dating nerdy white guys. And I like dating bald, buff men. We all have types. If you’re not someone’s type and you try to flirt with them, of course you will seem creepy. But beyond that, everyone has a different idea on how a princess ought to be treated.
We were all disappointed by the Butler Café. I wanted the men to be educated, suave, and reserved. My friend wanted them to be chatty, elegant, and flirtatious – with a kiss on the hand and subtle compliments.
Basically, if you are a butler at this café – there is no way to win.
Which, you know, is kind of why a lot of my friends quit. This café has become somewhat popular among the exchange students, ex-pats, and foreigners in Tokyo as a last resort to work. Because, despite the among of money they are reeling in with each woman, waiters are paid a measly 1,000yen an hour salary (only marginally more than a cashier at a convenience store).
3. The Butler Café did NOT make me feel like a Princess
Look, I get it. You are running a business. You want money. But if you sit us down first thing we enter the store and hand us an enormous (and impolite) list of all the things we are NOT allowed to do (take pictures, go to the bathroom alone, be too loud, etc), that doesn’t make us feel like a princess.
It makes us feel uncomfortable.
Seriously, we aren’t even allowed to take pictures of the cute, slightly run down restaurant unless we pay? That’s awkward.
And we can’t go the bathroom alone? Really? What do you think we are going to do while walking to the bathroom, disrupt a customer or take a “free” picture? [no joke, if you need to use the restroom, you have to ring the bell. A Butler will come by and accompany you to the bathroom]
All in all, it was an interesting experience. I’m glad I went. I got some fun memories, had a great time with my friends, and got to wear a tiara. The drinks, teas, and cakes were delicious (although heavily overpriced). I would never go again – but I’m glad I went once.
Does anyone else have stories from the Butler Café in Shibuya?
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