A while ago, I wrote a post about my awful experience at the Butler Café in Shibuya. It wasn’t pleasant. Since then, I’ve done a bit of thinking (and chatting with one of my friends who used to work there – then quit). I was trying to figure out exactly why I didn’t like the Butler Cafe.
I made a list:
1. The Butler Cafe tried to suck money out of me with a slew of “special charges”
The Butler Café is all about sucking money from their guests, the “princesses.” They have a couple ways to doing this, so here are a couple of them:
- Order at least two items (one drink, one food) every two hours, or you have to leave
- Pay an extra 500 yen per person table charge after 6pm
- No pictures of or with the Butlers (or restaurant) unless you pay for the extra pack (3,000yen)
- Reserve you spot online (even though it is typically empty) and 2,000yen charge for each cancellation (per person)
I wanted to go to the Butler Café to have fun with my girlfriends – not to feel uncomfortable about breaking rules and paying extra money. In general, once a restaurant only sees you as a cash cow, rather than an individual, there is a problem.
2. The Butler Cafe has ridiculous rules
Ridiculous rules, you might say, but surely you are overreacting. I’m really not overreacting. In fact, I’m normally very good with authority. I pay my taxes, drive sober, am always friendly with the wait staff, and never cheat on exams (even if it is easy).
Some of the rules are:
- No taking pictures of anything aside from the food
- No taking pictures of each other (or anything that might capture a Butler in the background)
- No getting up from your table without butler supervision
- If you must go to the bathroom, ring the bell and wait for an available butler to escort you to the bathroom
- No ringing the bell unnecessary (like, you know, to talk with the butlers – since you’re paying 2,000 to be in the café)
- Once you pay, leave immediately
- If you stay past 6pm (regardless of arrival time), you have to pay an extra 500yen per person
Mind you, those are just some of them. I took the most offense at the no photos (I LOVE photos) and no going to the bathroom alone (I drank a lot of tea and felt judged for going to the bathroom twice).
3. The Waiters at the Butler Cafe receive next to no training and low wages
Waiters are not hand-selected and carefully crafted to become the ideal butler. Rather, they answer a job add on Craigslist (or at least that is how two of my friends got the job). The advertisement looks like this:
Every month they post a similar wording ad, looking for fresh meat (since the restaurant has such a high turnover). The “training” involves shadowing around waiters for a couple days, before becoming an official butler.
My first friend (and exchange student) only lasted three days as a butler before he quit.
My other friend (a blogger expat in Tokyo) lasted a week and a half.
The Butler Café has a surprisingly high turnover rate. Because, despite the fact that if the restaurant is half full (when I went, it was nearly full) with 20 patrons – each paying the minimum of 2,000 yen for two hours – the restaurant is still raking in 20,000yen an hour. There were three hosts. Each host makes 1,000yen an hour. Where does the extra 17,000yen go?
No one knows.
Which is why my friend(s) quit.
4. The Waiters have to spout off memorized monologues when asked questions
Go on. Next time you visit, ask the butlers why they work here. They will tell you they went to “Butler College” in Europe, dreamed about being a butler, graduated top of their butler class, and got recruited to work as a butler in the mystical land of Japan.
Oh, did I mention the restaurant apparently only hires white men? A black and Asian friend who applied were rejected (or so they told me) based on their race. I don’t know how true this is. However, I can believe it.
The Butler Café is famous because it is a place where Japanese women can unwind and talk to attractive, foreign butlers and eat sweets.
It’s just sad that most of what the butlers say is a lie. And a pretty crappy lie – at that. But, you know, I did have fun hearing all about Butler College. Unlike a host club, they don’t ask you about your day. They ask your name so they can draw it on a plate… but other than that, they are very impersonal and almost rude. They don’t provide the princess experience.
5. The Waiters do not know how to flirt with the customers in a non-creepy way
First of all, no offense to anyone who works there. Really, I’m not trying to be mean. 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.
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. One was skinny, with greasy ear-length hair and a perpetual stoop. The other was nice enough, but stuttered a bit. Neither was my type.
I know I’m not being fair, because even if they were my type, I probably still wouldn’t like them based on the environment. I was already on edge because of the hidden costs and rules.
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.
I like being called “Princess” – but not by men with creepy smiles, checking me out. I’m not terribly ugly. I’ve been hit on before. I didn’t come to the Butler Café TO be flirted with. I went to the Butler Café because I wanted to be treated like a princess.
But instead, I just felt uncomfortable as I ate my cake.
Women are difficult. I’m sorry, we are. 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.
6. The Butler Café is sloppily decorated
Basically, all that this list is saying is that the Butler Café is a great idea – but was sloppily executed.
I like the idea of foreign waiters who teach English to exhausted, interested Japanese women … but not if the waiters are poorly paid, poorly trained, and are not given motivation to love, respect, and cherish their job. Pay competitive wages (like 2,000 or 3,000 yen an hour) and you will find earnest butlers who are willing to put in the extra effort to score return deals. Because I guarantee none of my friends are ever coming back – we all felt madly uncomfortable (even the guys in the group). There is a high turnover rate, that must mean something.
I like the idea of a neo-Victorian styled castle… but not if the paint is chipping, wallpaper is warped, and mold is in the corners. From a distance, everything looked great. However, once you started to take a closer look, things just fell apart. Honestly, I felt sorry for people working at the place. It seemed like a beautiful lie.
Even the carefully decorated flower-ribbon pens (for filling out your membership information) were falling apart. The ribbon was attached with clumps of hot glue. The rose tip was dirty and ripped. The ribbon was falling off. Customers notice these kinds of thing.
It was so close to being good. It was so close – but no cigar.
7. 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.
And if you don’t pay your staff competitive wages – how can you expect them to be loyal to the brand and really sell the butler idea? You need to build loyalty through your staff. Because I’m going to go on a limb and say 90% of your visitors never come back (I only know of one of my friends – out of the twenty or so who went throughout the year – who actually went back for a second time, and it was only because her sister was in town. She didn’t like either visits to the Butler Café).
Last but not least, Princesses don’t have to ask for permission to use the bathroom. Princesses are allowed to stand up, stretch their legs, and admire the cute decorations.
At this point, I’m hoping another savvy business owner will come along, sweep up the idea, and plant a new Butler Café somewhere in Tokyo – but a more comfortable version of it. I am hoping Butler Cafes will spread far and wide just like maid cafes have.
I would love to take my future daughter to a Butler Café someday.
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