7 Reasons the Foreign Butler Café (in Shibuya/Tokyo) is Awkward

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 did love the tiara, though

I did love the tiara, though

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)

princess butler cafe shibuya

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:

Fullscreen capture 1022013 70516 PM.bmp

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.

princess butler cafe shibuya

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.

princess butler cafe shibuya

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.

This is not classy. This is sketchy.

This is not classy. This is sketchy.

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.

princess butler cafe shibuya

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.

princess couple dress up

It makes us feel uncomfortable.

No honey! Come back! Let me love you!

No honey! Come back! Let me love you!

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.

princess butler cafe shibuya

 

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

21 Comments on 7 Reasons the Foreign Butler Café (in Shibuya/Tokyo) is Awkward

  1. The Butler Cafe is Shibuya is beyond creepy. My review will be the latest as I was just there last week. Needed a shower after the venture to the Butler Cafe… akward, ugly, dirty, weird, way too many rules, upsell all day, creepy men, creepy dialogue, food was pretty good. Never again… I on the other hand loved the Cat and Maid Cafe… atleast there was action and fun being had… the Butler Cafe in NO WAY made you feel special and it truely was an AKWARD and icky couple of hours…

  2. Back in 2013 when I went to Japan I went to a Maid Café and I felt quite uncomfortable and thought the prices were just too much, even so probably it was not as bad as this. Very interesting article showing us yet another side of Japan. (^ _ ^)

  3. This is hilarious, and I enjoyed your honest, perceptive review. Thank you.

  4. Oh gosh, the bell and bathroom part…. Princess or not, I’m sure all ladies know how to walk themselves to the bathroom! It’s unfortunate that you had a bad experience there. Hope that slice of cake was worth the two hours ;//

  5. I went there last night and am still so disturbed by how creepy it was!!It’sso run down, i didn’t feel clean eating the food out of there(which is almost impossible in a place as clean as Japan!!). The whole experince was just weird, not fun like the maid cafe. and a total rip off. I just wanted to go for a casual drink and ended up spending $40 as I was not allowed to leave for 2 hours from arrival!!! Creepy!!!!! I have to say the young butlers were lovely natured and it was not their fault. The older head butler was the one that was so serious and created a very strict unrelaxing vibe

  6. actually, all those rules apply for almost all butler and maid cafes in whatever country O-O I worked as a maid in a maid cafe a few years back and….yea….without those rules….it’s chaotic.

    but yea….this foreign butler cafe, I’ve heard of so much bad stuff about this…like the butlers dun really know how to treat japanese women properly

  7. Hi i have an interview there , was wondering if you have any info to share with me
    japanese employers are shady about the details, also maybe trow in some hints how to not be a awkward butler hahahaha

  8. I was actually thinking of applying for a job there. I haven’t seen their job advertisements, but I’ve heard that there is a Butler Cafe in Shibuya, and as I like dressing as a butler in my free time and serving tea to my friends. I thought it would be an interesting job, but when I Googled it, I came across your review before going to their official website, and I’m glad I read you review before applying. I agree that if a place charges customers a lot that staff wages should be higher. I’m sorry you had a bad experience there. I’m pretty sure I would’ve made a polite butler, and it’s unprofessional to flirt while working, but I’ve been put off applying there. Thank you for the heads up.

    • You probably would have been a wonderful butler. I don’t know.
      I had a couple friends who worked there (none for longer than a month) and they all had pretty miserable experiences – I guess the company can turn even the nicest guy into someone frustrated with low wages, etc…

  9. Have you ever been to Swallotail in Ikebukuro? That one has only Japanese butlers as the staff and it’s supposed to be really good. I’ve never had the guts to walk in there (and well I’d feel weird bringing my husband inside lmao). I’d love to hear your thoughts on that (and sorry for all the necro comments I’m loving your blog haha)

    • I actually went there last month with a friend and LOVED it.
      I’ve been meaning to write a review for a while now (because really, the place was amazing), but haven’t gotten around to it. I think I will work on that this afternoon :)

      I did see a couple of, well, couples in Swallowtail when I went – so it’s probably not TOO awkward bringing your husband (thought mine said he would rather sleep on the couch for a month than go).

  10. Good read! My friend and I, who love afternoon tea, went to a different Butler cafe the other day because she had been there for tea before and enjoyed it. (Japanese waitstaff at our place.) But just our luck–it was some kind of anniversary week and there was a ‘special set menu’, i.e. only one thing being served all that week. No afternoon tea. I’m vegetarian, and of court the ‘special set menu’ contained meat and seafood! We explained this to the manager and asked if we could cancel, but then we would have been hit up for a ‘cancellation charge’. The manager was a pro, however, and he spoke to the chef and promised me a special vege. friendly set. Considering it was done on the spot, my food was pretty good, and my friend enjoyed her ‘set’ as well, although it was overpriced. An interesting experience… and I think I might take my teen daughter next time. :)

    • Hi Louise!

      Sounds like y’all went to the Swallowtail butler cafe (all Japanese waitstaff as opposed to the foreign waitstaff). My friend actually took me to Swallowtail (I don’t know if that’s the one y’all went to) a couple of weeks ago and I had a fabulous time. It completely blew this other one out of the water.

      Glad y’all had an interesting experience (and they were able to make a vegetarian set for you!)

  11. Anonymous // 5 March, 2014 at 7:00 am //

    Great read! It was very funny! One of my friends was lectured by butlers for being loud: “Young ladies should not laugh so loudly, and you should cover your mouth like so. [dainty hand over slightly smiling lips]” The rules at that place are annoying! (@_@) I already struggle with everyday excessive (and so unnecessary) rules/steps to doing things that must be strictly abided by, and having to pay that much to deal with more! in a place where I was promised I could relax and be treated like royalty? F#@$ that!

    Thanks for this, I enjoyed your comments!

    • Hahahaha, really? Man, that sucks :/
      I take it the Butler Cafe didn’t quite live up to your expectations?

      They didn’t tell us to be quiet – but I have gotten comments about my “horse laugh,” when you laugh loudly, with your mouth open, and throw your head back. I wasn’t such a fan of all the rules there…

      • The only butler cafe I’ve ever been to is Swallowtail. It’s was one of the first and is still the best in my opinion. I’ve taken friends to it many times over the years and they always loved it and wanted to go back again. (Even if it meant duking it out for a weekend spot with the dreaded Midnight Reservation Wars).

  12. I have to disagree with you and say that I liked the cafe. I didn’t have any expectations at all when I went in. I was with my boyfriend and another male friend at the time, we just happened to stumble across it. I didn’t expect to be treated like a princess, and we generally found the whole experience very amusing, especially seeing all the Japanese girls get excited about being served and spoken to. I guess you just had a different mindset than we did haha.

    Yes, a lot of what they say is odd or cringeworthy (like the butler college thing) but the fact is that this place is catering to Japanese females who like that sort of thing. It’s just part of the role play nature of the cafe. If you’ve been to the cafe, then you probably know about the Cinderella package service you can buy with a butler where they do this whole role play thing with you about a lost Princess whatever the crap – when we arrived we had the pleasure of seeing this in action. For us being native English speakers, the entire sequence was a massive cringefest to put it lightly, but the Japanese girl that bought that package loved it. You get a special tiara that’s different to the normal one they give you, and a lot of girls in the cafe had that different tiara too.

    The butlers that we talked to were somewhat reserved but still friendly, but since it is a role play cafe I think it would break the role/”illusion” of butler if they started talking more casually. Plus with the language barrier between then and the mostly Japanese patrons, it’s probably easier for both sides to just stick to the somewhat sterile script.

    It has been about a year since I went though, and even though there was the rule about no photos of butlers, I’m surprised about the “no photos of yourself” since I’ve got photos if myself and my friend at the cafe. And I actually didn’t know about the low wages part which is a shame, especially since cost if living in Japan is high.

    • Thanks for sharing. I appricaite your honest thoughts. Looking back, I guess the high expectations and English speaking bits played a larger part in disliking the place than I thought it did.
      A lot of the Japanese girls (especially the ones eating alone) seemed to enjoy the place.

      Really, this whole post spawned from a conversation with a friend who worked there for a couple weeks and absolutely hated it. He started working there a couple months after I visited – so we had a nice bonding moment over how awkward the experience was. I also also angry about the low wages.

      Anyways, thank for the comment; glad you had a better experience at the butler cafe!

  13. that is hilarious that you wrote such an extensive and detailed experience about this place. i’ve been browsing on craiglist tokyo for a very long time now and i always noticed the postings for this butlers cafe and i thought to myself many times, damn they must have a high turnover.

    anyways, thanks for the read!

    • Hahaha. Glad you liked it. No, they have a really high turnover rate. I think it is a really interesting concept – but, well, kind of crappily executed.

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