Otakon 2012: Behind the Scenes look of the Maid Cafe

This year marks the first of the Maid Café opening at Otakon. With the utmost care and courtesy, guests are welcomed home to a manor of servants, butlers and maids. Like a manor home, the guests are to feel at ease so no photos are allowed inside. It is with honor that Journal of Lincoln Heights and Anime Diet was allowed to partake of this special fantasy, to enter through the secret doors and experience the particular world only the Café can imagine.

The Maid Cafe was held in the Hilton on the first floor. The door was locked and the department head, Elizabeth Hawkins greeted us at the door. We were asked to enter and led to the back area where the food and plates were. The previous service was concluding at this time.

The food is supplied by the hotel. The snacks and drinks, cups and utensils were lined in the back with a door leading probably to the hotel kitchens. The hotel staff was the one who kept everything in stock. The maids and butlers who were the stars of the cafe bustled around sending people off.

The main colors are blue and white, Otakon colors. The butlers wore a blue vest over a white shirt. Some of the maids had Bodyline maid outfits with blue aprons and bows. Each maid and butler had their own personal style and characteristic, apparent in their outfits and demeanor. Perhaps there is a background story for the kind of characters they are becoming. There was Kyou, a butler who wanted to cheer everyone on, Kuro-usagi a shy maid with a feisty temper, Shiki, a playful butler and even a robot/android butler.

Each session is 1.5 hours and the time includes the receiving and seating time, ordering, eating, performances, games and closing. The butlers and maids line up at the side of the room. The head maid (a fairy character perhaps,) keeps everyone in order and the door opens. The butlers and maids cry out in unison, ‘Okaerinasai goshujin-sama, ojou-sama!’ One by one, the guests present their receipts. Afternoon tea is $10 which includes tea, the performance and a souvenir photo. People are seated at the various tables, guided by their butler or maid.

No individual tables of course. Housed in a hotel, the large round tables seat 8 comfortably. With 4 tables in the room, a typical service has 32 customers. It is unique, but grants the guests an opportunity to create new friends over tea.

After they are seated, their drink orders are taken. The choices are lemonade, various teas, hot chocolate and canned soda (poured in glasses of course.) The drinks are served and 5 butlers and maids step to the front to begin the first performance, ‘Mune Mune Kyun’ (the dance that all maids need to learn!) Other things to eat are announced which the guests can order for a $5 fee (proceeds goes into the next maid cafe.) The snacks include cookies, brownies, red velvet cupcakes ‘sprinkled with love’. Truly, decorated simply with cream and strawberries really adds to the presentation.

While the guests are eating, games are played at the table and as a group. Each guest was given a ticket. A number is drawn and the guest gets to challenge all the butlers and maid to a game of jankenpon. Another guest is drawn out and the same game is played with the servers. Whichever guest beats the most butlers and maids wins a special prize…unbeknownst to even some of the butlers! (Later, we confirmed that they were given shitajiki, keychains, gachapon and other Japanime merch.)

At the end of the service, each guest is presented with a unique photo of the butlers and maids. The servers will then decorate around the photo with markers. The guests are gently asked to leave the cafe, with promises that they’ll return.

The demeanor and service that the maids and butlers provide truly echo the feel of a cafe of this kind. I can’t help but smile as Kyou knelt to take an order or to see a maid bow before she leaves to fulfill a request. The drinks and treats are brought forth slowly, with grace and presented before each guest gently. In the rooms, each server stays in character towards each other, the guests and even the surprise intruders of the press. Everything is done to not break the atmosphere, the illusion if even for the few hours at the convention.

I have not been to maid or butler cafes at other cons, besides the one at NYAF. I understand that there was a very successful one at AnimeExpo. My own experience lingers from the ones I’ve visited in Japan. The attention to detail is more thorough and complete than at NYAF, but that is mostly the fault of the location since the Javits Center would not allow the maids to serve food.

Since 7:30pm closed the last service of the con, they needed to clean up quickly. However, the staff obliged in setting up a table for us to take pics where we happily snapped away.

Behind the scenes, we asked Elizabeth a bit more about the selection process. From 4/1-4/13, interested applicants was able to send in their information to be butlers and maids. 80 people had applied, 60 were interviewed and 15 were chosen. On thursday before the start of Otakon, there was a 6 hour orientation and training. Besides the paperwork that needed to be completed, the staff developed their personas, learned to work together as performers in this fantasy, as servers to the guests and of course, as a team. Waiting tables and serving is a skill not everyone developed prior to the cafe, but Elizabeth noted that many of them supported, supplemented each other, taught each other in order to create a seamless and graceful kind of service.

There are no reservations. Only those that come when the tickets are handed out will be granted the opportunity to step through those doors. Though it isn’t confirmed that the Maid Cafe will be returning next year, but with this kind of reception, service and food and illusion, I’m looking forward to it!