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Maid Cafes in the USAMaid Cafes in the USA

KeripoKeripo4 years agoDiary
Maid Cafes in the USA
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Yesterday, a friend of mine living in New York linked me to a new maid cafe (website here) opening in downtown Chinatown. While I've been to Japanese maid cafes in my previous travels, I've yet to visit a permanent one in the US. Which got me thinking, why? And yet, I also knew the answer; Japanese-style maid cafes cannot be successful businesses in the US. And here's my long rant about why.

http://keripo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/2013-11-13-Maid-Cafes-in-the-USA.jpg
Cute maids at the newly opened Maid Cafe NY

So historically, in the US, there has only been a handful of attempts at opening permanent maid cafe establishments, all of which so far have ended in failure. Most of them close within half a year of opening, usually due to being unable to pay for rent. The root cause of this is usually underestimating the Western cultural difference; unlike in the heart of Akihabara or Nipponbashi in Japan, otaku culture in the US is far more conservative and it's population more frivilous.

A Japanese maid cafe capitalizes on it's services rather than its quality as a cafe. This applies to both the atmosphere and the employees themselves. It's ability to sell solely depends on its maids being able to convince patrons to spend large amounts of money to not only enter the settlement (i.e. base entry fee) but also pay for the extremely overpriced food and drinks (i.e. minimum order). These atmospheres also have to be enticing enough in the sense that such moods cannot exist anywhere else. As well, there has to be a high inflow of patrons/regulars to break even with the interior upkeep costs as well as high wages.

In Japan, this is possible for a number of reasons. First, the general Japanese culture leans towards very conservative human interaction (this may seem to contradict my prior point, but I'll get to that). As well, modesty is highly emphasized, so public sexual appeal is very limited. When it comes to maid cafes, however, this is the complete opposite; teasings for high levels of intimacy and interaction, and open sexual appeal (within the scope of the cafe itself and surrounding area). Essentially, the taboo nature of the cafe's highlights is it's strongest selling point. Someone who has very limited opportunity to interact with others in their daily routine would be the kind who is desperate enough to drop that 9,000 yen ($90) just for the chance to spend 30 minutes talking with a cute girl. In a sense almost akin to reverse psychology, while the Japanese tend to act very conservative in their daily interactions, when it comes to personal hobbies and interests, they are far more extreme and open (and thus willing to break out with the wallet). That, combined with the dense population and targeted store location (i.e. in areas of high otaku traffic) allows the high operational costs to break even and overall be profitable.

In the US, however, this is not the case. In comparison, North Americans tend to be a lot more open and literal when it comes to human interaction. As well, American media openly focuses on and highlights sexual appeal without shame. The "teasing" appeal of Japanese maid cafes are ineffective because, compared to western standards, they are not all that "taboo" nor unique (just see restaurants like Hooters). The idea of paying someone large amounts of money just to play a game with them or have your picture taken with them doesn't work in the US. The other big cultural difference is spending habits. I may be generalizing here, but while Americans are known as the "big spenders" in comparison to other countries, they do so on a per-average basis, rather than on singular event basis. Maid cafes are settlements that Japanese otakus are willing to save up a weeks worth of income to blow on one day, on a regular basis. I can't see that matching American spending habits (would you spend entire weeks eating nothing but bread so that you can drop $200 on a single dinner at the end of the month?). Aside from the general spending culture here, anecdotally I've noticed that the average American otaku tend to be far more frivilous when it comes to anime-related spending. While the Japanese will happily dish out hundreds of dollars for anime DVD, PVC figures, and collector items of their not-even-favourite anime series, at every single anime convention I've been to, the most popular merchandise are small trading figures or plushies, usually no more than $50. The degree of spending willingness in the US for otaku-related goods compared to in Japan is drastically less, and this similar sentiment carries over to services like maid cafes. Not to mention, we don't exactly have any high-otaku-concentration areas like Akihabara or Nipponbashi (it is interesting to note, even in Japan, there are very few maid cafes outside of those two areas).

Another general issue is lack of experience. Specialty cafes in the US are far less common than in Japan (where family-run establishments are quite frequent). I'm no business student, but it's pretty obvious that opening a niche cafe for an unstable market is a huge business risk and doomed to fail. And in almost all cases, it has. The closest US maid cafe success story so far has been the Royal/T Cafe in Los Angeles. Last time I checked (two years ago), it was the only one still operational (the other two that had opened prior to that had both closed down due to lack of business). According to Yelp, it closed down last year, being the longest running maid cafe in the US (opened in 2007). And it wasn't even a true maid cafe (it was a regular cafe with waitresses in maid outfits). It was also just a side business connected to a larger art gallery. Those two reasons, however, are probably what kept it alive for so long; it had a parent establishment that could help buffer it's operational costs and it followed an operational model closer to the more familiar standard cafe model. In comparison, this new "Maid Cafe NY" looks like a fresh startup being run in a random rented store slot in the middle of Chinatown, powered by nothing more than the hopes and dreams of it's employees. Which makes for a great story, but not a successful story. Just like how animes like those in "Working!!" or "Kaichou wa Maid-sama" are great for entertainment, but terrible business models.

tl;dr - As much of an otaku as I am and no matter how much I hope to see a maid cafe find success here in the US, I don't like wearing rose coloured glasses. In other words, don't get your hopes up.

That said, moar pantsu pl0x!

~Keripo
5,830 hits • 32 comments

What are your opinions on the fate of maid cafes outside Japan?

  • 11%Don't give up, they will succeed!
  • 56%I hope they succeed, but I have high doubts...
  • 26%No chance, they won't succeed
  • 4%Moar pantsu pl0x!
  • 1%Uguu...
  • 1%Give it 10-20 years more and maybe, a miracle may happen
  • 142 votesVotes are public

Comments32

0pt
astrum the unnecessary guy
Wonderful article. It's much too true. I go for the dollar menu and home cooking (economy + good taste or super economy + acceptable taste) before I do appeal or anything else with anything related to food... and even if a cute gal offered me some nice company. I would rather talk to some friends for free, and who are actually there for me rather than my wallet.

...

Wait... my friends might just be there for my wallet after all... oh, wallet. I guess it's just you and me.
4 years ago
0pt
R_Kasahara (4 years ago) #1835696It looks like the kind of menu that would fit in better here in the San Francisco Bay Area rather than New York, especially when it comes to the prices.
Manhattan is the most expensive place in the entire US -__-;

scabbot (4 years ago) #1838384That having been said, what’s up with CHINATOWN hosting a Maid Cafe anyhow? >.<
NYC doesn't have a Little Tokyo, and Chinatown has a couple of businesses catering to otaku (shops selling TCGs/Plamo/bootleg nendos/etc).

I think this would have had a better chance of survival in Flushing, the other Chinatown that's out in Queens. Rent's cheaper, similar otaku niche, lots of young people, not many other sources of entertainment. They had some kind of maid cafe event at the mall here that was successful enough to be covered in the news.
4 years ago
0pt
Dschii (4 years ago) #1835437Nice read and interesting analysis :). Another reason why maid cafes might not work out outside of Japan is because they could be viewed as sexist and "demeaning to women" in a lot of western societies. When I told a polish friend of mine about the concept of a maid cafe she was seriously WTF-ed, almost appalled ^^°. Quote: "Dressing up a certain way and being nice to someone in exchange of money ? Why would anyone do that ??? That's like prositution without sex." And no, having butler cafes to balance that out won't help much either, I think.
Let's face it, a lot of these cafes can survive in Japan simply due to being a niche market for a fetish.


This was my immediate assumption as to why maid cafes tend to fail here. (There was supposed to be one opening in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo too. Naturally, that didn't work out.) Americans also tend to prefer "sexy" and "hardcore" over "cute." I've noticed a number of Americans claiming that the fascination with cute things is creepy for some reason. Then again, anecdotal evidence...
4 years ago
0pt
Like your point of view.

"cute girl" but also "pure" is very important as a selling point here, such as idols must be considered as "pure" if not, shave her head accident = prouved... unfortunately.
Maybe, if you could ask a 1000 maid cafe fans otakus : "you go there because she's cute or pure ?" Thay may all answer "pure" is a given, but in reality, it isn't, and their belief is what makes this business running too.


Hooters is a kind of maid cafe but USA style, just not over priced ! lol attract customers with gorgeous/hot ladies ? mother of maid cafe.
And another mother of maid cafe, in Japan, is japanese cabaret, only for ressourcefull adults though.
4 years ago
0pt
Keripo (4 years ago) #1838395I'm sure there's plenty of autocorrect errors in it (as well as unfinished trains of thought) xD
~Keripo


I HATE that autocorrect does that! :-P
4 years ago
1pt
Keripo 「ケリポ」
scabbot (4 years ago) #1838384Great article, thoughtfully written! Just one personal pet peeve: “it’s” is the contraction of “it is”, it doesn’t mean “something possessed by ‘it’” -- that abbreviation (the possessive form of “it”) is “its” with no apostrophe.
That having been said, what’s up with CHINATOWN hosting a Maid Cafe anyhow? >.<

For context, the post was actually originally written with my phone as a response to a Facebook post, so I'm sure there's plenty of autocorrect errors in it (as well as unfinished trains of thought) xD

~Keripo
4 years ago
0pt
Great article, thoughtfully written! Just one personal pet peeve: “it’s” is the contraction of “it is”, it doesn’t mean “something possessed by ‘it’” -- that abbreviation (the possessive form of “it”) is “its” with no apostrophe.

That having been said, what’s up with CHINATOWN hosting a Maid Cafe anyhow? >.<
4 years ago
0pt
"Essentially, the taboo nature of the cafe's highlights is it's strongest selling point. Someone who has very limited opportunity to interact with others in their daily routine would be the kind who is desperate enough to drop that 9,000 yen ($90) just for the chance to spend 30 minutes talking with a cute girl" - awesome lol
4 years ago
0pt
I really hope some maid cafes in N.America succeed, cuz I wanna see one in Toronto! xD Even as a straight female, I'd like to interact with cute maids (or cute butlers!) and freely be an otaku.
4 years ago
0pt
Keripo 「ケリポ」
figureitout (4 years ago) #1837256why is it so hard to have a maid cafe that serves good food/coffee, such that it overrides any awkwardness about being served by someone dressed up as a maid?
makes no sense really.

In that case, it'd be just a regular cafe, with specialized uniform. Which was what Royal/T did more or less.

~Keripo
4 years ago
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