By Peter Sidell
For women who never quite forgot their childhood fantasies of being a princess, Butlers Café in Shibuya is a haven. Since 2006 the mostly foreign waiters, who refer to themselves as butlers, have served up delicious food as well as a fantasy of gracious living for closet Cinderellas.
"Welcome back, Princess!" is the standard greeting given to visitors of Butlers Café, which is decorated with rose-patterned cushions on sofas, lace curtains and angel figurines. As classical music plays in the background, a butler, wearing a black or gray suit and white gloves stereotypically associated with European manservants, will escort each guest to her table in the nonsmoking cafe. He will ask her to fill out a tiny form, writing down her first name and checking off her state of mind from a list with several choices including "Happy", “I need to relax” and "I want to drink!" The butlers will introduce themselves and place a bell on the table for the princess to ring when she needs their attention, as well as lending her an optional tiara for that sparkly look.
The menu is mostly Italian-style: pasta, pizza, risotto, Panini sandwiches and salad. Prices range from 1,100 yen for salmon and blue papaya salad to 2,200 yen for pizza with spinach, tomato, bacon and hard boiled eggs. Not cheap, but definitely tasty. Dessert selections include cake, parfait, crepe, pie and pancake, as well as small samples of all the butlers’ favourite sweets. Anything a princess orders will be deemed an "excellent choice" and her meal will even arrive with her name written in sauce on the plate.
On a recent evening, butlers from Japan, France, Canada and the United States were busy serving princesses. The homepage also lists butlers from Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand and Turkey. Princesses can request simple conversation lessons in English, or the languages spoken in the butlers’ native lands, while waiting for their orders. Butlers also entertain guests with a steady stream of conversation and compliments. However, visitors are not permitted to ask personal questions of the butlers or to try to meet or contact them outside of the café. The butlers themselves can only volunteer their first names, hobbies and countries of origin.
The menu lists optional extras such as a cocktail, with or without alcohol, unique to the princess who orders it. A recent visitor who requested this “image cocktail” was asked by a butler what country she most wanted to visit (Korea, as she had never been there) and what season she liked best (autumn, because of the beautiful foliage). She enjoyed the non-alcoholic cocktail concocted for her from raspberry, whose red colour represented her passion for traveling, and orange as one of the autumn foliage colours.
A princess may also have her photograph taken being lifted up in the arms of her favourite butler for 1,500 yen. Otherwise it is not permitted for guests to photograph the butlers, though they may take pictures of their food. A princess may enjoy Butlers Café for two hours in the afternoon or two and a half hours in the evening, paying at her table when her time is up. The butlers will escort her to the elevator, tell her they are awaiting her next visit, and bow as the doors close.
Two- or three- hour party courses are available for birthdays or other occasions, for groups of four to fifteen princesses. All visitors need to make a reservation through the Butlers Café website (Japanese only, except for the page listing employment opportunities for potential butlers). Come and experience a little bit of Buckingham Palace or Versailles in Shibuya.
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