Maid Cafes: service or sleaze?

THEY are young women wearing short frilly dresses and knee socks, and call out "Master, welcome home" as you enter.

Patrons are treated like kings and princesses, and the diner is called "home" rather than a restaurant.

Enter the world of "Maid Cafe", a Japanese phenomenon that could soon become part of Auckland's social scene.

"It is my dream, that if New Zealanders really like it, then I will start a maid cafe here," said Michel.Sea, a maid cafe host from Japan.

As a test, she will be turning Restaurant Morita, a French-Japanese restaurant on Swanson St, into a maid cafe on Saturday to see how the hostess bars will be received by patrons here.

"You enter a fantasy world when you step into a maid cafe, and where maids pamper you and make fantasies come true," said Michel.Sea, who says her real name will always be a mystery. "Maids have magical powers, to make people feel better after a tired day at work, and can cast spells to make dinner delicious."

Diners get entertained by the women in French maid costumes, who will also decorate orders at the table -- like drawing an image of a cutesy cat with ketchup on omu-raisu, or omelette rice.

The maids will talk, play games and even dance to entertain punters. Patrons are not allowed to touch the women or ask them personal questions. Morita head chef Masa Hashimoto, 38, said the restaurant was supporting Michel.Sea's maid cafe day to share a "popular Japanese culture". "It is a unique experience with a lot of role-playing, it has no comparison in New Zealand," he said.

Maid cafes have been popular in Japan since the early 2000s, and cater mainly to male otaku, or fans of anime, manga and video games.

Hashimoto believed maid cafes would be a hit here, judging from the popularity of manga-themed events like Armageddon, which last year drew over 70,000 participants in Auckland.

Associate Professor Lorna Piatti-Farnell, director AUT University's Popular Culture Research Centre, said despite the sexy outfits, maid cafes were not seedy or sleazy.

Last week while in Tokyo for a conference, she visited one in Akihabara, where the first cafe was established in 2001.

"It might be a bit disappointing or perhaps relieving for readers to know there's very little that is sexual about the maid cafe," said Piatti-Farnell.

"It goes with the cultural idea of being looked after, of being in a place that's comfortable and getting treated like you're really important."

She said maid cafes attracted a wide range of customers, including couples, tourists and women.

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