Hm…just went to look at the awesomely delicious menu of Swallowtail Cafe in Japan. Yes it’s a Butler Cafe, which is like the males version of a Maid Cafe except where everything’s more high class and refine.
So I was thinking, will such an idea work in Singapore? I mean, we’ve ascertained that Maid Cafes in Singapore are a complete and utter miserable FAILURE. The maids are well….lets just say singlish and japanese don’t mix well, that and the funding for such cafes are insufficient to make it the level it needs to be and finally, the concept of a cute girl serving and feeding you food and addressing you as master is somewhat…out of the Singapore culture’s comfort zone. But hey sex sells right?
So yea you’ll ask me then what’s the difference between Maid cafes and Butler cafes. From what I CAN tell, at a Butler Cafe, there isn’t much ‘fanservice’ being sold. So yes you’re greeted as the young mistress of a manor and the setting is of you coming home to enjoy your own tea. But instead of being fed or given other skinship services like it’s done in maid cafes, butler cafes focuses on all the etiquette crap like carrying your bag for you, pouring your tea, escorting you, changing your fork and spoon, you can say it’s basically elevated hotel service on steroids. And I suppose the other 2 biggest difference of all would be the fact the quality of food and interior design. Maid cafes are always cute, pink, bright and fun colored, but butler cafes are modeled after English manors and castles, giving it a much classier atmosphere, needless to say the furniture are also a lot more expensive. Food wise, Swallowtail changes its menu every month and it even has its own patisserie, so it goes without saying that you can expect pretty darn delicious food. Heck, even their tea are all special house blends. To be a butler there you need to have 1 month of professional training and memorize names of english teas, so yes i believe that there’s a huge difference in class between maid cafes and butler cafes.
Which brings me back to the point of the concept of butler cafes in Singapore. If we take out the Japanese and give customers the choice of being addressed as: sir, madam, master, mistress etc. I’m sure the impeccable service and high class food will make a good business dinner or dinner party location. Not to mention men in tuxedos are a lot easier to take in than girls in maid costumes, go figure. On the other hand, wouldn’t that take away the uniqueness of Butler cafes if it becomes just another restaurant, only with a more personalized service? So maybe the idea of a permanent butler cafe is a lost cause in Singapore? Especially with the lack of female otakus?
Then again, like I said with the way butler cafes are run, if you switch out the disturbing and mismatching japanese name calling aspects, it’s actually quite acceptable even by adults, both men and women. Then there is the other idea of having a event based butler ‘cafe’. While people are banging their heads on the wall about what to do for birthdays, bachelorette parties etc. etc. having a group of butlers come to your house or a specific destination to give you and your friends the royal treatment seems like a pretty decent idea. Who doesn’t want to be treated like royalty right? The role-playing and pampering also adds to the fun factor. Though probably you need to throw in some other services like providing entertainment (preferably NOT with the butlers, they do have an image to maintain), though perhaps doing nails or makeup services can be a good complimentary service…
If we combine the two ideas above together (meaning that we have a cafe, that usually functions as a high class restaurant with equally high class service but also does either in-house or external parties/events) I think there’s a possibility to throw in a few more elements to redefine the butler experience. As the typical job scope of a butler isn’t just serving food or carrying bags, including real butler’s extra responsibilities into the experience package may just elevate the concept altogether. For example, butlers are often used as secretaries, meaning that perhaps for business dinners, the butler can be used to take notes as part of the restaurants’ service, completing the butler image. Or maybe play instruments at customer’s requests for anniversaries. In fact, why not hire multilingual people as butlers to act as translators for business negotiations over dinner? You get your food AND translator in one package! Thus whilst the butlers of the cafe can’t ever drive your kid around or pick up your laundry, increasing the scope of service they can provide will probably help cover the loss of ‘butler-ness’ in the cafe concept due to elimination of the japanese use of ojousama/goshuujinsama etc.
But the real problem of the cafe isn’t the market potential, hell it isn’t even the probable ridiculously high start up costs (due to the interior design, expensive teasets, utensils, ingredients etc.). It’s finding people in Singapore who are willing to work as butlers in a butler cafe. After my experience at Marina Bay Sands, I’ve concluded that most Singaporeans have NO concept of service (at least when they’re serving people) and don’t WANT to serve people. Plus, in the highly materialistic society of Singapore, how many people are willing to spend a month or 2 being trained to be the perfect butler at a cafe? Even if the pay was good, the nature of the job is probably a turn off for many, especially when you take into account men’s pride. Which is likely to mean that the butlers will end up being a group of foreign labor from China, philippines, malaysia, you name it. Which is fine and all, but lets ignore accents, their lack of proficiency in english alone will either increase training time (how can you expect them to memorize the name and history of teas, tea sets when they can’t even speak grammatically correct english!?) or reduce overall enjoyment of the customer’s experience. On the same note, how many Singaporeans can you find who can speak english WITHOUT a singaporean accent? It’s hard enough to find one person who fits into all the requirements, much less TWENTY. And don’t forget, while the butler doesn’t have to be drop dead gorgeous, he at least needs to look decent/presentable so unless part of the training regime is a complete makeover, I have my doubts about a PROPER butler cafe being a functional business idea in Singapore.
Though all in all, if you can overcome all the difficulties, get enough funding, I dare say that this is one business that will make a lot of money, when economy is good of course.
Anyhow, here’s the link to Swallowtail to knock yourself out.