Have you ever wanted to have someone at your beck and call? At a butler cafe in Japan, you can (for about 80 minutes). I recently had a chance to visit one of the most famous ones, the Swallowtail Butler Cafe in Ikebukuro. The place is named after the butlers’ tailcoats and is located near the end of Otome Road in Ikebukuro. Reservations for an 80-minute romp as a bourgeoisie (dinner time is 120 minutes) are taken up to two weeks in advance and can fill up very quickly. The establishment is foreigner-friendly with an English version of their reservation page and English menus available, but the butlers can only speak Japanese.
Swallowtail is supposedly an annex of a much larger mansion serving England’s best teas and sweets, where monsieurs and madams can spend some quiet time in an elegant atmosphere.
This was my first time at a butler cafe and it was quite an experience. After checking in, you are greeted at the door with an “okaeri nasaimase” (welcome home) by an elderly butler named Shinomiya (think Tanaka from Kuroshitsuji when he’s not in SD form) who then takes any bags you don’t need with you to the cloak room. Another butler takes your other bags and escorts you to your table.
The only thing you need to know when coming here is that you do not do anything yourself. Your butler will seat you, put your napkin on your lap, serve you, pour your tea, take you to the restroom--everything! No photos or usage of cellphones are allowed in the cafe. You are not even allowed to stand up by yourself! If you need to get up for any reason, you must ring the bell to call over a butler who will then escort you. Breaking any protocols will most likely send the butlers into a panic.
The set menus don’t change but there is a huge selection of teas, desserts and other delicacies that change monthly. I went with the Anna Maria lunch set--a scone, your choice of two preserves, either sandwiches or a quiche (I had the sandwiches), and three desserts. All sets include tea, with hot tea coming in a teacup specially chosen by your butler. The food came presented on a 3-tier tower, and you are asked which you would like first, sandwiches in my case. There were three types: chicken, salmon, and dessert, and they were all delicious though miniscule. Bite-sized even. When the butler noticed that I had finished the sandwiches, he quickly came over to ask if I would like to change plates. Remember-- You’re not allowed to do anything yourself! The scone was still warm and tasty. The desserts were good, but not really anything to write home about. A butler was hand making ice cream at a nearby table, which was kind of cool.
Going to the restroom was very embarrassing, if only because you have to ring the bell to get a butler to escort you. When you are done, you must wait for them near the door to take you back to your table. I’m told that you get used to it, but until then, it’s pretty awkward.
Your bill is paid 20 minutes before your time is up. When it comes time, your butler will politely tell you that it is time for your next appointment, or that it’s time for your riding lesson, etc. The reasons they come up with to boot you out are amusing. The butler took our bags and led us to the entrance where we were thanked for stopping by, and then escorted out with an “itterasshaimase (take care).”
Overall it was an interesting experience, though personally it’s not something I find myself getting hooked on since the royal treatment was a bit too much for me. Then again, there was more than a fair share of eye candy. Lunch starts at 2800 yen and dinner at 4200 yen so it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely something to try out at least once.
Whether you come for the servers or the service, a butler cafe will turn some of your dreams into a reality.