EDITOR'S NOTE: Mikey's testimony of the maid cafe was deemed unreliable by the staff of the FaniMaid Cafe. The numbers of maids who dropped out have been exaggerated, but the real number is not available for the public. Also, prices for the maid outfits started from as low as $100+, not $200. His testimony is not stricken due to the conflict of interest from its source.
The first thought that ran through my head as I looked at the Fanime 2008 website was this: “The maid cafe is back? AGAIN?” To anyone who recalls the lamentable experience I had (or perhaps you had if you're unlucky enough), the FaniMaid Cafe was not quite the maid café experience that people expected. FaniMaid, however, proved me wrong this year, and my experience was several times better than last year.
Through the direction of Sydney and Jun, the second year of FaniMaid made a considerable improvement in performance and presentation. Sydney returns from running the cafe from last year, and Jun joins the team this year as the head maid trainer. Although not quite devoid of flaws, the experience proved to be enjoyable for me as well as other con goers.
Whereas last year, the cafe was situated in a small corner of the convention center, the cafe took up the wide open area on the Hilton side of the con. The larger and more spacious seating arrangements were also brighter and offered a better view outside than last year, giving the café a much more airy feel. Such a feel aided the eyes and allowed for a much more relaxed atmosphere.
The service this year had also improved along with its location. As mundane as this may seem, this year's maids were capable of greeting and seating guests properly. Even better, guests leaving the cafe were shown out by their maid or maids and told “itterasshaimase.” Jun, trainer and volunteer maid for the cafe had done her best to drill the volunteers with the basics of what a maid café is, and the sort of culture it comes along with. The culture sometimes, though, was harder to teach than it seemed. Basic etiquette was easy, but getting maids to understand the concept of moe proved to be hard for Jun. “Some of the volunteers felt uneasy saying 'Irasshaimase Goshujinsama,'” Above all though, the maids seemed enjoy themselves; To Jun that was their goal just as much as entertaining the customers, or as she put it, “It's meant to be cute.”
Along with etiquette, the maids this year did better at conversing with their customers. While last year featured only a short chat, FaniMaid improved by adding more things to do with the maids while they sat at a table. Conversation was still an option, games of jan-ken (rock, paper, scissors) or origmai crafts were also available.
Food was a mixed bag this year. As with last year, the prices for food was still exorbitant. The only positive news was that their soda was only $2.25, the cheapest soda in the con. The sandwiches also saw an improvement. They seemed fresher and tastier than last year and their price was a comfortable four dollars. The cakes, however, were five dollars for a fairly small serving. The price of the food is left to the caterer's whims, but high prices still stand ominously in the way of a completely fulfilling experience.
I must be fair though, to say that FaniMaid itself was not completely devoid of problems would be far from the truth. Their improvements were great, but critically speaking, there was still room for much improvement. The maids this year were heavily understaffed. Mikey (Crack Pr0n), head panelist of Damn You Internets and a knowledgeable source of maid café knowledge, exposed the behind the scenes problems with FaniMaid. He complained about this year's management on how late they were to get the maids together for training. “On April 12, the maids finally realized that [they] might be able to volunteer for this, and then they realized [they] had to pay $200 for the costume, just to volunteer. After that, they were given only three weeks of training.” According to Mikey, 20 of the maids dropped out at the last minute, leaving only 12. At some times, the maid café was heavily understaffed because of this.
The professionalism of the maids also seemed to deteriorate as the day went on. While I was given golden treatment when I first went to see the café on Saturday afternoon, my second time through was slightly different. For people who didn't quite understand what a maid cafe was, some patrons grabbed their food from the cashier and went to seat themselves. Had I not yelled at my ignorant companion, he would have sat himself down at a table with his food. Thus the maids were not very prompt in seating us, and the catering staff sometimes took out the joy of being served by maids by handing customers their food or drinks directly, as was the case for my friend who only ordered a bottle of coke.
Overall, the cafe was an improvement, and hopefully, it will continue on this trend to become an even better cafe in future years. FaniMaid, although not the best, was definitely a much more enjoyable experience than the previous year.