By Ella Miller
The return of one of the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Anime Club’s most iconic events saw the Thomas Lounge in the Student Campus Centre (SCC) transformed into a bustling café.
The tables were covered in white cloths and the chairs had delicate pink bows tied to the backs. Vintage comic book panels and a large projection of a lantern-lit street had been added to the walls. The sound of Lo-fi classical music floated through the air, occasionally disrupted by a clatter of dishes from the chaotic kitchen.
This was no ordinary café, however. Instead, it was one of the most popular anime tropes brought to life: a maid café.
According to participants, a maid café is a type of restaurant originating from Japan where the main draw is that waiters and waitresses roleplay as maids for customers.
“Being a maid, we’re basically supposed to just take orders and chat with guests, be entertaining, take pictures with the guests if they want,” said third-year film student Victoria Zubiri, a maid at the café.
While a master-servant dynamic is traditional in maid cafés, TMU Anime Club’s take on the concept was more focused on the fantasy of customers getting to interact with characters from their favourite anime and ensuring that the maids and customers were having fun.
“Here, what we emphasize is that consent is key,” said Ren Denise, an Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) student, who had joined TMU’s Anime Club to participate as a maid. “We don’t necessarily go into that stereotypical master-servant thing. We’re just here to have fun,” they said.
To add to that enjoyment, servers at the Anime Club’s maid café sported maid outfits that were straight out of a Victorian period piece, only rendered through a cutesy lens: drab black and white uniforms transformed into puffed skirts and frilly aprons.
“I feel prettier, I’ll be honest,” said fifth-year mathematics student Andrew*, speaking about his maid costume. “I feel very girlypop.”
“We’re just here to have fun”
Several other maids also expressed feeling “girlypop”—which is when an individual assumes an outgoing, confident and bubbly persona.
Many of the maids who took part in the café also wore accessories like cat ears. Others fully committed to the fantasy element of the café by cosplaying as characters from animes like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Komi Can’t Communicate, to name a few.
“[Maid cafés are] a common theme in certain anime—especially the slice-of-life, comedy, sometimes even romance,” said TMU Anime Club’s co-president and fourth-year geographic analysis student Mafriaz Ul-Alam. “We just kind of bridge the two.”
For many customers, one of the most exciting aspects of the café was the chance to see their friends and classmates dressed like anime-style maids and be served by them.
“I feel very girlypop”
“I’ve gotten seven of the maids to hold up my glass so I can take a sip,” said Vincent Holliday, a first-year computer science student and a customer at the café.
The seven maids in question were some of Holliday’s friends who were helping with the café. Holliday stayed for the entire five-hour duration of the café in order to be served by as many of his friends as possible.
By the end, he had managed to get a total of nine friends dressed up as maids to hold his glass for him.
“The Anime Club’s execs are really good and everyone should be nice to them,” Holliday said about the staff tolerating his scheme.
The enthusiastic response of customers—many of whom had lined up outside of the Thomas Lounge before the café had even opened—was promising for the maids and organizers alike.
This was the first year that TMU’s Anime Club had been able to host the maid café in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic and it was not without its challenges. A major hurdle they had to overcome was certain menu items being unavailable during the event.
“As to be expected with any event, things always happen, last minute changes, people may not be able to come, so we usually always have a couple back-up options on the menu,” said Kasam.
Despite the last minute menu change, customers still found plenty to enjoy. Menu items were named after memes and jokes in anime fan culture, like the “Jelly Donut” onigiri, a reference to an infamous error in the English dub of Pokémon.
The biggest hit of these creatively named items was undoubtedly a combination of lemonade and Sprite dubbed “Suipiss” after a meme involving virtual YouTuber or VTuber—someone who creates video content using a virtual avatar —Suisei Hoshimachi.
“Perfect,” said first-year computer science student Vanja Dorovic in her review of the item. “Perfect stuff. Like exactly what you need today. The [Suipiss] makes the day better.”
According to Kasam, the creation of the menu was a collaborative process.
“Instead of actually making them ourselves, we actually let our staff decide,” they said. “We have one staff [member] who actually worked as a chef for a couple years, so we kind of give him control.”
This sense of community and collaboration was made clear by the camaraderie between the maids and customers throughout the café.
“Everyone here, including the staff, are just having so much fun,” said first-year civil engineering student and maid Thomas Leikauf, while on break from a busy day of assisting the kitchen staff. “To be a part of that is so fulfilling and just awesome.”
While the maid café is primarily a fundraiser for TMU’s Anime Club, it also serves as a way to bring awareness about the club’s role in TMU’s student community.
“To be a part of that is so fulfilling”
“Obviously, because of [COVID-19], Anime Club was online for a while, so this is the first maid café in two or three years,” said Ul Alam. “I hope [people] see it as an opportunity to be with like-minded weebs or anime fans and just have a good time.”
“Even if you’re not a fan of anime or not really engrossed in that culture, it’s just a great way to make friends and hang out and have a good time in-between classes or just relax,” said Kasam. “That’s what we aim for, for most of our events.”
“Even if you’re not a fan of anime or not really engrossed in that culture, it’s just a great way to make friends”
That sentiment was echoed by the café’s atmosphere.
“Live your best life,” Andrew said. “Do what you want to do. If you want to come to the maid café, come on by.”
*Name has been changed to protect source’s privacy
A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Asy Kasam instead of Mafriaz Ul-Alam. The Eye regrets this error.