What is a concept cafe? A thorough explanation of its history, types, fee structure, and etiquette!

Have you ever heard the term “concept café”? Recently, “concept cafés” have been gaining popularity, especially among young people. Even if you haven’t been to one, you might have at least heard the name.

This article will cover a wide range of information about concept cafés, including their history, types, pricing structures, and etiquette, as well as frequently asked questions. If you’re interested in concept cafés but don’t know much about them, or if you’d like to visit one but are unsure what to expect, this guide is for you.

What is a Concept Café?

A concept café is a café designed around a specific theme or worldview. Examples include maid cafés, butler cafés, and prince cafés. The decorations, staff uniforms, and service styles are all aligned with the chosen theme, providing customers with an extraordinary experience.

For instance, at a maid café, staff members dress in maid costumes and address customers as “master” or “mistress,” creating a homely atmosphere. On the other hand, at a butler café, staff members dress as butlers and offer refined and composed service. Customers can enjoy interactions with employees dressed as various characters, and many establishments offer additional services such as games. Thus, concept cafés are not just dining establishments but also places with a theme park-like entertainment quality.

Concept cafés have spread nationwide, especially gaining popularity in urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka. It is said that there are about 200 concept cafés in the Akihabara district alone, featuring a variety of themes. This allows visitors to choose a café that suits their interests and immerse themselves in a specific world. Additionally, communication with the staff is one of the attractions, and there is active interaction with fans.

In recent years, concept cafés have diversified beyond traditional maid and butler themes to include costumes such as shrine maidens, nuns, high school girls, gothic lolitas, and idol-like outfits. Some cafés even feature staff aspiring to be idols who perform songs and dances, offering a variety of ways to enjoy the concept café experience.

History of Concept Cafés

The history of concept cafés dates back to the late 1990s and early 2000s. During this period, with the rise of otaku culture, themed dining establishments began to emerge. Among these, temporary cafés at cosplay events and doujinshi conventions garnered particular attention. These eventually evolved into permanent establishments.

Akihabara in Tokyo is widely recognized as the birthplace of concept cafés. Originally known as an electronics district, Akihabara became a hub for otaku culture in the late 1990s. It was here that the first permanent maid café, Cure Maid Café, opened in 2001. This café, with its calming atmosphere and “healing” theme, was well-received by many customers.

The success of “Cure Maid Café” significantly influenced the emergence of other maid cafés. For instance, “Café de Cospa,” which started as a limited-time event in 1999, eventually became a permanent establishment. This café attracted a diverse fan base by incorporating not only maid themes but also cosplays of characters from various anime and game franchises.

In the early 2000s, maid cafés rapidly increased around Akihabara, leading to the creation of various themed concept cafés. Establishments like “Cafe Mai:lish” introduced a style where staff not only dressed as maids but also took on specific character names and engaged in meaningful interactions with customers. This evolution turned these cafés from mere dining venues into entertainment spaces where staff and customers could enjoy activities together.

Moreover, the maid café culture expanded beyond Tokyo, with new locations opening in urban areas such as Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, and Shibuya. These regions saw the rise of cafés specializing in unique themes and concepts, which became popular and fostered their own distinct cultures. For example, Ikebukuro’s “Butler Café Swallowtail” gained popularity with its male staff dressed as butlers providing elegant and refined service.

The concept café culture has also spread overseas, with maid cafés and other themed cafés opening in countries across Asia, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, and even in France and the United States. This international expansion has established these cafés as a notable aspect of Japanese subculture, attracting tourists and gaining global popularity.

In the late 2000s, various themed cafés emerged, going beyond just maid cafés. Themes such as shrine maidens, nuns, high school girls, gothic lolitas, and idol-like costumes were introduced, attracting a diverse clientele. Additionally, more cafés featured staff aspiring to be idols who performed songs and dances, enhancing the entertainment aspect of concept cafés.

Recently, some maid cafés and concept cafés have expanded beyond just being dining establishments to also engage in production activities. For example, some cafés produce and debut staff members aspiring to be idols as underground idols. These cafés offer not only interactions with the staff but also live performances and events, providing a more immersive experience.

The history of concept cafés has evolved alongside otaku culture, continuously offering new ways to enjoy by incorporating diverse themes and styles. Moving forward, concept cafés are expected to continue developing, leveraging their diversity and entertainment value.

Differences Between Concept Cafés and Girls’ Bars

At first glance, concept cafés and girls’ bars may seem similar, but there are several important differences.

First, the difference lies in their concepts. Concept cafés are based on specific themes or worldviews, with staff costumes, interior decorations, and service styles all aligned with the chosen theme. For example, at a maid café, staff dressed in maid costumes address customers as “master” and role-play specific characters. In contrast, girls’ bars are primarily bars that serve alcohol, where staff engage in conversations with customers over the counter. Girls’ bars do not have specific themes or concepts, and staff do not role-play particular characters.

Next is the difference in service styles. In concept cafés, staff move around the café, providing services to customers at each table. Many cafés offer activities such as Polaroid photo sessions and mini-games that customers can enjoy with the staff. On the other hand, in girls’ bars, staff serve drinks and converse with customers from behind the counter, creating a friendly and close-knit atmosphere.

Additionally, their operating hours differ. Concept cafés often operate throughout a wide range of hours from daytime to evening, whereas girls’ bars mainly operate at night. Girls’ bars typically open in the evening and stay open until late at night or early morning.

Finally, there are differences in the services offered.
Con cafes feature highly entertaining services based on a specific theme or character.
Girls’ bars, on the other hand, are primarily about having fun and conversing with customers while serving alcohol.

What is the difference between a con cafe and a maid cafe?

Concept cafés and maid cafés are often confused, but there are several key differences. Firstly, a maid café is a type of concept café. In other words, a maid café is a concept café based on a specific theme (maids), and it falls under the broader category of concept cafés.

In a maid café, staff members wear maid costumes and address customers as “master” or “mistress,” creating a homely atmosphere. The services offered are characterized by unique maid performances, such as drawing pictures with ketchup on omurice or using phrases like “moe moe kyun.” On the other hand, concept cafés encompass a variety of themes beyond maids. For example, there are butler cafés, nurse cafés, idol cafés, and many other themes.

Additionally, maid cafés often adhere to a more traditional style, reflecting the classic maid culture in their interior decorations and services. In contrast, concept cafés are more diverse, incorporating elements of modern pop culture, anime, and games.

Moreover, maid cafés primarily operate during the daytime, while concept cafés have broader operating hours, from daytime to nighttime. Particularly at night, many concept cafés adopt a bar format and serve alcohol, showcasing their diversity.

Thus, while maid cafés are a specific type of concept café focused on the maid theme, concept cafés as a whole include a wide range of themes and styles.

Business Types of Concept Cafés

Knowing the different business types of concept cafés can help you enjoy your visit even more. Concept cafés have various business models, and the services they offer and the permits they hold can vary by establishment. Here, we explain the main business types and their characteristics.

Concept Cafés with Only a Restaurant Business Permit

Concept cafés with only a restaurant business permit primarily focus on providing food and beverages. These cafés do not engage in hostess-like activities and do not serve alcohol after midnight. Examples include animal cafés or cafés where staff in cosplay simply serve food and drinks. This type of concept café offers a relatively calm atmosphere and often places a strong emphasis on the quality of the food and beverages.

Concept Cafés with a Restaurant Business Permit and Notification for Late-Night Alcohol Service

This type of concept café provides food and beverages and also serves alcohol after midnight. They do not engage in hostess-like activities and operate in a bar format. In these bar-style concept cafés, you can enjoy alcohol and casual conversations with the staff. They are particularly suitable for visits after work or during late-night hours.

Concept Cafés with Both a Restaurant Business Permit and an Entertainment Business Permit

In this type of concept café, staff engage in hospitality activities such as pouring drinks for specific customers or enjoying intimate conversations in booth seats. In addition to the restaurant business permit, they also have a permit for entertainment business, which allows for closer communication. However, they are not allowed to serve alcohol after midnight. This type of concept café operates similarly to girls’ bars or hostess clubs and is suitable for those who want to have in-depth conversations with specific staff members.

Actual Business Models of Concept Cafés

In many concept cafés, it is common for staff to dress in cosplay and engage in conversations with customers over the counter. When serving food and drinks, maids might draw pictures with ketchup on omurice or provide services that align with a specific theme. Additionally, taking Polaroid photos (cheki) is a frequent activity, allowing customers to take commemorative pictures with their favorite staff members.

Concept Cafés and Hospitality Activities

There are aspects of concept café business models that are similar to those of girls’ bars. Engaging in conversations with specific customers over the counter falls under the category of “hospitality activities” as defined by the Entertainment Business Law. Therefore, obtaining an entertainment business permit is technically necessary, but in reality, many concept cafés operate without this permit. The news about girls’ bars being busted for operating without proper permits is due to discrepancies between the law and actual business practices. Many business owners misunderstand that conversations over the counter do not constitute hospitality activities. The law does not differentiate between counter or booth seating. Hence, concept cafés that engage in hospitality activities need to be cautious.

Concept Cafés Not Engaging in Hospitality Activities

On the other hand, some concept cafés operate without engaging in hospitality activities. In these cafés, staff simply wear cosplay without engaging in prolonged conversations with specific customers, and the focus is on enjoying the themed decorations and settings. These types of concept cafés do not need an entertainment business permit. However, if they serve alcohol after midnight, they must file a notification for late-night alcohol service.

Understanding the business model of the concept café you plan to visit can enhance your experience. For instance, if you want to enjoy a meal during the day, a café with only a restaurant business permit is suitable. If you prefer to relax and enjoy drinks at night, look for cafés that have filed a notification for late-night alcohol service. If you want to have intimate conversations with specific staff, choose cafés with an entertainment business permit.

Reasons for the Popularity of Concept Cafés

Concept cafés have rapidly gained popularity in recent years. The reasons for this popularity include several factors, primarily the following:

Extraordinary Experiences

The greatest appeal of concept cafés lies in providing extraordinary experiences. In maid cafés, staff dressed in maid costumes welcome customers as “master” or “mistress,” while in butler cafés, staff in butler costumes offer refined service. This allows customers to enjoy a unique and special atmosphere that they cannot experience in everyday life.

Diverse Concepts

As the name suggests, concept cafés operate based on various themes. These themes include maid cafés, butler cafés, prince cafés, shrine maiden cafés, idol cafés, and more. This diversity allows customers to choose a café that matches their interests, ensuring a new experience with each visit.

Affordable Pricing

One of the attractions of concept cafés is their affordable pricing. Many establishments offer all-you-can-drink plans for around 3000 yen for the first hour, making them relatively inexpensive to enjoy. This affordability makes it easy for younger generations and first-time visitors to drop by.

Increased Demand During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many hostess clubs and girls’ bars had to shut down, but concept cafés were able to continue operating as “cafés.” This shift led customers who wanted to drink with girls to flock to concept cafés, making them busy both day and night. Additionally, underground idols whose live performances were reduced due to the pandemic started working at concept cafés for income, drawing their fans to these venues as well.

Attractive and Easy Working Environment

The working environment at concept cafés is also very appealing to the girls who work there. Compared to hostess clubs and girls’ bars, the barriers to entry are lower, making it easier for girls without experience to start working. Many girls who want to work in cute costumes are attracted to these cafés. Those who become popular at concept cafés can also earn high incomes through back margins.

Compatibility with “Oshi” Culture

Recently, the culture of “oshi-katsu” (supporting one’s favorite idols or characters) has become popular among young people. This involves spending money and time to support one’s favorites. Concept cafés are highly compatible with this culture, allowing customers to support their favorite girls by buying them drinks or taking Polaroid photos with them. Such activities become a major source of enjoyment for visitors.

For these reasons, concept cafés are loved by many and have gained widespread popularity. Their appeal lies in the extraordinary experiences they offer, the diverse concepts, and the affordable pricing, ensuring their continued popularity in the future.

Types of Concept Cafés

Concept cafés come in a variety of themes, each offering a unique world view. Below are some of the popular and classic concepts.

Maid-themed Concept Cafés
Maid cafés are a quintessential part of Japanese concept café culture. Staff dressed in maid costumes welcome customers as “masters” or “ladies” and serve drinks and meals. These cafés often feature cute, “lolita” or “moe” style maids, providing an extraordinary experience.

Nurse and Hospital-themed Concept Cafés
In nurse or doctor-themed cafés, staff play the role of nurses or doctors who tend to their “patients,” the customers. The mix of tsundere (cold but caring) nurses and kind nurses is popular. The hospital-themed décor adds to the charm.

Fantasy-themed Concept Cafés
These cafés feature staff dressed as fantasy characters such as wizards, vampires, and princesses. They create a meticulously crafted world, allowing customers to enjoy a dreamlike escape from reality into another world.

Idol-themed Concept Cafés
Idol-themed cafés host live performances. The staff, known for their high-level singing and dancing abilities, cater to fans of idol culture. These cafés are particularly popular with those who enjoy live idol performances.

Animal-themed Concept Cafés
In these cafés, staff dressed as animals provide service. With cute staff sporting animal ears and tails, these cafés offer a relaxing and adorable experience.

Collaboration-themed Concept Cafés
These cafés collaborate with anime, manga, games, and movies. They are often limited-time events, allowing fans to immerse themselves in the world of their favorite series. Special events and campaigns add to the excitement for fans.

Cosplay-themed Concept Cafés
Staff in these cafés dress up as characters from anime, games, and movies. Frequent cosplay events are held, making these cafés extremely popular among cosplay enthusiasts.

As you can see, concept cafés entertain customers with a wide range of themes. Enjoy the unique world view that each café offers.

Concept Café Systems and Pricing

The pricing system at concept cafés varies depending on the type of café, but generally follows a “charge fee + one drink” model. Below, we explain the pricing systems for café-style and bar-style concept cafés in detail.

Lunch Time Pricing System

The pricing system for concept cafés primarily operating during lunchtime typically follows a “cover charge + one drink” model. The cover charge, which is essentially a seating fee, usually ranges from 500 to 1,000 yen per hour. Drinks cost around 500 to 1,000 yen, and the food menu is also extensive, with dishes averaging around 1,000 yen each. Therefore, with about 2,000 to 3,000 yen, you can have a satisfying experience.

Additionally, taking photos with the cast or trying the gacha (capsule toy machines) costs around 500 to 1,000 yen each. The gacha often includes prizes such as free Polaroid photos or original merchandise vouchers, making it a fun activity to try during your visit.

Bar Time Pricing System

Many concept cafés operating during bar hours also use the “cover charge + one drink” model. The cover charge is similarly 500 to 1,000 yen, with drinks costing between 500 and 1,000 yen. However, during bar hours, many cafés offer time-limited all-you-can-drink plans (set fees), typically priced between 2,000 and 3,000 yen. These plans usually have a time limit of 30 minutes to one hour, with extensions available.

The bar time pricing structure is similar to that of cabarets but tends to be more affordable. For example, many cafés do not charge for drinks for the girls (cast drinks), making it a budget-friendly option.

Differences Between Café and Bar Formats

There are mainly two types of concept cafés: café format and bar format. Café format establishments typically operate from daytime and close before midnight, offering a healthier and more affordable option with a budget of 2,000 to 3,000 yen. Bar format establishments open in the evening and often operate until morning. These places frequently offer all-you-can-drink plans for 40 to 60 minutes, with a budget of 3,000 to 5,000 yen being common.

Details of Various Fees

Cover Charge: 500 to 1,000 yen per hour. The cover charge is incurred hourly.

Drink Prices: 500 to 1,000 yen for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Sometimes included in set fees.

Food Prices: Meals such as omelets, curry, and desserts cost between 1,000 and 2,000 yen. Unique foods matching the concept are often available.

Polaroid Photos: Taking a two-shot photo with the cast. Prices range from 500 to 1,500 yen per photo. Some cafés offer a service where the cast decorates the photo.

Gacha Prices: Capsule toy machines in the café. Costing 500 to 1,000 yen per try, with prizes such as cast drink discount tickets or original goods.

Cast Drinks: Drinks provided to the cast members. These typically cost between 1,000 and 3,000 yen per drink and are a common way to get closer to the cast.

Champagne Costs: Champagne ordered for events or special occasions. Non-alcoholic champagne costs between 5,000 and 10,000 yen, while premium champagne can range from 10,000 to over 100,000 yen. Special perks may be included with champagne orders.

Payment Methods

In addition to cash, an increasing number of stores are accepting cashless payments such as credit cards and electronic money. Some stores also accept QR code payments like PayPay and LINE Pay, so it’s a good idea to check in advance.

Manners in Concept Cafés

When visiting a concept café for the first time, it’s easy to unknowingly commit a faux pas. Here are some manners that beginners should remember to ensure a pleasant experience for everyone. Please use this as a reference to avoid causing trouble for the café and to enjoy your time there.

No Sexual Harassment Toward the Cast: The cast members in concept cafés work as waitresses or bartenders. They do not provide sexual services, so touching them or using inappropriate language is strictly prohibited. If sexual harassment occurs, you may be reported to the police or banned from the café. Please avoid this behavior at all costs.

Do Not Pry Into Private Information: It’s also prohibited to intrude into the cast’s private life. Avoid asking about their address, age, or contact information. While it’s okay if the cast members talk about themselves voluntarily, refrain from asking personal questions.

Exchanging Contact Information is Generally Prohibited: In most concept cafés, exchanging contact information with the cast is strictly forbidden. Please refrain from asking to exchange LINE or other contact details. It’s important to follow the café’s rules.

Photography is Generally Prohibited: In many concept cafés, taking photos with the cast (Polaroid photos) is a paid service, and other types of photography are usually prohibited. Even in cafés where photography is allowed, always ask for permission before pointing your camera at the cast.

Do Not Wait for the Cast Outside the Café: Avoid waiting outside the café for the cast after their shift ends. Waiting outside the café can scare the cast and might lead to you being reported to the management. Interactions with the cast should be limited to inside the café.

Avoid Visiting While Intoxicated: Customers who are heavily intoxicated are often barred from entering because they are more likely to cause trouble. To avoid making inappropriate remarks, using offensive language, or getting into conflicts with other customers, drink responsibly.

Do Not Engage in Long Conversations After Paying: It’s good manners to leave promptly after settling the bill. Long conversations can inconvenience other customers and the cast. After paying, keep your farewell brief and leave gracefully.

Do Not Get Upset if You Are Left Alone: In concept cafés, there may be times when the cast is too busy to attend to you immediately. It’s important to remain patient and enjoy your time alone. When the cast returns, expressing gratitude can leave a positive impression.

Do Not Move Seats Without Permission: Moving seats is not allowed. It is important to enjoy your time in the designated seat. Moving without permission can cause inconvenience to other customers and the cast. Showing that you are enjoying yourself in the assigned seat leaves a good impression on the cast.

Express Gratitude: Expressing gratitude to the cast in a concept café is very important. By conveying words of thanks, you make the cast happy. Specifically, saying “thank you” and interacting with a smile is crucial.

By adhering to these manners, you can make your time at the concept café more enjoyable. Follow the rules and build a good relationship with the cast. Be mindful of these manners to have a pleasant and enjoyable experience.

Popular Concept Cafés Nationwide

Now, let’s introduce some of the popular concept cafés across the country. Be sure to find your favorite spot among them.

Akihabara Maid Cafes Top 10 Ranking
Latest ranking of Akihabara maid cafes for 2024! We have carefully selected the best maid cafes in Akihabara that do not require cast-iron drinks, and provide the best information for exploring maid cafes in Akihabara. From long-established establishments that created the history of maid cafes to establishments with an established reputation for their food, this definitive guide is a must-read for beginners and enthusiasts alike.
Ikebukuro Concept Cafe Top 10 Ranking
The latest Ikebukuro con café rankings for 2024! We have carefully selected a number of Ikebukuro con café stores and provide you with three key points and the best information. This ranking is recommended for beginners and those who are looking for a new place to go, so please take a look at it.
Shibuya  Maid Cafes Top 10 Ranking (Updated 2024)
Concept cafes in Shibuya are introduced in a ranking format! We bring you the charm of cafes with unique concepts in Shibuya, a trendy area for young people. Check out the variety of con-cafes, including ani-song bars, maid cafes, genderless cafes, and more!
Nipponbashi  Maid Cafes Top 10 Ranking (Updated 2024)
We'll introduce you to the best concept cafes in the Nipponbashi area of Osaka, ranked! Featuring unique cafes like maid cafes, idol cafes, and shisha bars, this area is a gathering spot especially recommended for fans of anime and games. Additionally, you'll find uniquely themed cafes not commonly found elsewhere, such as cat cafes and book cafes. Why not find the perfect cafe that matches your hobbies and preferences and enjoy a special moment? Please enjoy a charming cafe experience that can only be found in Nipponbashi!
 Nagoya Maid Cafes Top 10 Ranking (Updated 2024)
Latest ranking of Nagoya Con Cafe in 2024! We have carefully selected a large number of con café stores in Nagoya, and provide you with the key points and the best information for selecting the best store. This ranking is recommended for beginners and those who are looking for a new place to go, so please take a look at it.
Sapporo  Maid Cafes Top 5 Ranking (Updated 2024)
Introducing concept cafes from Sapporo Station to the Susukino area in ranking format. From among the flourishing unique cafes in the northern land, Sapporo, here are the top 5 recommended establishments! We focus on each cafe's unique theme, attractive menu, and comfortable atmosphere, explaining in detail why they are worth a visit. You can experience various concepts such as motifs of fallen angels, cosplay of anime characters, and styles that fuse traditional Japanese clothing with modern elements. You will surely find a cafe that suits your taste.
Shinjuku  Maid Cafes Top 10 Ranking (Updated 2024)
The latest ranking of Shinjuku con cafes for 2024! We have carefully selected and introduced a large number of con café stores in Shinjuku. We provide information on the charms of con cafes, points to consider when selecting a con café, and the best information on con cafes. We recommend this ranking for beginners and those who are looking for a new place to go, so please take a look at it.
Shinsaibashi Maid Cafes Top 10 Ranking (Updated 2024)
Latest ranking of Shinsaibashi ConCafé stores for 2024! We have carefully selected the best con café stores in Shinsaibashi and provide you with the most attractive features of con cafés and the best information on how to choose the right store. This ranking is recommended for beginners as well as for those who are looking for a new place to go, so please take a look at it.