WELCOME to DokiDoki Station, the latest maid cafe to open shop in Melbourne, offering everything from food to games to a choice of service demeanours. Meld reporter Grace Yew shares her experience.
As I stumbled into the basement of China Square, I was greeted with a lilting chorus of “okaerinasaimase, ojōsama!” (welcome home, mistress) by several teenage “French maids”. The walls are lined with animé memorabilia, and gently upbeat Japanese melodies play in the background. At the MoeMall counter in the far corner, a giant Moogle doll bobs affably in greeting.
Welcome to mobile maid cafe DokiDoki Station, one of many Japanese cosplay-themed establishments to spring up in recent decades. Despite the growing popularity of cosplay in Melbourne, enterprises like DokiDokiStation remain a novelty here.
Like any pop-up store, DokiDoki can also set up shop at regular venues or events such as anime conventions.
For the uninitiated, cosplay (short for “costume play”) generally involves cosplayers donning the guises of their favourite pop culture characters and interacting with each other to create a subculture centred around role play.
DokiDoki’s selling point is the service from its costumed staff.
The waitresses each don a maid uniform and take on a Japanese pseudonym, and addres customers as goshujin-sama (master) or ojōsama (mistress). If you’ve ever wanted to live as the lord of a manor at a garden party – fluorescent lighting and sterile white bricks notwithstanding – this is it.
Turning up after the reservations-only period of 12 to 5pm meant there was ample seating. Being alone, I was ushered to a smaller table, where a young butler wove deftly between lavender-draped furniture to present the menus.
DokiDoki typically serves fruity desserts such as pastries, cakes, and the café’s signature parfait. But those who prefer savoury over sweet can opt for miniature meat pies or the dinosaur-shaped nuggets. Most dishes cost $15 with a complimentary beverage.
The staff recommended the strawberry mousse and chocolate mud cakes, but I opted for a slice of apple pie a la carte.
My pie was delivered by the chirpy Miharu, who drew an Iron Man helmet in chocolate sauce on my pie. Miharu’s art was not restricted to the US-based Marvel. I later witnessed her drawing Pokémon on a meat pie. A slip-up with the nozzle left Pikachu weeping tears of ketchup over his impending demise.
The pie was tasty, the hot chocolate unremarkable; the plastic cutlery convincingly steely. Before I ate, Miharu performed a Japanese chant which culminated in a cry of “moe moe kyun!” and a heart-shaped hand gesture. This, she said, would “make (my) food taste better!”
In authentic maid café fashion, games and other entertainment are literally on the menu. DokiDoki offers a choice of service demeanours (‘personalities’ for the maids), decorative Polaroids, and the chance to try a maid outfit.
The latter was utilised by the crafty friends of one male customer, whose hairy forearms and broad shoulders proved ill-suited to the uniform. Later, the maid who lost the ‘Mikado’ game was made to sport a chocolate sauce moustache, and one of the volunteers demonstrated unexpected skill in sliding cookies down his face.
The maids love their work.
“I’m here for the unique experience,” Maiko, a dark-haired maid in navy blue, said.
The opportunities for performance, socialisation and customer interaction are especially valuable to the cafe’s maids.
Phuju, clad in a pink maid outfit, said the atmosphere was different from a normal café.
“It’s cute! I think a lot of people like it,” she said.
The maids’ comfort in their environment are aided by the security detail. All customers need to abide by DokiDoki’s rules, which include bans on unauthorised photography or filming, asking maids/butlers for their contact details, stalking or offering to pick-up maids/butlers.
Yen Tran, the cafe’s “unofficial bouncer”, said the biggest problems usually revolved around the taking of photos or videos.
While “there are always creeps”, she said most customers “comply with the rules”.
The staff are cheery and professional, having been schooled in maid etiquette and basic Japanese. According to Miharu, the staff – a mix of international and local university students – were selected based on various factors, including their understanding of maid café culture and their ability to engage with customers.
“Being cute” and “able to sing or dance” were also advantages for prospective maids.
The café is young, Miharu ackowledged.
“We just started, but we’ll also be incorporating more themes in the coming months, such as neko (cat) or megane (glasses). But no slapping or anything,” she clarified, referring to the kookier Japanese cafés.
“We’re more mainstream.”
The primary goal, Miharu said, was ”to create a fun atmosphere where people with similar interests can socialise”.
“Definitely some otaku (anime geeks), but we cater to anyone who’s interested,” she said.
Like many maid cafés, DokiDoki runs on “moé” (mo-eh), a word used in reference to overwhelming sweetness. The ‘magic chants’ and sauce drawings are part of DokiDoki’s routine for projecting the “moé” aura, thus inspiring protective tenderness in their patrons.
The name DokiDoki is itself Japanese onomatopoeia, meaning the flutter of one’s heart in the presence of something for which they harbour innocent affection.
Indeed, this little café and its crew are nothing but adorable: the ‘dokidoki’ sensations are impossible to resist.
DokiDoki Station has relocated to 422 Bourke Street. The café is open on Fridays (3–6.30pm) and Sundays (11.30am–5.30pm). Premises are shared with MoeMall and Kogeki! Studios. Details on walk-ins and reservations are available on Facebook or via email. Admission is free.