Full disclosure: I was given a complimentary ticket to this event by the organizer. The review is based on my own experiences as well as those observed of others who were there.
The Sailor Moon Pop-Up Cafe in Toronto happened yesterday at Hirut Cafe, who may now be regretting getting involved in a first time Sailor Moon cafe event as some disappointed attendees have been giving the restaurant negative reviews for an event that was run by a separate group.
I arrived shortly after 3pm and I saw a long line of attendees forming outside. On a hot summer day, I was hoping that people weren’t waiting long and that they would soon be ushered inside to be seated.
I went inside (it was difficult to identify who was working for the event outside) and I asked to talk to the organizer. I skipped the line as I was personally invited and I wanted to speak to the organizer. I also have an invisible disability which would have made it problematic for me to stand outside for a lengthy time (I can only walk/stand for a limited time per day).
I was directed toward the back of the front level and I spoke briefly with Deborah, the head organizer of the event. She recognized me as the chair of the Toronto Sailor Moon Celebration and said that she was glad that I could come but that they were already running about an hour behind schedule and she was already expecting to receive bad reviews. She also said she had been delayed getting to the event because of Caribana and that it took her nearly three hours to get there in a taxi (which I’m sure only left her stressed at the beginning of the day and it can be challenging to make up for that). She encouraged me to find a seat anywhere to be served.
I noticed that there were a few people behind the counter slicing strawberries for the parfaits and scooping the mango ice cream into glasses for the parfaits. Since I have a family member who works in the restaurant industry, I thought it odd that the strawberries hadn’t even been prepared in advance. It’s generally best to do prep cooking in advance so that it’s quick to assemble things for serving. The staff all appeared stressed and flustered and encouraged the organizer to cut one of the drinks so that they could switch to the next group of attendees sooner (not a good sign).
I walked around the place which had sparse party decorations. Near the front door there was milk and cream for coffee and tea, which is not really a good idea on a hot day. Another set was downstairs on a high table too.
I set down a stack of flyers for the picnic I’m running next weekend at Kew Gardens near the front door and I made my way down the stairs, which had some simple homemade decorations and ribbons hanging down from the ceiling. At the bottom of the stairs was the first vendor, Maho Girls, who had also exhibited at the Toronto Sailor Moon Celebration. She said she had limited stock, but it seemed a good variety and quantity of items for this event. The featured artist of the event, Marie Jane Works, was also downstairs, around the middle of the space on the right side, in an area that looked like a smaller bar with an L shaped counter. She had a selection of prints and some original artwork for sale. It was a mixture of Sailor Moon and other pieces. She was also cosplaying Sailor Jupiter, which was a nice touch.
Random j-pop music was playing on the speakers downstairs, too bad it wasn’t exclusively Sailor Moon music and too bad they weren’t also playing upstairs. No music would have been fine too, it just seemed like a missed opportunity.
At the back of the lower floor there was an area set up like a photo booth with a sign written in marker that photos were $5 (this was later reduced to $4). There was a young woman cosplaying Princess Serenity nearby, and presumably she was there for you to take photos with her. There was another young woman there to take the pictures with an instant camera. Both of them looked permanently miserable. This corner was also quite dark and not properly set up for photos. It seemed unreasonable to be charging people $5 for a small picture in a dark location and then the people who were part of the photo booth looked like they were unhappy about being there most of the time. Needless to say, very few people took pictures at the booth.
There was a raffle prize given out around this time, one of the attendees received a Proplica moon stick. I never saw anything about where people would get raffle tickets before or after that and I didn’t see any other raffle items given out. I’m not sure if this was only something offered to a certain time or what.
I sat down at a cleaned table around 3:20pm and took a picture of the themed placemat:
A little while after, a staff member cosplaying Sailor Moon brought coffee to the table next to me and asked about tea for that table and mine. I requested tea.
The next thing that the cosplaying staff brought around were the cookie and cupcake:
I received one of the cookies that had a more detailed icing design, but I saw others received simpler designs with senshi symbols on them. There was also a blue cupcake that some received instead of the green. The cookie was a simple sugar cookie and the cupcakes had a slightly tangy icing (I’m guessing a cream cheese icing).
At this point I was glad I brought my own water bottle because I hadn’t received any kind of beverage yet, which doesn’t mix well with this kind of food.
The staff member cosplaying Tuxedo Mask brought me a parfait soon after as I didn’t have a drink but the table next to me did.
The parfait had a mango sherbet, sliced strawberries, blueberries, and chocolate pieces. I suspect it was supposed to have whipped cream on top, but it started melting before it got to me so it was hard to tell.
Around this time the Sailor Moon cosplayer started checking to see if people wanted water, but she repeatedly came downstairs without much water in the jug and with too few cups to be able to accommodate everyone on that level. It took a few times before she grabbed a larger stack of cups and two jugs of water so that it would be easier to serve people.
The staff were mostly friendly, but they all seemed frazzled and stressed. They were constantly rushing to try to take care of everyone, but they hadn’t planned out who was taking care of which table or when they were serving things so it was a bit chaotic.
The Tuxedo Mask cosplayer asked me what I was waiting for when I had finished the cookie, cupcake, and parfait. I mentioned the tea again (I think this was the third time), and he said he’d go look into it.
After waiting a little longer I decided to leave as I was taking up a table that could be occupied by other attendees instead. I was there about an hour and had requested the tea early on, it seemed strange to offer something they had difficulty providing.
On my way out, the Tuxedo Mask cosplayer apologized about the tea. I said I’d been waiting an hour for it so it didn’t make sense to stay longer. I picked up my flyers and went out the door to still see a long line of fans waiting to get in. Many seemed disappointed and I decided against handing out flyers to them as they mostly seemed upset and I didn’t want that to be associated with the casual picnic I’m running.
All in all, I think the organizer and staff were very unprepared for the crowd and were inexperienced at serving this number of people efficiently. Deborah, the organizer, was apologetic from the beginning and tried to make do the best she could, but was clearly not ready to handle this amount of fans and not enough food was prepared in advance. They also mistakenly assumed that back to back time slots would work and didn’t give themselves a buffer for clean up and switching to a new group of people, which only encouraged delays.
Things I think they could improve for next time:
- Prep more food in advance — all chopping for starters and portion sizes should be decided so that they can be dished out consistently.
- Make sure you have enough food based on the number of tickets sold, in fact it’s best to plan for extra so you don’t run out.
- Don’t leave milk/cream out all day, especially when they aren’t in chilled containers. People can get sick from this unless you use shelf stable milk. Chilling disposable containers of milk/cream would be better for maintaining temperature and could easily and safely be distributed as needed. There are chilled containers you can get for milk/cream too, but I wouldn’t recommend that in the summer.
- Clarify to attendees that it is a one hour sitting time per ticket, there seemed to be confusion on the event page and quite a few people lingering in the cafe who might have otherwise left a bit earlier.
- Have a buffer time between sittings so that there is time to clean up and stay organized between groups, this also gives you a bit of time for overflow for attendees who might linger.
- Consider staggering seating times to make it easier to serve sections instead of trying to serve a hundred people at a time when you don’t have enough items prepped.
- Have staff dedicated to serving specific tables. They were constantly running around and looking panicked because they couldn’t keep track of things.
- If you do co-op serving, make sure there is a way to communicate who has been served what — maybe have a white board for the staff to use so they can check things off per table.
- Have more staff serving items and have them be clearly identifiable — cosplay is not enough as some attendees showed up in cosplay as well. Name tags or badges would be great.
- Have a few dedicated staff outside giving water and/or juice to the people waiting outside so that they don’t dehydrate (this will also put them in a better mood when coming in). Someone should also be checking for people with disabilities that aren’t immediately apparent so that they aren’t standing outside as long.
- Have someone paying attention to the door so you know why anyone is bypassing the line.
- Have some kind of activity that encourages people to interact beyond their own table — many people were keeping to themselves but it would have been easy to encourage people to talk to others. I was there alone, but nobody was ever seated with me which seemed odd considering the limited space.
- Don’t provide things that are difficult to offer in a timely fashion. If coffee and tea are too challenging to provide consistently, don’t offer them at all. Giving to some and not to others is unbalanced and leaves some people feeling they are missing out.
- In general, offer less food items and make sure they are easier to prepare and serve. Melted parfaits and missing ingredients quickly disappoint paying attendees.
- If you’re going to have a photo booth, have it lit properly and allow people to take pictures for free on their own devices. Charging for photos should be only on a more professional level, with proper lights and a backdrop, plus the digital file emailed to the payee.
- Vendors in the lower level seemed like bad placement for them to get traffic. Hardly anyone went down who wasn’t seated on that level already.
- If you’re going to have music, random j-pop isn’t really a good choice. There is a lot of Sailor Moon music that could have been used instead. Also, the music would be better to play everywhere, not just on one level.
- This venue was small and not easy to navigate for the staff of this event. A large party room at a bigger facility would have been easier to coordinate.
- Consider catering most of the food and drink items and then have the cosplay staff there mainly as greeters and for taking pictures and mingling with fans.
I thought the food was pretty good, and I don’t mind that my parfait was a little melted. But, if I were a paying customer I would have been disappointed about not receiving the tea or “senshi drink” that were advertised and would have likely considered either requesting a partial refund or hesitated about going to a future event until the bigger issues are worked out.
I think that this type of event has great potential, but it is challenging to pull off the first time especially if you are inexperienced with handling a crowd of that size. I hope that another event like this happens in future, but with more planning and perhaps cutting back how many items they serve to customers until they can handle serving all customers consistently.
It’s too bad this didn’t go very well, because I got the impression that Deborah and her team really wanted to create an enjoyable experience for Sailor Moon fans. Here’s to hoping that they can regroup and try again with a bigger team and more organized planning.