.: Tips on Restaurant Gigs :.
First off a restaurant gig is a great way to stay in practice, work in new routines, develop entertaining patter, enhance your physical presence, and most important (but often overlooked) is the opportunity to be seen by more potential clients. I think it is critically important for any entertainer to have a good show and there is no doubt that my restaurant work contributed greatly to vast improvements in my presentation, timing, misdirection, dealing with adverse situation, understanding of angles, and ability to relate to my audience. Working restaurants would be a valuable pursuit if only for this reason, and the reality is there are many other worthwhile reasons to work a restaurant, not the least of which is the exposure you will get performing for new audiences several hours per night each week.
.: Getting the Job :.
There are many sources out there that go into detail about choosing a restaurant to approach. Some suggest you should eat there first and possibly write a letter to the manager, but ultimately getting a restaurant gig seems like so much else in life: a numbers game. There are some guide lines to make your time more productive, but ultimately you are going to have to go out and talk to restaurant managers about their needs.
One thing I found is that some restaurants are more willing to hire a magician than others. Chain restaurants (e.g. franchises) are usually more difficult than those that are individually owned. Also places that already have some sort of entertainment are more likely to hire a magician, so look for places that have live music on the weekends, or seem to cater to fun-loving crowds.
I would recommend making a list of potential places near your home where you might be able to secure a job and then systematically approaching those restaurants. This way you are less likely to get discouraged when you get a few no’s, and trust me you probably will. You should approach the restaurant manager when things in a restaurant are slowest. You should be wearing appropriate attire, and grooming should be of a high standard. In short, you should look professional. These small details count.
Introduce yourself to the host and ask if the manager is in, mentioning that you do not have an appointment. When the manager comes out, shake hands, introduce yourself and tell them that you would like to take 8 minutes of their time to show him how to increase hospitality, customer satisfaction, and floor traffic. This lets them know that you are not planning on being there all day and that what you have to say will be profitable for the business. If you say 10 minutes rather than 8 minutes it seems less precise and they will probably assume that by 10 minutes you really mean half an hour. When you say 8 minutes it comes across like a person who knows exactly what they is doing and has it down to the minute. Of course this then means you need to make sure that your presentation is about 8 minutes or thereabouts.
You then explain that you are a strolling magician and describe to him all the ways that such entertainment can benefit his establishment. Some ideas:
.:Cover a delay in the kitchen
.:Entertain guests while they wait to be seated on busy nights
.:Keep guests entertained between the time when they order and when their food arrives
evelop word of mouth advertising as people begin talking about the magic
.:Generate repeat customers as people come back, usually with friends, to share the magical experience
.:Generate new business as you describe all the marketing YOU will do to bring people into the restaurant
.:Increase customer satisfaction as their stay is more entertaining and fun
.:Get current guests to return on slower nights when they see the lobby board or table tents describing the entertainment on the night you work.
Notice that you do NOT show them a magic trick. Don’t even pull out a deck of cards or any props. You may think that you can help sell your program by demonstrating your magic but you must recognize that the manager is not going to hire a “magic show”. If they hire at all, it will be because they are buying bottom line benefits to there business. They want increase revenue and will only hire you to the extent that they believe you will provide them.
I would then ask if they agree that those benefits would help there bottom line. Hopefully they say yes (If they do say no, thank them and leave as you will never convince them, so don’t waste your time or theirs). Then you ask if it would be possible for you to return on (whatever day you want to work) for a free trial night of entertainment. Stress that there is no risk, no commitment, and absolutely no charge for this night of entertainment, just a chance for you to demonstrate what you can provide for this restaurant. Rarely will you get a no at this point. If they ask to see a trick tell them that you would rather come in and show them how the patrons react to the magic. Push for the trial night of entertainment.
At this point you may get an inquiry as to the price you charge. Try and put them off, saying something like, “Let me work for free and then we can try and determine the value of my services”. If they insist say something like “I regularly charge $300 per hour for my strolling, in this situation I would be willing to drastically cut my rates because first of all, it would be a regular engagement rather than a one-time deal, and secondly because I think it would be fun to work here. Your guests ( I’ve learnt to always call them guests, never customers, it shows you are up on restaurant lingo) are the same demographic that I cater to and I think it will be a mutually beneficial relationship. I would not expect to get paid any more than $100 per night, but again, we can discuss this later if you want.” By saying “not any more than $100 per night” you leave the obvious implication of flexibility. Maybe you’ll take $75, maybe $50 with a meal, but maybe a night is only two hours, maybe it is four.
On the night of your performance you should make sure everything is ready to go, your attire is clean and pressed and you have all the necessary equipment. Arrive early and introduce yourself to the management and other staff. Perform your best magic and, on this night anyway, refuse all tips. Instead, strongly encourage every person who wants to tip you to speak to a manager instead. I just tell them that the best tip they can give me is to tell the manager how much they enjoyed the entertainment. Your goal is to keep the managers flooded with complements about YOU and the quality of your work. You may also want to take the tip and pass it along to the waiter or waitress who was working that table. Tell him or her that you always split tips with the staff (even though you gave her the whole tip). Tell them this is your trial night and that they should tell the manager how much the table liked you.
When you leave, let the manager know that you are going and that you will be calling to discuss where they want to go from here. The next step is going back in and negotiating your fee. I try to always get at least $100 for 3 hours of work. If they contend that’s too much or they only need 2 hours then I would adjust some.
.: Keeping the Job :.
The secret to keeping your job as a restaurant magician is to understand the needs of your employer. They want their guests to have a great time, but if it isn’t profitable to keep you on the pay roll then your position is tentative at best. Not to fear. All you have to do is make sure that they are fully aware how much business you generate. This of course, means that you either need to generate lots of business or at least let them know you are trying.
Talk to each table that comes in. Tell them about what nights you are there and have them talk to the manager in lieu or in addition to tipping you. This increases the likelihood that when they return it will be on a night when you are working. When they tell the manager how much they liked your show it is instant feedback that will keep you in good with the management. Remember, in all reality, you are the least vital person in the restaurant and yet probably the highest paid. It is very important that you are constantly validating your cost to the company.
While it is important to be seen encouraging guests to return, you should also be marketing the restaurant outside. You should have a mailing list and/or email list of all your past clients, agents, friends, and family members. I think you should try to send out a note of this sort once or twice a year.
Another great way to get people into the restaurant on the nights you work is to invite potential clients to come see you perform. This is really win-win because the restaurant gets more guests, the client has a chance to “try” before they “buy” and you win because once they see you they will surely hire you to work for them!
You also want to keep the wait staff happy if you intend to work there very long. If you upset them they can make your life miserable and your career there short. You don’t have to kiss up to them, but remember that they make their money through tips. Many waiters feel that your tip might have come from what the guests were going to tip them. Thus the money you make in tips they feel almost came from their pockets.
.: Promoting Yourself on the Job :.
If your good enough you will be frequently asked for a card. As long as you carry some with you, you should have no problem getting referrals from your restaurant work. Just make sure the restaurant you are working caters to the people you want to perform for. Also ask the management if they mind that you’re handing out a personalized business card. If they disagree offer to have their business name noted somewhere on the card.
.: Tips :.
I’ll give you both sides of the argument and you can make your own decision.
ACCEPT TIPS - Tips increase the amount of money you take home each night. Tips are generally cash money, which is always nice. Besides, it’s an ego boost to have people tip you. It implies that your magic was above expectation. Accepting tips can actually double the amount of money you make on a given night.
DON’T ACCEPT TIPS - I already wrote about how accepting tips may upset the wait staff, but probably the most succinct argument against taking tips that I have ever heard is that it demeans you in the eyes of the audience.
By accepting, and worse, encouraging tips, many magicians bring the art of magic to the level of a street hustler. I know a magician who works for tips only. This is great if your objective is to earn a few extra dollars and get in some practice time in front of a live audience. But even the exposure is of limited value.
My policy, which i got from another magician, is to deny the tip twice but accept it on the third offer, just because I figure that they really want to say thank you in a way that means something to them. When they first offer a tip during my restaurant strolling I tell them “Thank you very much, but tipping is not necessary. My services are provided by the restaurant management as a gift to you.” If they offer again, I state “Really, I am paid very well for my services. Feel free to leave that with your server and tell her why you are leaving it. In fact, the very best way to tip me is to tell a manager how much you enjoyed my performance. Managers usually only hear from guests if there is a problem and you would be amazed how far your kind comments go with them on my behalf.” If they still insist I take the money, thank them again, and then tell them that I still expect them to compliment me to management as I point out a manager or the manager’s office. I figure that if they want to thank me that much, then they will be happy to speak to a manager if they realize how important that is to me.
.: Approaching Tables :.
I approach a table, smile, and say “ Hi. My name is *X*. I’m part of the entertainment tonight: a magician. Would you like to see some magic, compliments of the management?” Of they say no “Okay. Thank you very much, and I hope you all have an excellent time here tonight. If you change your mind feel free to have your server let me know and I will be glad to come back.” Then I walk away and approach another table. If they don’t want to see magic, then I simply honor that wish and move on. People go out to eat for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes people don’t want to be disturbed. Sometimes people simply don’t like magic, no matter what. Don’t feel compelled to show these people the error of their ways.
.: Dealing with Tough Guests :.
It is not uncommon to approach a table and get into a routine and discover that one or more of the guests have either had too much to drink, or for some other reason are giving you a particularly difficult time. How do you handle such situations?
Finish the effect you are on, thank them for their time, invite them to come back and see you again, and then walk away with a smile on your face. That’s the great thing about strolling. Please note that I’m not recommending that you storm off or walk away in mid routine. You should never “teach them a lesson” nor should you be leaving in order to punish them. You simply smile, thank them sincerely, and move on. If your attitude is good then you can walk away and they will have no idea that you performed at their table for a much shorter time period than at anyone else’s.
.: What to Perform :.
Whatever you perform needs to fit into your pockets. It’s also good to have things that reset with a minimum of fuss. Personally, I prefer effects that either don’t use gaffed items, or at the very least the effects begin and end clean ( Thank you for the exchange Mr Goring). This way if a spectator asks to examine something (and they will) I have no problem. So that’s what NOT to perform. I honestly mostly use cards although as great and important as cards are, and contrary to what many magicians will try and tell you, a deck of cards is NOT a complete strolling act, though it could be in a pinch. Every strolling magician should carry sponge balls because these are perfect for both kids and adults. Rubber bands pack small, play big, and can be handed out after the effect is done. People love money and if you are working for tips it is a common practice to perform a money trick as your closing effect in order to get the money on the table.
Hope that was useful, as it was for me.