Working in Restaurants 101

Feb 14, 2023

Working in Restaurants 101

I’ve started out by making a balloon for the waitress/waiter, and placing their tip in it.
– Unknown

Landing a Restaurant Job

Getting Paid at the Restaurant

Working in Restaurants 102

Some of the following comments include amounts of money in the imaginary unit called “C-shells.” These units are used to avoid any hint of illegal price fixing in the balloon industry.

References: In addition to the Guide, the following books provide information about twisting balloons for money:

  1. Balloon Biz, by Norm Barnhart
  2. Balloon Busking, by Bob Brown and John Morrissy
  3. Inflation Information, by Frank Thurston
  4. Making Inflation Work For You, by T. Myers
  5. Professional Portfolio for Balloon Artists by Bruce Kalver
  6. Insider’s Secrets to Working Restaurants by Mark Nilsen
  7. Out Of The Part Time Frying Pan And Into The Full-time Fire by Marvin Hardy

You’ll find reviews in the Books, Magazines, Videos, and Other Resources chapter.

Landing a Restaurant Job

Picking the Right Restaurant

  • Pick a restaurant with a fun family atmosphere, and try to land it. I have to admit, it took me awhile to land my regular venues. You’ll have to pour a lot of time and energy into landing a venue but once you’ve got ’em it’s worth it. Some restaurants will say they’re not interested, when they actually want to see if you want to the job bad enough to come back and REALLY pester them. Others just need to be convinced. And then once in a while, there is a restaurant that is just dying for a twister and has been waiting with baited breath for one to come along. You’ll find that Corporate HQ will probably pose your largest problem in landing a venue where management wants you. Determination is the key! Keep plugging and you’ll do it.
  • Look for a family style restaurant. Go in early in the afternoon, after the lunch rush but before dinner. Ask who makes decisions on promotional events. In some places the manager has the authority, in others there is a regional manager or someone higher up who handles it. Find the person who has the ‘power.’ Introduce yourself ask for a minute of their time and explain to them how you may be of assistance. Explain how you can make peoples’ waits more enjoyable, or how you can possibly increase business on a slower night. Offer to do one night as a trial. Tell the person not to watch you but the customers and how they react.
  • If I was looking for twisting work in a new town I would be going to every family place in town, buy a meal and start twisting as a customer. Create a happy scene and see if the manager comes over to get a balloon for his kid. Get him to think of hiring me to twist. If the manager doesn’t figure it out, don’t give up. Go back until customers start asking the manager where the balloon guy is.
  • As to types of restaurant, I try to lean more towards family crowds. I look for places that have a line waiting to sit down. Also places that are not 100% buffet (tough to work when everyone comes in, goes straight to the buffet then leaves when they’re done… good for table turnover, not so good for entertaining). Personally I’d much rather work locally owned places than chains… but maybe that’s just me. A really good thing (but hard to find in this area) is a place with a LOT of turnover (like a resort) where you don’t have lots of the same regulars week after week.
  • Do not to judge a restaurant by who they cater to. Every twister is different, and we find that one twister in the group will make next to nothing at one restaurant, but another will do great there. Besides, I have had one “biker” and his girl ask for a “Shall we call it an Oriental Martial Arts Turtle” on a bike, on three separate occasions. I won’t say how much I got, but the least amount was well worth the effort, and time.
  • When looking for the type of restaurant to sell to, remember that the customers here are the ones who are going to hire you for future engagements. Go for the high end restaurants for brunches and special occasions as these are the customers for whom you want to work private parties. Family type Restaurants offer the opportunity to sell birthday parties, but, corporate executives responsible for major events within corporations will usually be dining at the high end restaurants.
  • Restaurants that cater to families and fun are the best. We know people who work for tips AND get a better than average hourly wage at Spaghetti Warehouse and Joe’s Crab Shack.
  • I used to do restaurants, and found clowns do not get tips, unless you really push the tip issue, because they assume since you are in costume that you are being paid. Go for kiddie restaurants as much as you can, and oddly I find the poor people with the kids pay FAR BETTER tips than the rich with children dressed in Macy’s latest fashions.
  • If there is a large, locally-owned family restaurant in your area, that should probably be your first stop. I have worked the Golden Corral chain here in Birmingham and in the Greensboro, N.C., area, and although they wouldn’t be considered upscale, they do attract lots of families, tips are good-to-excellent, and the work generates a lot of birthday bookings.
  • Just because the manager at one Bob Evans told you they didn’t hire twisters as a “policy”, it may not be the case. He may have used that simply to back up his own tastes.I’ve been told the same thing when approaching chain restaurants about twisting. But I’ve gotten work at other restaurants in the same chain. Ask yourself, how likely is an underpaid, overworked manager to know what his chain’s “policy” is on balloon twisters, even if the chain actually has such a policy? No offense intended to restaurant managers, but keeping up with waitresses, busboys and clean silverware seems to keep ’em pretty busy.

    So if the Bob Evans on 1st Avenue turns you down, go ahead and try the one on 8th Avenue. That manager might LOVE balloons, and if he or she does, the “policy” isn’t going to keep you from being hired. And keep trying to sell that first Bob Evans you approached. I’ve done stints at restaurants where there was new manager every three months or less. Be bold!

Getting Them to Hire You

  • What got me my long lasting job was sending out promo stuff with a letter to those places that I thought could use me. I look for family places, places that have a line during busy times of people waiting for a table, places that aren’t 100% buffet, and when possible, locally owned. I hate dealing with the chain places, too much red tape. Next, place a phone call to set up an appointment. The best times seem to be during the week, after lunch.Once you get there, tell them what you do, and what you can do for them.
    1. Occupy the folks waiting so they don’t think about going somewhere else
    2. Act as the restaurant’s “ambassador,”
    3. Help to smooth over problem tables,
    4. Be a kind of “thank you” from management to the folks that have chosen to eat there,
    5. Make their experience even more different, unusual and pleasant as compared to other restaurants,
    6. Help the wait staff when necessary,
    7. And generally make their establishment more of a fun place to be.

    I almost always offer to work the first night for free, for two reasons. I want them to see what I can do, and I want to see how I fit in there, and how the wait staff reacts to me. If both are positive, then we can talk money. I don’t want to work just for tips, I can do that anywhere, when I want and where I want. I don’t need the restaurant for that.

  • A professional does not approach a prospective customer in street clothes. Call first, ask for time to see the general manager (NOT the assistant manager) and then come nicely dressed and present your portfolio. Act professional and be professional. Going to a meeting in street clothes makes you look AMATEUR. If you are a clown, you should go in full clown make-up, but remember that show BUSINESS is a BUSINESS. Business meetings should be approached as all business meetings are approached whether it’s for show business or advertising or burger pushing.I also disagree with twisting in a restaurant while you are having lunch to show off your talents. I follow these guidelines for new places to work:
    1. Send or drop off a brochure.
    2. Call and ask for 10 minutes of the manager’s time to introduce yourself and show what you have to offer.
    3. Go to the meeting professional looking and bring along a sample (already made) and watch the reaction of the people in the restaurant as you walk in. Discuss your business and go home.
    4. Send a note as soon as you get home with another brochure thanking him for the time.
    5. Call 3 days later (if they haven’t already called) and ask if there are any other questions they had about you.
    6. Clinch the Job!

    It’s worked for me in restaurants, radio, TV, cruises.

  • If you have never worked restaurants, then try it!!! Take a few balloons and call on the manager. Within a few twists you will be talking price.
  • Trying to talk someone into hiring me if they have never seen me work is difficult. Creating a promotional piece describing the twisting situation is very difficult. There is no promotion like setting up the situation as a demonstration into which the manager is drawn.
  • I’ve started out by making a balloon for the waitress/waiter, and placing their tip in it. When other folks have noticed I’ve made more for them as time permits, and of course I carry business cards to put in its paws. Most sculptures with paws can hold a bill, or a card pretty easily.
  • A _professional_ entertainer (whether you’re a magician or a balloon sculptor) who is interested in restaurant work will have a suitable press kit, a well-designed business card and, most importantly, an appointment with the manager.
  • Try to book yourself on the same night for a few weeks in a row, so that people will come to expect you being there. This is easy if you sell the manager on you being there during his slowest night in an attempt to build that night up.
  • I want to share how I got a gig to work this past Valentine’s Day. I was approaching restaurants in general but most didin’t want to pay for entertainment, and I am not interested in working for tips. Nothing booked for Valentine’s Day, but I was hopeful. I met a friend at a restaurant on Monday, Feb 9 and brought her a Cupid balloon on a stand so she could display it on her desk at work. I saw the photo of a cupid at Balloon HQ and modified it with different hair and fatter body and more detailed face.While I was waiting for my friend, several staff members and the manager came over to see the balloon. I explained that I was a balloon artist and this is only one of my many incredible creations. I gave the manager my card.

    When my friend and I were seated, I placed the Cupid near the outside edge of the table so everyone could see. Before we left, my friend graciously gave up her balloon to the manager who gave it to the owner who then hired me to work on Valentines Day making incredible balloons for all the customers. I made a special trip to deliver a Cupid balloon to my friend. She was a very good sport.

    The restaurant is now interested in using me for future events. I made Cupids with black hair, red hair and yellow hair. I also made lots of stuff with the silver BSAs and they were very special. Give it a try – the low key approach sometimes works best.

  • How do you get steady work in restaurants, malls, etc.?
    How do you introduce yourself?
    What you say, how you set your price?
    I haven’t had to do it in awhile, but what I did to get started works fine. I put together a letter, outlining benefits and philosophy, made a really cool sculpture, placed the letter and a couple of business cards in the paws of the sculpture, and delivered it to the owner of the restaurant. Once we got the job, we worked the first night for free: a) to show them what we could do, b) to see how we’d like it, c) to see what kind of customer base they had, and d) how the customers responded to us.
  • The approach is up to each person, but what I’ve done is mail out a letter that details who I am, what I do, and most importantly what this can help do for the business. I try to follow this up with a phone call asking for a few minutes in the afternoon with the owner or manager. Once I’ve gotten that far, I’ll bring some fancy sculptures as examples (better than pictures, I think), and even offer to make a couple while I’m there (since part of the experience is in the making) (and it’s helps prove that I made these, not someone else). I try to expand on my way of working and thoughts on tipping and such, then I try to get one night as a trial night (gives me a chance to see if I fit in, and lets them see how customers react to me). Then we can talk after that.
  • I was twisting for only three months when I ordered my first set of business cards. I came out of the store with them and across the street was a “Ground Round” (major kiddie restaurant in these parts). So I walked in the door, asked for the manager, and proceeded to let him know what a valuable asset I could be to his establishment. How allowing me to work there to bring in a great deal more repeat business, and get the word out to those who haven’t frequented them yet, that they should. Start talking about the dollars that will roll in and you can just picture the way that manager’s eyes roll back in their sockets and how s/he will be salivating at the thought. Let that manager know that “the going rate for restaurant entertainment is _____, but I’m only going to charge you half of that” or something to that extent. Negotiate how you like, but be sure that manager knows you are DISCOUNTING your rate for HIM! :o) They like to hear that. Restaurants are a great way to advertise yourself, so keep that in mind when giving him a price. In my case, with Ground Round, I told them I’d work for free with the stipulation that I be allowed to hand out business cards. Perhaps you may want to take that approach, but follow it up with “but I’m sure you’d agree that I should be on the payroll to some extent, due to safety reasons. Personally I LOVE and LIVE for the tactics of restaurant negotiations. The best part, and the part that few really consider, is that movement within and between different restaurants is frequent. So start at one restaurant and soon the employees or managers who have moved on to other restaurants will be spreading YOUR name as they go along. Restaurants may even come knocking on YOUR door! It happened in my case.
  • These managers seem to think that the only thing that can be done with balloons are doggies and rabbits and giraffes! How do I get them to realize I can do so much more? How do I convince them that my talent and skills can benefit them? how do I get it across to them that BALLOONS actually have the CAPACITY to put more BUTTS in CHAIRS?A very good question. I hear this often from many twisters. There IS a solution. May I first say that what works for some, may not work for all. You may need your own approach. Bring your portfolio when you meet with them. Maybe you need to just go into the restaurant and DO IT one night. Here’s my approach. The first thing I try to do is be empathetic; put yourself in the shoes of that manager. Look at thing the way he sees it. MONEY!!!! That’s it people. They’re a business too, and they are looking to make money. So I approach them, speak with the manager, and proceed to let them know my various accomplishments. When I’m done, I let them know that all of that means SQUAT!!!!!! NOTHING!!!!!! (I’m a little more polite when I say it to them), because all my accomplishments up to this point have not put a single penny in their pocket and so why should they even care. It’s easy to say what you can do, but offer doing it, and do it – once – for FREE!!! (ever look at a manager’s eyes when they hear that word? Forget their eyes, look at their mouths, they start SALIVATING!).

    I offer what I call a trial appearance, I come maybe for an hour or hour and a half for free and do my thing one night. Be prepared for rejection. They might just plain say no, but for me most say yes. Hell, the last place had the nerve to even ADVERTISE IT!!! Now THAT’S a restaurant using every edge they can. ANYTHING to PULL the people IN. AGAIN, managers are looking to put more tushies in chairs people. If you’re any good, that free trial will put you over. OK. That’s it.

    My last little tidbit for awhile. So all of you who are good but don’t know how to start? Now you do. those of you who are only pretty good? Believe me-what’s pretty good to you is GOLD in the eyes of a manager who sees it’s financial potential. Those of you who are beginners? HEY, PRACTICE! What else can I say to you? I only knew 21 different things when I approached my first restaurant. I was just touching intermediate level. But I THOUGHT I was God’s gift to restaurants, walked in, spoke to both top managers, and after 10 minutes had them scrambling to make a position for me.

  • Realize the potential that our gift offers to the restaurant industry in terms of financial value. And take advantage of this opportunity. Don’t know about you folks, but here on Long Island you can’t throw a quarter without hitting a 1)laundramat 2) 7-11 or convenience store and 3)that’s right – a restaurant. People need to eat. People need to be amused. Be prepared for some rejection folks, but enjoy knowing that each rejection brings you one step closer to the restauarant that says “YES!”
  • After spelling out for the manager exactly how you are going to help him increase his business (or, as you put it, put more butts into his empty chairs), what do you do to keep him from taking your idea, implementing it, but then calling in someone else to do the work who charges half what you do? (Let’s not get into whether or not the cheaper person can provide the same level of quality.) The point is the managers THINK they can, and see it as a way to cut the restaurant’s cost even further.) When it fails, then they think it was the IDEA that was bad, not the method they chose to implement it.I had this happen with two different pizzeria’s, which is why I’m asking. (The managers at BOTH places didn’t much appreciate it when I told them why it didn’t work out.) Since then, I’ve pretty much avoided restaurant work.
  • A good question. I guess the true answer is this. Keep in mind that some things are within your control and some things aren’t. I had this very situation happen to me 2 days ago. I was forced to leave a restauarnt because whereas I was hired by the owner of the company, the general manager litereally gave no credit to the talent I possessed, and believed his hostesses could do the job if taught a few things. This man had the nerve to make faces at me when the two of us spoke in an open lobby area (anyone could hear the conversation) and I TOLD him he was paying for my talent. He said my salary should come down since the cost of the balloons was so low. He wasn’t paying for balloons, I was. He paid for talent. His response? YOUR salary is cutting into my personal BONUS! After hearing him say that, I knew it was a matter of time because he was going to start making my life miserable. I regret having lost that restaurant, but I also sit back and ask myself, is this a situation within my control? Simple answer. NO. I can quit now or be forced to be miserable (which by the way you CAN’T be in our line of work!) until he realizes he has to fire me and does it. Stop thinking you have control or can have control over things. Some things… you just don’t.
  • How to make managers keep from firing you and hiring a lesser quality person at a cheaper price? Think about it. You can’t MAKE that manager do ANYTHING. It would be nice believe me, but it doesn’t work. The best thing I can recommend, is to come up with something that encourages the managers of that restaurant to take a closer examination of you and the talent you bring them. Something that makes them realize, “ya know, we could get someone cheaper, but look at the quality of the stuff this guy DOES!” I bring more than table-to-table balloons. I’m a comedian as well. With me I give a full blown show, of a professional caliber. I know my performance refined and good. I have also broken the rules of business and stayed later sometimes than I should. I’m notorious for slipping in an extra half hour for free. I don’t realize it because I’m not a clock watcher and I’m just plain having FUN! Also, it gives me more time to hand out more business cards. The managers see it and loves it. They see the expressions on their customers’ faces as they go, and they know those customers are coming back again to see me again. THAT makes the managers happy. REPEAT BUSINESS! GEEZ!!!! I can really get carried away with this stuff! Anyway, as far as the prices go, know your going rate for restaurant entertainment when you enter the restaurant to talk to the manager. I tell them the going rate for private parties (a 3 figure rate), then I tell them the going rate for restaurant entertainment (usually about half of the private party price), then I tell them how I’m the best twister in my location and looking to work in their restaurant for about HALF what the going rate is – I explain about a tip pin I wear, and how the tips I get from the customers will bring me up in what I make each night.
  • The easiest part is to just go in and ask for the manager at a slow time. Ask if they have had a chance to see a good balloon twister. Tell them the benefits to having entertainment in their store and how you can help them. Bring some of your cool stuff in or ask if you could make them some right on the spot and best of all you’d be happy to come in this Friday, say 5:30ish, and show them your stuff. Don’t beg for money (ever). Simply tell them you work for tips.
  • I always offer a free week or two for both of us to see if it is going to benefit us. Most times if you make clients happy they’ll work with you. The key is being totally polite and promoting the restaurant. The happier the customers, the more the restaurant thinks they need you. After the free week or two I ask for meals and tell them that in six months I’d like to review our agreement.
  • If your market is bare w/o a lot of competition, tell them you’ll give them a trial run. At that point you can figure out which restaurants dish out the best tips and have the steadiest business. At that point pick the ones you want to stay with and let they other ones know that at this point you’ll be unable to entertain at their restaurant but perhaps in the next 6 months you’ll be able to help them with that. I always like to leave an open door- at that point they may even offer to pay you- be ready to evaluate if you’re ready to totally commit to the nights they want you there.
  • I would go to the restaurant with samples of what I do. I wouldn’t take much time, just drop them off with the receptionist or cashier along with a business card. Then if I didn’t hear from them within a week, I would call back. It is much easier for someone to not call back than to say no to someone. Your chances increase when you are talking to them that they will give it a try, especially if your samples were good.
  • I find that if when I approach the Manager to make a sale of my services that if I make a demonstration at that time with some of his customers, it is usually not necessary to offer the free night.
  • I agree with everyone’s advice about selling to the manager/owner about what you can do for THEM! Not necessarily the customers, but the restaurant owners.
  • Have you offered to work there just for tips to practice on a live audience? If so, it doesn’t matter that you don’t get tips. Personally I wouldn’t ever work for just tips. Things are probably different in the USA but UK audiences are not big tippers. But if that is the case, it doesn’t matter how little you get, you are being given a venue, an audience and the prestige of association with the venue that money cannot buy. The work you should be picking up for private parties and corporate events by direct contact with customers from all walks of life is advertising that you cannot buy.
  • All this assumes that it is a suitable venue with potential for growth and the demographics of the clientele suggest likely rebookings. Apart from the practice, there is no sense working free at a low grade establishment where diners are unlikely to tip or of a lifestyle that means they are worthless contacts for further work. A more ‘up scale’ restaurant will have wealthier diners, from a professional background and, even if the restaurant isn’t paying much (or at all), the tips and resulting bookings will eventually pay off.
  • My 15 years old daughter works for tips only, 1-5 times per month, at a family, all-you-can-eat, Mexican restaurant. Getting a restaurant proved to be easy for her. Of, course I can’t guarantee this will work for you, but here is every step we took to land a restaurant:
    • Bought insurance to cover ballooning.
    • Practiced at a nursing home (We wanted to be sure that her arrangement for holding balloons, pump, cutter, pens, and sticks was practical.) Working the nursing home was a lot of fun. At first the residents were concerned that they didn’t have money to tip, but finally someone got up the courage to ask for the price. I assured her a very big tip was required — one big smile. The word spread around the room like wildfire and soon nearly everyone wanted something.
    • Made business cards.
    • Made a few fairly simple examples (rose, teddy bear with heart, etc.) and put them on sticks.
    • At about 4:00 we went to the first restaurant — the manager was not there — we left an example and cards. We never heard back from them.
    • We went to the 2nd restaurant. The manager saw us and said, “That would be good for my customers.” He hired her on the spot for the next weekend — it was Valentine’s weekend. Asking to work a holiday weekend was probably a good thing. I think it made him more responsive.
    • She now works this restaurant or another in the chain for tips 1 – 2 weekends per month. (She is not on their payroll. It is simpler at age 14-15 not to be on a payroll.) They provide a free meal for the two of us.

    Before she got to working a lot more at “her” restaurant we took pre-made balloons into a a few other places. Many places said it was their corporate policy not to have people working for tips in their restaurant, or they did not want to hire a balloonist at this time. (However, some of the restaurants that said it was corporate policy not-to-hire, have balloonists on this list working for others in the chain. So, it may be just a quick answer to get you to leave.)

    McDonalds would have hired her at an hourly wage. But when they found out she was only 14 they said, “Come back when you are 16.”

    Half the places said she could not work for corporate policy reasons. Many didn’t reply to the balloons and business cards we left (You really need to talk to the person making the decisions!), one gave a, “I’ll call you if I need you,” response. One said, “no.” The remainder said yes. Of the restaurants where we were able to talk to the manager and they didn’t have a corporate policy against it, more than half wanted her. We found it amazingly easy to get a restaurant.

  • Make sure that you meet with the person who makes hiring decisions. I’ve had a number of meetings with “managers” who told me they would have to talk to the “regional manager” to make a decision. That’s a waste of time.
  • I am not yet sure how you can go into a resturant and convice a manager that you can bring them so many extra customers. Does anyone have any figures from a resturant manager that shows an increase in business because there is an entertainer there? This would be a great tool for selling entertaiment to a resturant. I would love to get my hands on such figures.
  • I put together a flier made up from quotes from restaurant managers who employ twisters. I simply called them up, told them I was from the local paper and said I was working on a story about restaurants that bring in entertainment for children. They were more than happy to provide me with lots of information on how bringing in a twister/magician has improved guest satisfaction, X percentage of business increase, improved word of mouth, and a host of other information. They, of course, thought they were going to be quoted in the paper. Of course you shouldn’t mention any personal names in your flyer (that might bring legal trouble), but I did use the names of the restaurants.
  • I go into the entire sales approach in my tape, but basically you want to sell the additional benefits to having entertainment at the store. If you sell an increase in business, and the increase isn’t readily demonstrated, you’ll likely get the bum’s rush in short order. What benefits can be immediately promised? How about providing a unique environment available nowhere else, help to keep guests occupied during long waits for food (particularly during mistakes in the kitchen), and keeping guests from leaving when they are cooling their heels in the waiting area.
  • I have found that the best time to approach management re: twisting is when they are not at their busiest (2pm – 4pm). They will enjoy being entertained. I think it’s okay to do it when you are a customer, too. I usually find that I have to visit a place more than once for a manager to commit, especially if they have never had entertainment in the restaurant. The best thing to do is to feel it out.
  • Six months ago I stopped at a restaurant and the manager told me he wasn’t interested. I stopped again last week, and he wouldn’t even come out from the back to say hello. I took a hint. Even if I don’t get a routine job, I try to stop by when they’re not busy so they know me. That might make them hire me for a promotion or they may recommend me for their neighbor’s birthday party.
  • Do your homework and check out restaurants that could use your talent. Make sure it’s a restaurant that could really use you. Think about WHY they need you.
  • Being a busy place is not the only criteria. See if there is room for you. Are the tables really tight together? Are you going to get in the way of the servers?
  • When you find a place, call first and ask for the General Manager NOT ANY OTHER MANAGER. It’s the General Manager who makes the decisions.
  • These are VERY BUSY PEOPLE. Don’t pass in 35 pages of long local articles about you. Develop a simple brochure that says in a concise way that you are a professional that works hard and enhances any place where you appear.
  • I did the first night for free, the owner was more than willing to pay, but I did it for 2 reasons: so that _I_ knew I’d like it there, and so they could see what I can do in action.
  • I approach management, let them know the going rate for restaurant entertainment, and then tell them I’m willing to work for a largely discounted rate. I explain that I have a cute little comical tip pin I wear. This puts the idea of tips into the customer’s head and what they tip me makes the difference. The management DOES NOT HAVE TO KNOW what you make per night in tips, and the customers do not have to know what the restaurant pays you. Everyone is happy this way: you get the going rate when tips and salary are combined (sometimes more!), management gets a huge discount on the price. The customers get some great balloons and are willing to put a few dollars in your pocket for it. EVERYONE IS HAPPY ;o)

Walking Into a Restaurant and Twisting

  • Some of us get our jobs by simply walking into a restaurant and starting to twist. Yes, I’ve received good work from doing this, however; I’ve never done it with the intent of getting a job. I’ve been sitting around experimenting with friends and family and, not knowing what else to do with all the critters, given them to the wait staff, or to a table with a few kids near by (after asking the parents if it would be OK for their kids to adopt a few critters). I’m very careful in these situations to make it clear that I’m just having fun and NOT working. If it would appear that I’m upsetting the management, the balloons head south. However; more often than not, the manager will come over and strike up a conversation. NOW is not the time to start dealing for a job. What you’ve done is cracked that door open and made a contact. Explain what it is you do and how it can be a benefit, but you ARE out for dinner and would love to make an appointment to come back and talk in greater detail.
  • Anyone who walks into a restaurant and starts _WORKING_ *is* asking for trouble and likely to find it. As a manager, I would find someone coming into my restaurant and working tables offensive and worthy of immediate ejection. Also, it’s annoying when the twisting or popping balloons disturbs other patrons, or if the twisters leave a bulky mess of balloons around, or if someone came in and started doing this just before a rush time when I wanted to be turning the tables over.
  • I get restaurant work by scoping out the place first to see if it is appropriate. If it is, then I eat there, and make a few balloons for the wait staff. (Actually, wherever I eat, I make balloons for the wait staff. You get better service that way.) I talk to the staff to find out if they have had entertainment in the past, or have it now. I will not take another entertainers job that way, and have turned down a few ritzy jobs for this reason. If they seek me out, themselves, I have no problem with it, but I don’t poach. I ask the wait staff lots of questions, like who the appropriate manager is, when is the best time to approach the manager, etc. Usually a member of management drops by the table any how. I make an appointment to see the appropriate people, and bring my promo material. I usually bring a nice creation with me and leave it at the restaurant at the time of the interview. It doesn’t always work, but I have four restaurants right now. I never work just for tips. I always clear it with the management so that I can accept tips, and hand out business cards. Customers ask if my balloons cost money, I say no, not to you, the management of the restaurant has hired me to make sure that you get one, (or some similar line of propaganda). If they like what I do, I ask them to thank the manager. If they don’t like what I do, I tell them my name is Brad (it’s not :-).
  • As for getting hired by the establishment itself, yes, it’s happened to me. I don’t expect it, but if an employee really gets into what I’m playing with, it’s not unusual for them to point it out to the manager. I then let the manager know who I am, and offer to send my promotional stuff. If the manager asks more questions on the spot, I’m ready to sell myself. In most cases I figure it’s just better for them to know who I am when I send material to them, and I try to talk to them later.
  • Your approach with the management depends on what level of twister you are. For example; when you do romantic balloons, do you get the ‘Ahhh’ reaction? (when people see them, they say “Ahhh”). Now assuming you do, this is how I go about it and about 80 percent of the time, and it works:For restaurants, ask to be seated in a waiters section (you can kinda flirt with him, very low key, obviously just for fun [I always ask for a waitress]). Before you order anything more than just a drink, ask him if he’s got a spouse/ significant other, and if so you… have a present for him (if he says he doesn’t, tell you’ll give him something to attract him one). Make him something romantic from your ‘SAY AHHH Collection’ and make him a gift of it. I’ve found that if I tell them I normally sell that balloon for 5 C-shells or so it will get the idea across that they can be bought. Then wait for others to ask you what you can make and how much. A slow to moderately busy restaurant with lots of wait staff works best with this ploy, you generally get responses right away. If the manager starts to grumble, if it’s not something like ‘Get out!’ (very rare), then offer to make them a balloon. Tell them you will not go around to sell them, but ask if it’s okay if you sell them to those who come to you.

    In Bares, it is a lot easier to get permission from the management. Just go in before they get busy with some of your romantic and risque pieces in hand and ask if you can sell them. Tell the manager the balloons go for 1 to 20 C-shells, with the average around 5 C-shells. Dress nice like the rose sellers — clowns don’t work as well in bars. Be very business-like, bars are there just to bring in the buck. Once you’re in, teddy bears, motorcycles, hearts, flowers and x-rated balloons will sell fast.

  • When I’m out eating on my own, I almost never pay for dinner out of my pocket and I usually have $20.00-$100.00 more than I came with.

Getting Paid at the Restaurant

Will Work for Food

  • I work for food at Country Harvest here in Southern California. My husband does balloon animals and face painting every other Thursday and receive 20 buffet meals. I haven’t cooked since last May. Sure saves on the budget.
  • What about meals?
    As part of the deal I always say that they will give me a meal to go. I don’t want to sit around eating and have people asking me for more balloons.
  • I work at five restaurants right now, and to get a little schedule freedom I only take comp meals in return. This allows me to schedule company events without angering the restaurant (since they’re not paying me to be there). However if they want you to work on a really slow non-profit night you’ll have to insist on at least 10 C-shells an hour. You can even work it out to make them feel like they’re getting a deal by saying I’ll throw friday night in for free (your $$ night).
  • The local Denny’s restaurant just spent a fortune remodeling their place, and the manager called me saying they want to celebrate their new store with a clown making balloons for all the customers. Sounded good at first, they said they wanted a clown for a Saturday and Sunday from 10 am til 2 pm. Then came the clincher, they were willing to pay me by offering me a free meal, plus I could keep all the tips that I make in that time. Well, I figured the average meal sells for about $3.99, so they were paying me about 98 cents per hour to twist, and I don’t think Dennys customers are known to be big tippers. All this, and they wanted to be sure I was dressed in clown. I told them I would have to charge the amount I would make for missing out on birthday parties during that time frame, but she refused to pay a penny. Some people just don’t understand the business side of this business.

Charging for Balloons

This is called vending. For more information on this option, see the Vending Balloons chapter of the Guide.

Working for Zero Base Pay and No Tips

This is called volunteering or donating to charity. For more information on this option, see the Volunteering and Donating to Charity chapter of the Guide.

Working for Zero Base Pay – Just Tips

Note: For a further breakdown on the issue of getting paid for twisting in a restaurant versus accepting tips, check out the Tips chapter.

I Like Working For Tips…

  • I wear a button that says “Proud to work exclusively for tips.” It has worked great for me and I love the atmosphere, $, and way it gets your cards out for parties (which generally are before your restaurant shift). I drive to work every day and think to myself God could’nt have given me a better job! getting paid to make people happy…Wow!
  • I mostly just work in restaurants, and I don’t get a base pay. When people don’t tip me, I just move on and 80 percent of the time they will tip me later on.
  • When working the Spaghetti Warehouse, It averages to $25 – $50 per hour – for tips. If I’m not making at least $25/hr. I know it’s time to go home. From my experience of twisting in restaurants, it seems that tips are much better (by the hour, not necessarily by the person) during the weekends.
  • My daughter makes about 1/2 – 1/3 as much per hour working for tips at the restaurant than when doing a birthday party. But, the restaurant work may be better because it is a “no-brainer”. Plus, her restaurant is almost always closer than a birthday party. If you add in all the preparation hours for birthday parties she probably makes more per hour at the restaurant.
  • All of my busking occurs in restaurants in the So. California area. The average tip for a single balloon item is $2.00. I once received a twenty dollar bill for a simple rabbit!
  • I also try to infuse some magic or some other goofy activity with the balloon creation. My Disney-like menagerie consistently brings a $5.00 average, as do the biggies like Michael Jordan slamming his basketball, the Knight on his Horse and the Ice Hockey Goalie. The firetruck I made for a family of firefighters was another exception. Hats are between 2 and 3 dollars. There is always the occasional table filled with teeners, where you make ten or fifteen hats and get a dollar from the parents, sitting at another table, often in another room!
  • I can count the number of times I’ve been given coins on one hand. I have a feeling the restaurants have a lot to do with it. They are in nice areas of town.
  • Someone wrote that he thought he wouldn’t make enough in tips to cover supply costs, but at $20-30 an hour in tips, I never worry about supply costs.
  • Working for tips is an excellent way to get your foot in the door. The restaurant isn’t out anything and the clients like it a lot. Happier clients should make the restaurant more prosperous. If you work only for tips, you’re not required to come in at specific times. If you work for an hourly wage, it limits your flexibility. You would HAVE to be there each Friday or Saturday night. For me, flexibility is more important than money.
  • Will restaurants pay if you can’t make a commitment to be there a certain night each week? I twist at a local place whenever I want to. They just welcome me in and I start making the rounds. I prefer to be invited to a table, but most often have to ask if kids would like a balloon. If a tip is not handed to me as I finish, I say a goodbye and leave. I do not beg for tips, and if asked if they cost money, I just say you may tip if you like, but I don’t like to see a kid not get a balloon. I normally wear a “You’re tip is my pay” button.
  • I work for a company that goes to lots of restaurants and sets up contracts to have ballooners there on agreed nights for a fee, then I as the ballooner show up and work for tips. An earlier post had knocked this situation, but I love it. You see, this is not my only job. I’m a student. I don’t have time to go out and get the contracts. Plus my schedule changes from semester to semester and I don’t have the time to coordinate that with “my” contracts. So, this situation works great for me. In fact, if someone wants an easy way to get their toes in, this is it.
  • When I am in strange town for a few days I will normally approach a couple of restaurant owners and ask to work for tips only and (of course) they are only too glad to allow me. In my home town where I am fairly well known I will always charge for my work (plus tips). I don’t mind anyone else working for free because if they are good enough to be competition for me and are prepared to work for nothing then I have the problem and should improve my act or get out of the business.

…But I hate Being Used

  • Why are you “working” for a firm that doesn’t pay you? It seems to me that they are taking advantage of you. You msupply entertainment to the restaurant and they are making money from your efforts. Find a new place, for heavens sake, one that will pay you what you’re worth, which certainly isn’t the nothing you’re getting paid now.
  • I don’t like the idea of working for tips only, or soliciting tips. I’ve seen some folks that go way overboard on the subject, to the point of panhandling, I can’t see how this could possibly help a restaurant.
  • You maybe working for yourself, but the restaurant is deriving a very valuable service. Working for tips is almost the same as panhandling. You are worth much more than that. Even if the restaurant paid a token amount, 10-20 C-shells an hour, they would be getting a deal.
  • By working just for tips you are doing yourself an injustice. IMHO, if you have been working two months and have a proven track record (customers returning on a regular basis), talk to the management and see what type of deal you can work out. If you can get money up front from the restaurant it frees you up to perform.
  • I never work just for tips. People feel that they should not have to “pay” me.
  • Working exclusively for tips puts the restaurant entertainer in a very difficult position – it’s hard to concentrate on being entertaining while you’re worrying about hustling a buck.
  • Working for tips is almost the same as panhandling. You are worth much more than that. Even if the restaurant paid a token amount, 10-20 C-shells an hour, they would be getting a deal. It’s a delicate concept, and not easy to get across to management, but they need to understand that the hourly wage they pay really just covers overhead – balloons aren’t cheap when you’re using them in a high volume venue. By paying you an hourly wage, they’re insuring that you freely give balloons to all patrons, rather than target tables where you think you’ll get better tips.

What Are the Rules of the Game?

  • If you aren’t being paid an hourly wage, you should feel free to have a tip jar, a tip button, or anything else that works.
  • Working for tips can be very rewarding, both financially and otherwise. Be sure to find out from the manager if there are any ground rules. Ex: can you specify a tip amount or do you have to take any amount offered?
  • Most places that I work require that I take whatever is offered so I can’t price my work. I have people putting in nickels and dimes, I mostly get dollar bills. I have gotten as much as $20 for one multiple balloon creation.
  • I work for tips at TGI Fridays and Chevies Mexican restaurant, Some people ask what the policy is, whether to tip, or not to tip. Many people think we work for the restaurant, when in fact we work for ourselves. Sometimes I get stiffed (more often than I’ll admit) but some people are just like that. On an average night I’ll pull in anywhere from $50 to $80, and I have only been doing this for two months. Can’t wait until I’m good at it!
  • I am frequently (at least a couple times an hour) asked if the restaurant pays me. Twisters are a little scarcer than waiters and waitresses, and many people simply don’t know the protocol. That we here disagree only makes this more apparent — the protocols vary.
  • High class restaurant patrons know to tip. Middle class restaurant patrons have to be told (for the most part).
  • The Mexican restaurant where I work has mariachis walking around, playing music for atmosphere. This is a nice touch. Yet if someone specifically asked their server to have the mariachis come to their table and play music, then IMHO, I feel those customers are obligated to tip. I feel this same way about magic or balloons. If a customer requests me to come over to their table, outside of what the establishment wants me to do, then I feel they should tip.

It’s All In The Approach

  • One of your greatest advantages (or disadvantages) will be your attitude. If you are cheerful and pleasant with everyone (even the ones who give you a quarter), you will reap greater rewards in the long-run. And, besides, some people will even add to their original tip later, sometimes after you leave their table. I’ve had it happen many times.
  • Sometimes in restaurants, I have someone tell me they have no cash, and ask if they can put it on their bill. I tell them I am not a restaurant employee, that I do this for fun – and I make them balloons anyway. I KNOW they aren’t paying me – but the kids love it. And often the parents compliment the manager, or ask me to do a party for them because of my attitude. I wear a tip button – but I never EXPECT a tip. A tip is a gratuity, a pat on the back, a “thank you.” It is a gift, not something one should expect or demand.
  • The best thing I’ve learned is not to worry about the money. Be the best balloonist you can be. Make as many designs as you can and offer your best to the people. Be fast. Practice. At less than a nickle apiece you can afford to blow 5$ in balloons if that means you can throw out 20 or 30 figures in an hour. Multi-balloon figures are big and showy, even if it’s just a leash for the dog. Learn the pop twist and use it. It brings attention to yourself and opens up dialog with the tables around you, getting more people involved and giving everyone a good time. Stand noble, stand proud. You are a balloonist and your skirt or apron should be a sign of excitement to everyone there.
  • How much asking/prompting is too much? On the one hand, you do want your clientele to know that you do accept (and appreciate!) tips. On the other, being demanding about it is counter- productive, ESPECIALLY if one tries to make people feel bad for not tipping. If people aren’t in a position to tip, I’ll still make them balloons and be happy about it. Many people assume that the restaurant pays the twisters. These people resent being expected to pay for balloons, and tip much more poorly when tips are solicited in a demanding fashion.
  • If you’re working entirely for tips I’d think that you’d want to get the point across, but soft pedal it. Something that I’ve seen in magic is a guy showing up at a table with his cups (for the Cups and Balls or Chop cup or whatever) filled with bills, dumps them out with an excuse like “Ohh sorry, that’s from the last table… what a great group they were ” scrapes them together and shoves the bills in his pocket. Nothing OBVIOUS there, no plea for tips, just an INNOCENT comment about the last table… yaaaaaa sure. It’s a blatant (and IMHO a cheap and petty plea for tips… and infers that your table is less than the preceding table if you don’t do the same or better.) I think the best way to handle and evaluate the situation is to put yourself in the place of the customer that you’d be working for, and decide what you would be comfortable with as that customer, and work from there.
  • One good, if subtle way to get tips in restaraunts is to wear a tip badge or pin. Grab T Meyers catalog. Another good way to get tips is to act as if you have just recieved one from the previous table. Flash a bill that you are putting away as you come up to the new table. A real good way to get tips is to be very, very good at what you do. Make people feel good about you being there, and you will reap the rewards. It may not be in the form of a tip, but in the way they talk about you to someone else. Either they themselves, or that someone else, may hire you. I would much rather be hired later than receive a tip now.
  • I’m not the type to “hustle tips”. I’ve seen folks that have bills sticking out of everywhere. They start to do a magic trick, bills fall out, and they say “ohhh sorry, that was from the last table…” I don’t think it necessarily wrong, it’s just not me. And because of this, I’d much rather be paid than work for tips.
  • “When they start throwing rolls instead of money it’s time to move on” said the wise balloon sage.
  • Never insist or even mention the tips. I assure my clients (the restaurants) that I won’t bring it up at all, but if asked, I’ll say “Usually I just get a tip or something.” And then if pressed for how much, I say, “Whatever you think is fair.” I’d hate to turn anyone away just because they didn’t have money for a balloon. Never give them any specific idea as to price. You leave it open to them to decide what is fair and it all evens out (and occasionally leans in your favor more than a little). If they really start to push me, I sometimes add: “I’m in it to get through school and enjoy my work while I’m at it… if I was only in it for the money, it’d take all the enjoyment out of it for me. You know what I mean? Don’t worry about it.” Its mostly a lot of shoulder shrugging and whatever-you-think-is-fair-ing.
  • The key is not to be pushy and to learn to just take off when it looks like no tip is forthcoming and/or to stick around when it does… without looking like you’re waiting for something.
  • I NEVER over-push the tipping plan. If they don’t put money in the cup I am still friendly and do my whole act. I give out the balloons, do the tricks and wish them well.
  • Yes, I take tips, but not all of them, and I don’t push to get them. They either come naturally or not at all.
  • If a customer doesn’t tip, be gracious. Hopefully they will see someone else tip and bring you one before they leave.
  • Don’t make a big deal of the ones who stiff you, instead, make a big deal of the ones who tip well. Use positive statements to school the whole place to be better tippers. Some won’t get the message, but most will.
  • I accept tips when they’re given to me. But I walk away from the table when I’m done. I dont’ wait around or give any sort of sign that they should tip me. (In some restaurants I wear a very low key button.) Often they’ll come to me when they’re leaving to hand me money. Other times they leave it on the table.
  • I disagree that doing balloons without a tip “sets an example for other customers” not to tip you – in fact, I have found that quite often the opposite is true. Someone will watch you making balloons for someone who says they can’t pay – and then you will get an extra-generous tip from someone who appreciates the fact that you care more about the kids than the money.
  • When I first started I thought I could make lots of money in restaurants. For the hours I put in, it’s not bad. But it is impossible to put enough hours in restaurants to do nothing else. A couple of tips I would give are:
    1. Look at yourself in the mirror, before leaving home. Do you see someone you would like to come to your table? If not, do something about it.
    2. Make sure you have no problems following you when you leave for the restaurant. If you do, you might as well go home.
    3. Remember, money is partly the reason for being there, but how can you put a value on the smile of a child’s face? You can’t. You will find several people each night that will watch your act, enjoy the balloons, then thank you, and return to eating. Even with a “Tip” pin, they will ignore you after you finish. Don’t let it bother you. Thank them anyway, and go to the next table. If you let it bother you it is time to go home. Everyone else can see it also. Try to remember that someone will make up for what you weren’t tipped before. (A war story now) I twisted a baby lion for a lady with one young girl one night. When I finished, she handed me $10.00. I asked if she needed any change, to which she replied, “No, keep it all. We have been here three times before. Each time I never had any money to tip you. You said it was okay, you were happy to do it. In fact the last time I told you I had no money before you made the animal. You said you’d be glad to do it anyway. Hopefully, this will make up for the other times.” I turned around and made her a bearhug, as a thank you.
    4. Keep business cards with you. You will be asked many times for one. Occasionally, you will even get a call for a party.
    5. And “always” thank the customer, whether he tips you or not.

How to Handle Tip Offers

  • A tip is a present to you for doing a good job. It is a gift.
  • NEVER refuse a tip. You are insulting the customer.
  • I equate refusing tips with refusing applause. Or maybe with slapping the tipper!
  • My policy is to always accept the tip. If I am being paid well, I express my thanks and explain that tipping isn’t necessary because I’m getting paid… but I appreciate the gesture very much.
  • I never ask or wear a sign of any kind. If an employer tells me I cannot accept tips, I explain my policy and the reason behind it. If they disagree, they can make do without me. I just will not treat a tipper as though they have done something improper.
  • Tips are a personal thing. I started out not accepting any, preferring to tell people to pass it on to the wait staff. Or, I requested that they pass on a compliment to Management on the way out the door, since that I was being compensated by the restaurant. I still do this to some extent, but I’ve also decided that it’s rude to refuse tips. I still try to refuse, but I don’t push the issue. It’s awfully hard to say no when a little kid comes wandering through the restaurant after you with a tip in their hand
  • I’ve worked out my approach to the table to help alleviate the ‘fear’ of tipping. I don’t want people to not come back because tipping me is an added expense. I don’t refuse tips, mind you, but I want them to know that the restaurant pays me. I used to refuse all tips, but I can also see where someone might take this as an insult. Tipping can be their way of expressing their feelings.
  • It’s hard (and downright rude in a way) to refuse a little one following you across the restaurant with a tip that their parents told them to give you. But, it’s also a little embarrassing to accept a tip from another table when you’ve started in at the next one. If the restaurant has a group in (say a large B-day, anniversary, or wedding rehearsal, etc.) and you’re invited to work that group, I think a tip IS in order.
  • If it’s a paid gig, I always say it’s not necessary to tip because it’s paid entertainment by the restaurant. If they insist and keeping shoving money toward me, then I will graciously accept it and thank them greatly because it isn’t necessary. It sometimes makes all the rest tip which economically speaking is a good thing, but at the same time if it’s free you don’t want the manager coming back later asking why you’ve accepted money from everyone. Don’t flat out reject the tips, but do accept them if the customer is insistent that you take it because of an outstanding job.
  • You can let them know you are paid by the hour to do this, and if they still hand you the tip, by all means accept it! If the manager disapproves of it, tell them you will donate tips to charity. They shouldn’t complain, though. If the problem is that you feel guilty, DON’T! Obviously the customer feels you deserve the tip and as a result, they will be happier if you accept it than refuse it.
  • At first I was among those that were dead set against tips. I thought that my time was worth much more than $2 for 10 minutes (that’s $12/hr, which is certainly not a bad wage, but I charge a bit more than that in performance so why should I accept that at the restaurant?). At least that was my thinking one time.I found 2 things that changed my mind some. One, it’s really tough to refuse a tip from a youngster that’s been sent 1/2 way across the room, tip in hand to find me. And If I do refuse, what kind of lesson is this teaching the lad/lass? Second, some folks seemed hurt, if I refused. Do I really want to hurt them? So I’ve softened on my original approach, and do accept some tips now, if offered a second time after I make sure they know that I’m paid by the restaurant. A great line re: the youngster that brings a tip from a previous table to the table that you’re currently working: “Holy cow… Boogie Fever in the 5th at Aqueduct paid off… can you believe it?”
  • I am well paid for my time. At each table I ask if I can make them a complimentary balloon. I never use the word free because free things don’t have much value. Then I discourage tips three times by saying it is not necessary, then I accept the tips putting them quickly in my pocket. After three times, they are tipping you because they want to for the enjoyment. At one large table to only adults and seniors, I made 6 or 7 balloons, gave out 15 business cards and received $25 in tips.
  • People who are “waving money” at you will wait. They see you are busy and they are willing to be patient. I have often had people ask me what the balloons cost. I tell them I don’t sell the balloons but I will accept a tip. Often I am tipped far more than I would have gotten had I asked for a specific amount. Sometimes people ask me how much they should tip – I answer “Whatever you think they’re worth.” Some people will tip a buck or two, some much more. By leaving it up to the customer, I avoid pressuring anyone.

Refusing Tips

  • A friend of mine told me “I never accept tips.” The next time those folks go out to eat they’ll say: “hmmmm, let’s go to so and so’s, the food was great and so was the atmosphere… oh wait, we’ll have to pay for the meal, tip the waitress, then tip the magician too … that’s just too much, let’s go to Mickey D’s.”
  • I’m paid by the restaurant. My thinking was that the wait staff depends on tips and anything I get may take away from them, and I want them on my side. I also felt that it might chase customers away, that they would think: “hmmmm let’s go out to eat. Hey, that last place was cool, that guy Steve was there with the magic and those balloons… OHHH wait a minute, the meal was $XX, we tipped the waitress $YY, then tipped Steve $ZZ. That’s too much, let’s go to Pizza Hut.” I did my best to refuse any and all tips. I also felt that it set the wrong tone for potential outside bookings… ‘let’s have Steve at our dinner party… I ‘paid’ him $2 for 5 minutes work so we should be able to get him for $24 an hour… see what I mean?
  • If you must refuse all tips, the waiter may still get a little extra when the bill is paid. The important thing is to do the entertaining in person and hopefully pass out some cards or otherwise promote yourself. One of the most valuable skills in our biz is LEARNING how to TACTFULLY say no.
  • If you are just ‘having fun’ in a restaurant or bar, no matter how hard someone presses you to accept a tip, don’t do it. If they want a business card, be very careful in how you handle the situation. Both can be seen as a form of solicitation. I would not take the money under any circumstance, in effect, you are receiving money for work performed at that establishment, which is a no-no. I think the business card is another story. I see people come in all the time, start a conversation, exchange cards, sign contracts, etc., and no one would ever give them a second glance. In most instances, their meeting was planned, so the contact did not ‘happen’ at the restaurant. I’ve also seen people meet at the bar, strike up a conversation, discover a client/provider relationship and agree to meet at some place of business the following day. The whole thing here is perception. If your business meets the restaurants’ expectations for what they feel is proper, you are golden. If not, you are out.

Working for Base Pay and No Tips

  • The range of pay for restaurant workers is enormous. I’ve heard numbers everywhere from 0 (working for tips only) to 150 C-shells/hour. The area you live in and the type of restaurant you work for will affect the amount you make.
  • Charge for your work. Even if it is a nominal fee 10-20 C-shells an hour. People associate price with value. If you offer to do it for ‘free’ all the time it seems to me you don’t value your time very much. I know you can make tips, but the one thing I found in restaurants people are getting hit from every angle for tips. If you can get the money from the establishment and inform the people your services are ‘on the house’ it takes away the tension. People still tip but you don’t have to hustle them. It is a win-win situation. You have a place to showcase your skills, the restaurant has something extra to give the customer. In this day and age, the more someone can get for their buck, the happier they are.
  • I charge 25 C-shells an hour plus my balloon expenses. I know that this is not a large amount. In fact, this is by far the least I make hourly for any entertainment I do. But it is exposure to more of the family public, and business people. The second night I was at this restaurant, I entertained at a table with a man who asked for my card. The next week he called and interviewed me for the largest paper in our area. He did quite a large article on my company plus a picture of me with some balloon creations. You cannot put a price on that type of free publicity.
  • I do some restaurant work and I do not work for tips. I discussed this with the manager and we both agreed that it was not the way to go in this situation. I do not want the people to feel obligated to pay me tips, because I don’t like that feeling when it is reversed. I also do not want to begin to try to ‘milk’ the customer out of money. I am not saying that every performer does this, but perhaps I happen to know my own personality enough to stay clear of this potential problem.
  • When people ask me how much balloons are, I tell them that they are ‘compliments of the restaurant.’ They usually still tip me. I never say that I work for tips because it puts the customer off.
  • IMHO, if you have been working two months and have a proven track record (customers returning on a regular basis), talk to the management and see what type of deal you can work out. If you can get money up front from the restaurant it frees you up to perform.
  • Customers are sometimes uncomfortable when they know you’re working for tips… they feel obligated and put on the spot. (And that is so true!!) How my heart sinks when I got waved away from tables full of sad children because the parents weren’t willing -or- in a position to pay. You have the choice: stand there and make free balloons (and set an example for other customers…) while at the same time, people are waving dollar bills at you from across the (packed) room.
  • I would only feel comfortable doing a restaurant gig if they paid me separately. I would always get paid the same (hourly) and if it was slow, I could visit with the regulars. If it is busy I would make sure to visit EACH and EVERY table, and at least say hi, and give the kids balloons.
  • Being paid by the restaurant is an advantage, IMHO a major advantage. I act as a diplomat and representative of the restaurant, and to have to do so on a tips-only basis would be a handicap to me.
  • I approach every table and offer complimentary balloon creations. If they ask how much (and they do) I tell them that the restuarant has hired me to entertain all their dinner customers on Saturday nights. I make some one-balloon creations but mostly fast two or three balloon designs (mostly 160s). Most people ask for my card. They like my entertainment and since the restaurant has hired me, they are more interested in also hiring me.
  • I have a simple contract for paying restaurants – if they’ll pay it is good to have some sort of agreement in writing as to how and when they will pay you.
  • At the present time, I have two restaurants. An upscale restaurant where I do Sunday Brunch time – 11 to 1. I get paid a base and I can accept tips but not wear any sign.My other restaurant is a Hardees. I get a base fee and I do not accept tips. I am hardly ever offered any, but that’s okay, it’s a light-hearted gig. I have lots of fun and I book lots of birthday parties from it. I also use it as a place for prospective clients to come and see me ‘in action.’
  • While working at McD’s, being paid by the hour… A McD employee and a manager were standing off to the side when a kid walked up to me and asked how much the balloons were. The french fry pusher next to me yelled “They’re free!” I immediately replied, “They are VERY expensive, but McDonald’s is paying for them so you can have them.” The manager looked at me and smiled then turned to the employee and said, “That is the right way to say it.” The little boy took his balloon and carefully carried it to his mother. Free is not worth anything. Put a value on it and people treat things differently.
  • I also claim there is a charge for my balloons (when I am already being paid by the host), The charge is that you have to say please and thank you (*pause*) and you have to be nice to your brothers and sisters (*pause*) and you have to make your bed and clean your room everyday (*pause*) and on and on. Every now and again I’ll take it all the way to the kid having to do the yardwork, laundry and all household chores. Once in a while some kid will decide that the fee is too excessive and leave the line! Ha ! The parents love it because they have heard the kid promise to do these things and they will get into the act by ribbing the kid about all the stuff they now have to do.
  • If I am hired by a restaurant (or anyone) – I make darn sure that to the best of my ability every kid in the place that wants a ballon gets a balloon. I do make the establishment pay well for that since it will probably be “no-holds-barred everyone gets what they want” for the time I am there. I will refuse tips unless there are just very insistant – and a lot of people are insistant. I pulled in an extra hundred bucks one Mother’s day at a fancy restaurant and I that came from people who would be offended if I did not take their money. Go figure.
  • The tips are just the frosting on the cake. I am paid a very nice wage for the two hour personal marketing effort. And I get lots of attention and applause every Saturday. And most importantly, I get lots and lots of bookings from restaurant customers.
  • In general, too many restaurant workers are trying to come up with blatant ways to beg for tips. The answer may be to simply ask the management for more money! People go to a restaurant to eat, not to see us. We are a pleasant addition, and often create regular customers, but WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL OBLIGATED TO TIP! To do so makes us look cheap, and then we complain when nobody wants to hire us at a decent rate for other gigs. Wearing money on our sleeve? Buttons? Tip “suggestions”?! How crass. Hinting at tips is great if you are making the money solely by “busking.” But those of us who are experienced at this venue should not be advising beginning and intermediate restaurant workers to hustle people who are trying to enjoy drinks and dinner. I’ve been working restaurants for years and never rely on tips. Oh, sure, I take ’em at times, but more often than not I leave them for the wait staff.
  • Because I am on the restaurant’s “payroll” while I am there, I do not quote any prices when asked how much (frequently) but tell them to call me. If people offer me a tip, I first say it is not necessary but do accept tips if they insist. I don’t hang around the table waiting. Often people find me and hand me a tip and that is a nice signal for the new table to also tip.
  • “If the resturant is paying the entertainer, then you are paying higher prices for the food.” Yes, this is true… but at least you will not be put into a pressured situation at the time of your dinner, and if you decide to tip their entertainment it would be because you wanted to, not because you felt you had to. Psychologically it is a much better situation to have the cost of the entertainment built into the menu, then to have to have extras taken out here and there from the customers pocket.
  • “If the resturant is paying the entertainer, then you are paying higher prices for the food.” For the most part I disagree with that statement. Most, or I should say All of my restaurants that I am booked in are chain restaurants. If the chain restaurant pays a balloon twister it does not allways mean that the food prices will rise. It is just like hiring an extra dishwasher or a bus boy. Plus that restaurant is one in a chain of restaurants so hiring one twister will hardly make an impact in there finances that they would have to raise food prices.
  • If a restaurant hires a twister today, the prices probably won’t go up tomorrow. But I am sure that at the end of the month there is a balance drawn between cost and income. These figures are all that the upper managment look at. Unless the entertainer brings in so many extra customers that it works out, some day the upper managment will say “our costs have increased, our profit has decreased. Either we raise our prices or fire some people.”
  • Dad used to own a restaurant. The twisters fee is usually deducted from advertising. Some chain restaurants have a small discretionary fund built in, and this is used to pay the fee. The cost of food is usually less than one third the cost of running the place.
  • They have an advertising and entertaining budget. I know of at least one restaurant chain that pays. They write it off against profits, and pay less taxes. Besides, it’s great advertising for them.
  • When we go out, I know how much money I’ve “budgeted” for this, especially if it’s a place that we’ve been before. It’s semi-finite (especially since I’m not independently wealthy yet 🙂 Putting myself in the customers shoes, I’ve always figured that having to tip the entertainer is an extra expense. In these cost conscious days when everyone seems to be looking for a deal, it could be a factor. I’m afraid that potential repeat customers will say “hey.. let’s go out to eat!” “remember that great place with the magic guy that does balloons? let’s go there” “ok, let’s see it was $X for the meal, %15 of $X to tip the server, then $Y to tip the entertainer… hmmmm that’s a lot, let’s go somewhere else.” Does this happen? I’m not sure, but I could see the potential for it.
  • This won’t be a popular opinion, but I don’t blame the people. They came to the restuarant to enjoy food, drinks, and the company of their friends, family, etc. The balloons are generally a pleasant surprise and create a unique environment, but should not be an added expense for the guest.Is it customary to tip? Certainly. But they should not be expected to pay. That is why I will only work if the store pays me.

    I understand that you will build a following of people who have seen you before and understand that a tip is in order. That’s not the point. If you work for tips, some people will feel neglected, others will feel pressured, either by you or their kids. And that won’t make ’em happy. If you DON’T get tipped after doing some nice work, you’ll feel bad, and it will show in your work.

  • I completely agree with this line of thought, not only as a full time professional entertainer but as a Mom of 4. It is very uncomfortable to go out to a family restaraunt for an economical and enjoyable meal to have the cost go up unexpectedly… or to have to quit patronizing a restaurant because I now know the entertainment there expects tips which I simply can’t afford with four kids in tow.Part of the point of having entertainment in a restaurant is to attract more customers… if that is what the restaruants want then they should have to pay for that as they would any advertisement or promotion that would result in more clients, not force the customer to pay for it. I have heard many complaints from people recently, as a mom and as a clown, about some of the local restaurants that have twisters working for tips. They feel, as I do, very pressured when going to this restaurant and have discontinued patronizing it. That is a shame as it has a negative effect on the restaraunts business and on balloon twisters in general. It is much more enjoyable to be able to give a tip because you WANT to, then because you HAVE to.

Working for Base Pay Plus Tips

  • I currently do a lot of restaurant work. I’ve learned that I need to be very direct about my requirements. Whenever I’m approached by a manager, I tell them that there are 4 things that I ask:
    1. Whatever my hourly wage will be.
    2. I be allowed to receive tips (if I’m being paid, I don’t wear buttons, but if asked, I do tell people that I receive tips).
    3. I be allowed to pass out business cards.
    4. I receive a free meal for each shift that I work.

    I also promise to make flyers announcing that I will be in the restaurant. Especially for regular gigs, this is a mutual thing. Each flyer announces when I’ll be at a restaurant, and gives the restaurant’s address, phone number, etc. They also have my name, number, email address, and web address. Thus, I advertise both myself and the restaurant. Most managers are very positive about this. If this is not acceptable to the management, then I’ll very politely decline the job. I’ve found, however, that spelling it out beforehand very clearly make my restaurant gigs both more fun and more profitable.

  • I offer a much cheaper hourly rate to restaurants. It works best for my budget to have X hours of guaranteed work each month. The restaurant knows I get tips, but not the amount – that’s my business.
  • When I work a restaurant, I work for 10-20 C-shells per hour plus tips. I’ll give a free demo (Tips only) to the restaurant as my audition. If they are going to use me on an ongoing basis I give them my 10 C-shell/hr plus tips fee, otherwise I go between 15-20 C-shells/hr plus tips, depending on the restaurant, etc.
  • Most table hoppers work for a minimal base pay and make up the rest of their money from tips. I consider my work as promotional, but it is still nice to get paid for your work. I make an offer to the restaurants I approach. Either pay me my full hourly wage and I won’t promote tips or pay me a base pay and allow me to work for tips. I have been working restaurants for over 25 years and NEVER had a customer complain that he had to tip me. I feel that I earned all the tips I’ve ever made.
  • My base pay is half of what I feel I should be earning. I make the rest up in tips.
  • When I started working restaurants full time it was agreed upon between me and the manager that I would be paid by the hour and that I would also be working for tips. The Manager said he had no problem with this and it has been going on for over 6 months. Since I live in a minimum wage area I make a nice living working only 9 hours a week.
  • I have worked at restaurants where I’m there to twist on kids night. It packs the people in on a night when it’s usually slow. Kids eat free so parents bring their kids in, and I provide the entertainment. I get a nominal fee for being there and accept tips. Since the kids are eating free it’s not as if a buck or two is a big deal.
  • I work 3 restaurants, and have negotiated higher wages in all of them after my first contract was over. If people tip me, fine. If they do not, fine also. I am paid to take care of tables, after they order, before their food is served. If a table has food, a check, menus, or coffee (meaning their dinner is over), then I move on. (One establishment I work in is very high volume and they need to turn over tables quickly).
  • I’ve been working a small stand-alone Pizza restaurant for 2 years who have been shucking out a base of 100 C-shells for a 2-hr night, give me a free pizza/drink(s), hands-out my promotional materials and allow me to also take tips. Their business went from 2 tables that first night to now: standing room only. Go figure. I know who the smarter business manager is.
  • I’ve found that people are even more generous when they are giving because they want to… not because they “have to.” With the restaurant base, it’s a no-big-deal deal. And don’t get me wrong: Money isn’t everything, but it’s right up there with Oxygen!!
  • I was working at an El Torito restaurant a few years ago and found out that the manager was using my presence as an added draw to get banquet bookings. That was okay. What was a problem was that he neglected to tell them that I would need to be paid separately. People came in expecting me to give a private party performance “on the house”, as part of the service. (The manager didn’t even suggest a tip). Meanwhile the regular dining room customers that would have tipped me didn’t see me for a half hour to an hour. Make sure things get spelled out in detail, whether you want a fee or a *reasonable* tip. Or let them know that you may “stop by” for a tip, but your regular show has a fee.
  • Even in the dining room, you can get “bitten”. You do a lot of balloons for a huge party and Grandma says “My treat” and pulls out her *coin* purse, and gives you what would have been a huge tip, back in the 1920’s. You grit your teeth, smile and say thank you, put the fifty cents in your pocket as you leave, reminding yourself that they are the restaurant’s guests, not yours. “Ah, the joys of restaurant work.”

Working in Restaurants 102

The second half of this chapter is called Working in Restaurants 102.

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