Twisting Balloons For Tips
The only time I've ever really been able to deliver tip lines is
near the end of a performance. At that point that I say, "this
is the time you take out your money, and convince me to do the big
finale I've been talking about for the last 8 minutes,".
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.
In addition to the Guide, the following books provide information
about twisting balloons for money:
You'll find reviews in the
Books, Magazines, Videos, and Other Resources
- Balloon Biz, by Norm Barnhart
- Balloon Busking, by Bob Brown and John Morrissy
- Inflation Information, by Frank Thurston
- Making Inflation Work For You, by T. Myers
- Professional Portfolio for Balloon Artists by Bruce Kalver
- Insider's Secrets to Working Restaurants by Mark Nilsen
- Out Of The Part Time Frying Pan And Into The Full-time Fire by Marvin Hardy
Balloons Free, Tips Welcome
I Like Working For Tips...
- I like working for tips best, then everyone is happy. Folks who
can't give a lot can get something, and folks who are genuinely
thankful and impressed can show it!
- I prefer to do tips rather than sell so you don't have to worry
about giving change or handling the $$ at all. The few times the
adults need change for a large bill, they usually ask us if we could
make the change for them.
- Since I'm working for tips, I am more comfortable with the
concept that they give me their money, rather than I take it from them.
- If I'm not making 35 C-shells an hour in tips, I'm in the wrong
place. I've made 100 C-shells an hour for 4 hours straight.
- Most of the work I do is for tips. My expenses have always
been paid. In fact, the income from tips has allowed a 15-20
percent product:cost ratio at all times.
...But I Hate Getting The Shaft
- There is a perception that clowns are hired to hand out
balloons for free, since clowns are always handing stuff out. If
that is how your crowd feels, it is a disadvantage to be a clown
working for tips.
- When twisted balloons are free they are not worth anything.
Since you are making them, you must not be worth anything
either. That is exactly how much respect you get from
Grandma with 35 grandchildren at home, and will they last
'til November when I visit my daughter? I'll have one of
everything you make, and since they are free, make that two.
- I have some experience in tipping versus charging. I tried
the straight tipping business at an antique car show, and it was a
disaster. Some "cute" parents said to their kids "I haven't got a
dime for a tip." Other kids, when they found out I would make a
balloon for anything, just threw some pennies in the hat. At the
end of the day I was in a bad state of mind.
- I also gave a few balloons away to kids that seemed to miss the
whole point, as I always make a practice to give a kid a balloon
whether they have money or not. Sometimes the parent will come back
and give me money when they see that I charge.
- One last thing about tipping. Do any of you get a lot of teen
girls who roll their eyes and expect a balloon for free everytime? I
tell 'em they need to get their rich boyfriends over here to buy
them one. Or I tell them I would rather give it away to a little kid
who can't buy one. In the course of a day I do give away quite a
few balloons - just not to moochers.
- To quiet those people who complain that you are asking for
tips for balloons "when everyone knows that balloons are
supposed to be free", simply ask them "where can *I*
get them free so I can afford to give them out for free." I
have a sign that suggests 1 C-shell per balloon. My hat gets everything
from change to five and ten C-shell bills. It usually ends
up averaging out to what I asked for anyway.
Hey Mister, How Much Are The Balloons?
- When someone asks me "How much are the balloons?" (or something
similar) I reply: "I charge a smile each for the balloons, but I do
appreciate tips! How much is that smile (pointing to the child) worth
to you?" This usually results in an additional smile, and the crinkle
- I firmly believe in not setting a particular amount for tips.
Years ago in my misspent youth I worked for three years in a circus
sideshow where I "talked" the Blade Box; the one where the girl
gets into a box that blades are shoved through. The audience is
asked to come up onstage to peek into the box and see her contortions
that spared her life from these deadly, razor-sharp, plywood blades...
for a price, of course. The management had traditionaly set the price
at 25-cents per person and we did okay.
My second week there, I decided to try asking for a "Silver Donation...
anything from a dime to a dollar, just so she doesn't have to walk back
to Long Beach." People just started tossing handfuls of change
and dollar bills into the collection box. Sure, there were folks
throwing nickels in there, but the others MORE than made up for it.
By the end of the first week we had increased the average income from
that Box by almost 700%.
- If you set a "minimum tip" you're not working for tips at all.
Once you set a rate you are charging for your work. Tips are gratis.
Call it what you want. A tip is given because someone
wants to reward you. A minimum tip is you charging what you think
you're worth. Take a chance and let the customer let you know what
you're worth. If you do good work, the tip jar will tell the story
at the end of the night.
- I would like to say a couple of things about tipping.
First : I approach people before they approach me. This way I can treat
everyone the same. I do not wait for people to wave at me with dollar bills.
Second: When asked "How much does it cost?" I respond, "It will cost you
Third: When doing festivities I like working for tips rather than
charging. This way I do not have to give or carry change. I usually have
a tip jar filled with $1.00 bills and when asked at these events how
much I tell kids at least a (name a coin).
- If you're still trying to work up the courage to twist
balloons for the public, work for tips. You're on your
own time, there's very little overhead (you need to buy
balloons and maintain your pump), and it's great practice at
working crowds. When you're a success, get them to hire you.
- Working for tips is not giving balloons away free. I want the
person getting the balloon to do something for me. If the kid has no
money he can tell me a joke, do me a dance, sing me a song or give
me a smile for his first balloon. After that he has to earn the
balloon with a chore (clean up the area or get me a drink) or wait
for all the people who are giving me tips to get a balloon.
- 'Free' is the last word I want to hear when I am working for
tips. I never say, "They are free unless you choose to give
me something." I say, "They are for tips." as I
look at the bills in the basket. The kid usually runs back to mom
yelling "They're a dollar" and that's OK with me. I
want the audience to see me as an artist and they are giving me a
tip for a piece of art. I want the guy in charge to see me as
free (or paid) entertainment with a large happy crowd. I
want me to pay my bills.
- When I see someone at the younger end of the scale coming up
with a hand holding money and they ask "how much?" I'll say
"about the amount I see in your hand." I
don't like doing it often but the smile from the young child who
has just the right amount, usually it is a few coins (as in pennies,)
makes it worthwhile to use. If I know that there is more there than
the child can really afford as Mom or Dad gave it to them and
appear to expect change back I have often given the balloon for free
and told the child to keep the money knowing that Mom and Dad are
going to need a crowbar to get the money back and that is even more
amusing to me than getting that one or two dollars that Mom or Dad
wanted to give.
- A line of kids with dollar bills in their hands
creates a strong expectation that the balloons are a buck.
Even when they are for tips.
- The amount a person tips is based on your performance, not
their social or economic status. And it has nothing to do with
their ability (or lack of) to speak English. In my years as
a tour guide, I was told that certain nationalities and
certain age groups do not tip. I found that this wasn't the
case (I always got better tips than my co-workers). The
concept of a tip is to show gratitude for a job well done.
Tips were the way people reacted to *me* in *my* situation.
I've been stiffed by every group and surprised by a huge
windfall by every group. The problem, as I said before, is
perception. Sometimes we remember things differently than
they really are. We forget 100 kindnesses but remember one
slight, and vice-versa.
- Most people don't mind giving money for something
they enjoy if they know they're supposed to. Many people
will ask how much you want. Point out that it is a tip, but
be prepared to suggest an amount. A lot of people want to be
told what to give and you may actually lose customers by not
It's All In The Approach
- I have been stuck for a long time on doing the simple stuff for
about a dollar a shot. How do you let go of the fear of doing a 4
or 5 or 8 balloon animal and only getting a buck (or worse) for it?!
- It's attitude. Make a show of putting this creation together
and they're not only tipping for the sculpture, but also the
entertainment -- plus it's not like the folks receiving this
sculpture are the only ones being entertained; if there's a line
there then everyone is benefitting from the entertainment and it
should filter down. if you don't do so well on one sculpture, odds
are you will on the next. Tom Myers has some great tip pins and
signs that also help get the idea across.
- I look at working for tips like going fishing, not like making
- Don't worry about the person who gives you $1 for the three or
four balloon creation (I know, it's hard to not get upset). Remember
the feelings you got for the flower, and teddy bear you did at the
prior table, and got $5 or $10 for. You will feel much better when
you dwell on the good ones, and not on the freebies. Sometimes it
is hard to do, but I find that if I can't set aside the freebies, I
might as well go home. Set them aside, and remember to thank them,
and smile, and you will be surprised when you get home and count the
- There have been times that I make balloons for a whole family
and get no tip at all. There have been tables that tipped five
bucks for a simple flower. It all evens out in the end.
- I found that, while you get several ridiculously small tips,
you also get larger ones, and the overall result is better than when
you use a fixed price. It also makes me feel more like an artist and
less like a salesman. I recently did a festival. I used a trolley
suitcase to carry my stuff around, and put a large sign on the
extended handle when I was twisting. I put some drawings on it and
the phrase "If you like my balloon twisting skills, why not show me
your tipping skills?" in several languages. I did not set any amount
for the tip, but always made sure that some larger bills were
visible to whoever was putting money in it. I even went so far as to
bring some money with me (bills and larger coins) and put them in as
I started. This may seem ridiculous, but it worked. I had many
people put their tip in, look at the bills and then take out some
more money. I also found that people are more generous at night than
in the afternoon.
- On the other side, I had some of them tip me 5 belgian francs
(which is about half a quarter) for a complete 4 or 5 balloon
outfit. You just have to take the ups with the downs, I suppose. At
the end of a day's twisting, I had seen a lot of happy faces, and had
fun doing my stuff which made it absolutely worthwile. Most of the
days my tip bucket was filled with a reasonable amount, which was an
added bonus. Of course, I do not need to make a living out of my
twisting, so I worry less about how much I earn with it.
- I'd like to share a new "tips technique" that I (David
Blasdell) have pioneered out here in Arizona. I have taken to
choking people that don't tip me. It was a shock (for them) at
first, but people are catching on. Last week some guy gave me his
whole wallet and I didn't even make him a balloon. This might not
be applicable in all areas, but hey it works for me.
- The David Blasdell method of getting bigger tips has taken
Arizona by storm. I tried it at a restaurant the other night,
and I have to report that it is extremely effective. I
picked up several wallets and a purse. With the take from
one night, I am considering quitting twisting and taking a full
time position at the "David Blasdell School", teaching advanced
techniques, involving karate moves and the Heimlich chokehold.
It remains to be seen if it spreads to other states, or even
countries. As it spreads, you will probably see new techniques
developed, and the art of choking customers for tips could reach
unforeseen heights. The great part, is you can stick with quick
one balloon creations, to maximize the number of customers you
can get to, and after a few customers see the technique, they no
longer want the balloons, and start throwing money your way.
Thank you so much David for sharing this revolutionary method!
- Wow, (he said slapping his forehead )... I've been using a
similar technique as an ecologically safe way of dealing with
hecklers and idiots. I never once thought to subtly adapt this to
getting bigger tips!! David, you're a genius!!! If I was
you, I'd get this all down in a book (and the more pages, the
better... rather than choking them for tips you could
bean them with the book!!!)
How To Squeeze Money Out Of Kids
- If a kid with no parent asks for a balloon and (s)he's not
holding any money, do you make the balloon or ask them to get their
parent first? This is perhaps the trickiest of the scenarios I have
ever faced while working an event for tips. Tell a child that you
need to make sure it's ok for him to have a balloon from you and to
bring his grown-up over to give you the ok. Say: Mom or Dad
(or other) is it ok for little Bartholomew to have a balloon? The
balloons are free, I work strictly for tips.
- For a group (like a family of six, with only one or no one
holding money), I actually 'bargain' with them. I explain how I work
for tips, but that for this large a group it would be helpful if I
knew ahead of time what they wish to contribute, emphasizing that the
more generous they are with me, the more generous I will be with
them. Otherwise, I might make what I consider a 1-2 C-shell
sculpture for each one and get 1 C-shell for the whole gang!
- Two Fridays ago I made $307.00 in 5.5 hours at a local eatery.
Last Friday at the same place I made $150.00 in 3.5 hours. The other
two people I share this place with don't do as well. They tell me
that if the child/parent ratio leans toward the adults the $$$ not
as good. For me the opposite is true. I love doing balloons for kids
as much as I do for adults. -- there's just not as much $$$ in it.
I guess I should add a few things in:
- I never do anything with balloons that I couldn't hand to the
an eight year old in front of their dad, mom, all their uncles, and
- I do scads of multiple balloon creations and make any one of
them if asked for. The first is my own moral convictions. This, I
believe, is one of the reasons my hourly tip ratio is so high.
- Another reason for this ratio is that secret of life I learned.
If you tickle the funny bone, you loosen the "L" bone thus making
much easier for people to reach for their wallet.
- I also "prep the room" for better tips every time I get a
"good" tip. Whenever I get a $10 or better, I ask the people if they
embarrass easily. If they say that they don't, I turn to the whole
room and loudly proclaim, "I JUST MADE THE HONDA PAYMENT! I JUST
MADE THE HONDA PAYMENT!"
- First is the idea of "Making the kids happy" versus "working
for the buck". Which do you do? Well, as far as I can tell, if you
are in a financal position to make the kids happy when someone else
is waving the bucks at you, then by all means, do so. However, if you
need the money like I do, then do what I most often do; I make a big
one for the table and tell them I will come back if I can. Then I
go to where the money is. That may not be the best thing, but I think
it does give the feeling you care, but also that this IS how you make
When Not To Accept Tips
- When a party guest offers me a tip I politely decline and
explain that the best tip is to compliment my work to the host.
Today I received a $40 tip from the host of an event. Had I accepted
tips from the guests (which are always just a couple of bucks in my
experience) the host might not have obliged. The general rule is
"Do not accept tips from party guests!" What an
opportunity to make your client look good, when you explain that
your entertainment is compliments of the host!
- I make it a personal habit not to accept tips at a contracted
job unless I discount my services to allow tipping and I am working
in a place conducive to accepting tips. (Restaurant, shopping mall,
fair, festival, places where people are in the habit of paying for
things. Personally I don't discount my services anymore and only
work tips at restaurants when I don't have a contracted job. If a
customer comes to a company picnic or grand opening, they are not
expecting to have to pay for any service. If their has been no
conversation with your customer about accepting tips then you would
be best not to do so. A lot of businesses look down on that if they
are paying you to be there. They want something for their customers
that is free and if one customer sees you accepting a tip then they
may think that they have to pay and not accept a balloon for fear of
being embarrassed by not having the money to pay. You can say
"Well, I discounted my price to get the job!" If tips were not
mentioned as part of the discount you may cause problems and be
asked to leave.
- If you can only work a few nights per month choose weekends
just after the
1st and 15th. People tip better just after payday. To my surprise,
Saturday lunch is as profitable as Friday and Saturday nights.
- I try to stay away from the bigger stuff when working for tips
since it slows me down and I want to keep the line moving. But for
slow periods or when folks are tipping well, yeah, then I'll pull
out the stops. Most of the multi-balloon stuff that I do away from
my restaurant work is at craft shows and such, where you can set a
price and/or haggle over a price with a customer - but I usually
don't have a huge line waiting for balloons there either.
Handling the Money
How do y'all COLLECT the tips? Do you have a bucket or a
hat? Do you simply take them in your hand and put them in your
Containers: Passing the Hat
- Use a receptacle whose function is OBVIOUS, so that your
audience can understand the expected procedure.
- As a performer, I don't want to look at my money, taking an eye
off of the crowd. Partly because I think it's wrong for me to lose
eye contact with the audience, but also because I don't know if the
intention is to distract me. I can only recall one time that someone
(a kid actually just trying to see what he could get away with)
stole money from the hat.
- I put a hat out at my feet. I sometimes give out a dozen
balloons before I start getting tips, but once the tips
start, they keep coming. All it takes is for people to see
someone give money and they're willing to reach into they're
pockets. Most people actually put the money in my hand, but
that's their choice. I don't' like to feel like I'm
collecting money for each balloon. I prefer to get it
because I've entertained them, and because I'd have to deal
with a permit to sell stuff and sales tax and all the other
nonsense related to that.
- Marvin Hardy recommends that you place your tip container at
least 3 feet off the ground. If people have to bend over they tend
to throw coins toward the container, rather place bills inside it.
Also bending over has a subservient connotation.
- I prefer a tip receptacle. Since I am also a magician, I have
a "rabbit in the hat". It is a wonderfully contoured,
life-sized hard plastic hat from an old game called MAGIC, I think.
Someone gave it to me after picking it up at a flea market (If
anybody knows how to obtain another, I'd love to have another one!).
Being contoured, the hat will hold over 300 singles before it
starts to overflow! I attached a flange and a stand to it, so it is
at hand height. Sitting on the edge is a rabbit holding a sign that
says "The Magic Man works for tips." Being
self-explanatory, I rarely have to do a pitch, especially when there
is an active line. People tend to do what other people do, so once
there is a line of $1 or $2 tips happening, it will continue without
psychological nudging from me. With a receptacle, I don't handle
the money at all, and I can quickly move on to the next balloon
without having to bargain with a customer. Plus, I am more
comfortable with their 'giving' me the money, rather than my
'taking' it from them.
- I have a small table, similar to a magician table, that has
pockets in it that hold my sorted balloons by color. There
is a slot for tips, sort of like a post office box. That way
they are locked up and, more important ,folks can't see exactly how
much I am making. I know of someone who made the error of
using a Plexiglas chamber and when folks saw what looked like
a lot of money, they stopped tipping.
- My tip box/jar itself is one of those big foil-wrapped mint
containers that you sometimes see at restaurants (8 to 9 inches
high, 5 inches or so square). We just put "We Work For Tips,
Thanks!" on three sides.
- I carry my balloons in a basket, which has a little basket
inside of it that holds the money.
- If you want to increase tips, carry something around with you.
I carry my balloons in a gift bag. Once, a tip was placed in the
bag, as I was very busy with a large group, forgot about it.
Another group saw it and added to it, and this went on. My tips for
that evening were extremely nice.
- The best container is see-through or one in which people can
see that others are putting folding money. The best
container is 3 feet off the floor so people don't have to
stoop to put money into it. I think Marvin Hardy said that
raising your container up increases your tips by 65% and he
should know. Also people are more likely to put bills into a
container that is up off the ground and more likely to drop
coins into a low container - it is also demeaning
(subconsciously) to stoop to put a tip in.
- I have a large clear plastic dog that animal cookies
came in. On the dog I have a sign that says "Feed the
Dog". Whenever anyone puts money into the dog I make a
special point of saying "Oh, THANK YOU for feeding my
dog, he's soooooooo hungry." It calls attention to the tip
- A fanny pack is a good thing to shove money into when the hat
starts filling up. Never empty the hat completely, but do
empty it whenever it starts to look full. You don't want to
look like you're making too much and you don't want your
money flying in the wind. I don't like taking each tip and
putting it directly in the fanny pack.
- Take your tips out of the hat on a hourly basis. You may
want to put money into a separate plastic bag after every
hour, with a slip of paper saying what the crowd was like at
that time and what figure you made the most of. Then when
you count your money later, you have some indication of what
things worked best.
- Empty your tip container if it gets too full. I use a stand
and line it with a cloth drawstring bag. This way I can
lift it out and replace it with another - thus eliminating
the public from assuming I have gotten enough tips.
- If you use a tip container, remove coins as soon as they hit
the bucket. If they don't see coins, they don't think coins.
- I used to use a five gallon bucket for my tip jar. I had to
chase a teen for my bucket "ONCE!" I had always feared that one day,
someone would grab my tip container. In preparation for this, I put
5 loose bricks in the bottom to make it more awkward to carry at a
dead run. It worked.
- When strolling I have used various methods. An apron with a
specific pocket (I pin a dollar bill to the outside of the pocket) A
creel, which is a fishing type basket with the square hole in the top
(and a dollar bill is taped to the
outside and a tip sign is attached to the top so it stands up) and
then there are places where we are allowed to collect tips but not
allowed to touch them. For this I use a stand to put my container up
about 3 feet off the floor and use a clear plastic jar (the kind
animal crackers or pretzels come in).
- Always carry a bag or tote bag to put your container in when
you leave so spectators don't see it. I have also been watched a
bit too carefully for my comfort level and I try to know the
security guards in the areas I work and made friends with them.
Some of them will walk you to your car or talk to the spectators for you.
- I use a tip jar when I perform for tips. It has one of T.Myers'
"I work for tips" tags on it, just like the one I wear. Its a jumbo
animal cracker jug shaped like a clown I got at Sam's Club. I cut a
big hole in the top and a tiny one at the bottom. I put a piece of
rope through the bottom and a big knot and washer on it. This is
securely tied to the antique radio I perform with.
- If I'm standing in one place like at a mall I use a clear
plastic jar shaped like a bear. He sits about waist high on a table
and I hang a sign around his neck that says "please feed the bear"
as well as wearing my tip button. I have also seen these jars with
a clown face on them ( they can be bought filled with animal
crackers for about $4 or $5).
- I use a plastic candy jar, kind of shaped like a stop sign,
that I got from the store in the hotel that I work in. It has a
flat side that holds the opening at just the right angle and height
for little hands. I made a sign for it that just simply says, THANK
YOU!, about twenty five times and in different typefaces and styles.
It doesn't have the word TIPS on it anywhere and is very colorful.
I then laminated it and cut out a hole just smaller than the opening
in the jar. It holds itself in place from the pressure of the
laminate. I can change it for just about any reason, i.e.: Grand
Opening, Special Event or whatever. I even have one that has the
words THANK YOU! in a lot different languages during the times of
the year that we get many foreign tourists.
- I use an Animal Cracker Jar (bought from BJ's whole sales, but
you may find one at Walmart or Sam's Club). My husband cut a slot
in the plastic lid (using a dremel tool). I took off the front and
back stickers, and made a sticker saying: "Please Feed the Teddy
Bear". I've been getting great tips, since using this idea.
- Some balloon artist uses fake animals with hollow bodies to
collect tips in. The saying is usually, "Feed the Dog, he eats
lots of Green Things." Try looking in a nursery (plants). They
have a variety of
plastic planters in different animal shapes.
- I got my tip jar at Venture (in the food section). If you don't
have these stores in your area try a Target, K-Mart or Wal Mart. it
is clear plastic and it was filled with animal crackers. It is a
bear but I have seen other animals as well. I put it on a TV tray
type table in front of me so it is at a better height and not as
- I have 3 favorite tip jars. Found teddy bears containing
at Wal-Mart (screw lid is nice), heavy glass goblet (good for table
hopping), pig (oinks when hand gets near-my favorite). The pig is
really a snack dish and must be emptied often, but oh is it fun.
- No tip jars for me - I use a money tree! I carry a drink glass
when working tips and I wrap a balloon around it like a garter. Then
I put a six petal flower on the garter and stock it with a few bills
and I call it a money tree. People ask about it and I joke that it
is a money tree, I put water inside and the money starts
growing... Of course it helps to stick it in front of people's
faces as well... (Ha, ha, ha) People get the idea very quick. It is
something that is very visible and unmistakable. I periodically pull
ones out and put a five or two inside as well. Also I have found
that the more money on the tree the quicker it grows! You do have to
keep an eye on your money when at tables but I have found most
people honest and that I get more money when I leave it at the end
of the table with an adult while I am making balloons at the other
end. I can't explain it but when you do that they seem to give more.
Also I have found that when you get a good tip from one table ($3.00
- $5.00 or more) If they hand it to you then don't put it right
away. If you hold onto it and walk to the next table and let the
customers see that tip (DISCREETLY OF COURSE) then I have found
quite frequently the next table will match it. I have recieved $5.00
tips for single balloons five tables in a row by using that
technique. Another fun thing is when you have a large group and they
seem to be big spenders and one person leaves a decent tip on the
edge of the table... Leave it untill you are finished making
balloons. It has a tendency to grow by leaps and bounds that way
too. Hope this helps. I am planning on putting several different
types of money trees on my web page soon but the bigger the better.
- I recently had a "tipping" experience. It was left up to the
individual as to what to tip. Didn't go too well. A more
experienced "tipping" entertainer gave me a great "tip". She
advised me to tape a $2.00 bill to a see through jar. This jar must
be up to waist high and be visible to me while twisting. You should
not let anyone put coins into the jar. You might put a slit in the
top of the Jar with a notice that reads "paper money only, please".
I'll try it and let you know how it goes. The other way, I only
made about $12.00 per hour.
- I've always thought of "passing the hat" as being the most
accurate way of telling how you're doing as an entertainer because
your audience decides what you're worth in a very tangible way. I
know folks that if they worked strictly for tips, they'd do even
better than charging a flat fee for their services. I also know
entertainers who would barely break even...and possibly owe the
audience some money! If you're good at what you do, you'll prosper.
It keeps you on your creative toes and drives you to be the best
you can be in every single performance. In a nutshell, if you
stink, you starve. Audience reaction and applause can be a great
meter also. Unfortunately, you can't eat applause. Of course, if
you're BAD enough, you can always eat the vegetables they throw at
- Bruce Kalver sells a product that is very subtle in asking for
tips. It is called TIPPER the Monkey. You can check it out at:
Cost is $200 plus shipping and handling.
- I use a deep Phantom of the Opera hat that I bought from Morris
Costumes about 15 years ago. I also use the T.Meyers sign pinned to
it that says, "Tips any amount will do, just fold it up and drop it
in." Thus, avoiding a tip less than a dollar.
- We read about others who carried a "tip bucket" from table to
table. Apparently this works very well for them. This is not a good
idea for me. First off, I would forget it at some table, but
more importantly there is not enough room on those tables to put a
extra glass much less a "tip bucket". I puts my tip money in my
pocket and wear some buttons (from T) which say that I "accept tips."
Containers: Prime the Pump
- We stuff our container with some ones to start out with, to
encourage certain tipping behavior... *grin*
- Tips can be promoted by having a container with some 'seed'
money planted in it. That should be enough of a hint.
- 'Seeding' my tip jar with a few bills sends a subtle hint about
the appropriate donation!
- Always salt your container with at least 2 ones and a five.
- Always pre-load with bills and quarters so people will know it's
OK to put in bills and 'bigger' coins.
- I always put a few bills in the hat to begin with.
- Put out a container with a sign that says: Meemo Gladly accepts
tips. Thank You! Glue a dollar bill inside the container.
- I tape a dollar bill to the outside of my tip container to give
people an idea of the suggested amount.
- Never empty the hat completely, but do empty it whenever it
starts to look full.
- I found it is ALWAYS best to put a few dollars in the jar.
Nobody wants to be the first to give you a tip, so make it
look like it is standard. A five never hurts. Never use
change; always cover the coins with bills.
- You've got to seed the tip jar or you'll get change for hours.
It is the single most important visual key for how much a tip should
be. When someone thinks, "What should I tip this guy?" they look in
your container to see what others have given you. I like to start
with six $1's and a $5 so it looks like several people have already
paid you for balloons and one of them gave you a $5. Keep change
hidden under bills.
- If you use a tip jar, have it be a transparent one where
you can "seed" it before you start with bills to give them the idea
(of no change). People follow the lead of others, that is, they
will generally do what they see others doing, or what they perceive
others are doing, or have done.
Hand it Over: Money in the Hand
- My wife prefers to take the tip in hand and put it in her
pocket for two good reasons: security, and better tips
(people are less likely to try to 'get by' with small change,
since she will be handling it and seeing it).
- Most people actually put the money in my hand, but
that's their choice. Personally, I don't' like to feel like I'm
collecting money for each balloon. I put a hat out at my feet.
- It's better if you don't wear a tip button and I don't like to
use a tip bucket, too impersonal. Have them put it in your hand.
It cuts down on the tinkle of coin, thereby upping the crinkle of
- It is a matter of venue. When I'm working at a restaurant or a
walk-around, I'm lugging myself, my heavy balloon apron, and my
pump around. I can't find room to carry a tips jar or hat upon my
person. And, if you think that wearing a tips button is tacky, how
about setting a tips jar on the edge of a table? It may be accepted
practice among street performers, but it would be offensive in a
close up situation.
- I just wear a fanny pack (bum pack for those of you from Britain)
backwards, and slip it in as I get it. I sort and count later.
- I like to handle the money "personally". It brings about more
contact between me & my people. It also discourages coins, since
they can't just toss it in & split.
- I don't use a tip jar. I have them put it in my hand. This
personal touch eliminates 80 to 90% of the coins you get. It's the
psychological effect. I can't explain it, but it works. I also don't
wear a tip button. So how do I get the point across that I'm not
free?? I wear two uninflated 260's, w/air in them, around one arm
and using it like a garter, I hang a $20, a couple of $10's several
$5's and ONE, count `em, one dollar off of it. Most people will even
ask, "How much for a balloon?". My pat answer is, "Three,
eighty-nine, ninty-nine!" After a moment or two of silence, I
continue with, "I have been known to be talked down,
though... some. What did you want to spend on a balloon today.
dad, mom?" If they don't answer right away, and I do mean right
away, I'll go on by saying, "A buck?... Two?... Five?... Ten?...
Twenty?... Tell me when to stop! FIFTY?!..." Turning to the next
group of people in line that are watching what's going on, say to
them rather loudly, "I LIKE THESE PEOPLE!". Turn back to your group
and say "$100.00?!?!" I guarantee, by now, dad or mom have found
their voice and will be saying something like, "NO! No! Lower,
lower. So with increasing sadness you go back down the line. I am
usually almost crying by the time I get back down to the $1.00
point. Most often, though, they say "$5 sounds good. Let's go with
$5." If you entertain them well while making their balloon(s), you
up your chance of them giving you a ten or better. this is what
works for me. It isn't for everybody. This is the kind of stuff that
earned me $308.00 in 5.5 hours doing eatery tip work. That comes to
$56.00 an hour. If you like it and think it might work for you, try
- When I do make change, I don't hold back any. I count it into
their hands, and say, "That's 20 ones for your one 20, the
amount you put in is up to YOU." They'll often give more
than I expected, since they have so many singles on them. (Be sure
to make this clear, or they'll walk away with ALL the change,
thinking you already took some out.)
- If I see a large bill coming, I'll ask way up front if they
want change. That way I can determine how much work to put into it.
I don't want to make a $5 sculpture and then have the customer ask
for change to leave $1.
- I don't mind fishing around in my hat for 20 singles, as it
emphasizes to everyone in sight that I expect paper money.
- Keep a 10, a five, and five ones in a sock that you have on or
in a separate pocket so you always have $20 in change.
- Carry a fanny pack with just a few bucks change in it for those
people who 'only have a $20'. Giving change is better than not
getting a tip 'cause they don't want to give you the whole $20.
Wearing the fanny pack (they come in lots of bright colors, I have
one in bright green, one in bright purple, and one in orange) as
well as having the tip box will prevent you from having to make
change from the tip box. Then you do not 'expose' your fortune each
time people need change you.
- I grew up in a city where street performers are common and well
respected. I learned that it was incredibly rude to interrupt the
flow of things by asking the performer for change.
- Giving change takes time, and when you're busy it's easy to
make a mistake. I politely smile and explain that giving change
would be difficult at the moment. I thank them for the thought. If
they can wait a few minutes I'll break the $20. Most often they tell
me they'll come back later to drop a tip in the hat. About a quarter
of the time they do. That means I've lost some tips, but you can't
imagine what it does for future tips the crowd sees some random
person (the one that said she'd be back) that didn't even ask for a
balloon place money in the tip container.
- One thing that earned me a substantial tip was the following:
Somebody came up to me and asked for a hat. Since the lady was
wearing a sweater with parrot-decoration, I made a jester-type hat
and put a parrot on top. Because she was a tourist, she only had
rather large bills, and I changed them into smaller bills. Before I
gave her the last bill, I turned to the audience, and said: "let me
show you why money that folds is so much more artistic" and folded
into a shirt. I handed the lady the shirt-bill. She kept the shirt
and gave me all the other bills I just handed her. I did not expect
this reaction, but it formed a nice addition to that day`s tips.
Furthermore, a few of the people in the audience gave me the folding
kind without asking for a balloon.
- If I get a large tip for a small balloon, I ask "would you
like some change?" It clarifies any misunderstandings up
front, and if it's already in the hat, they usually say, no. Then I
make something else nice for them and say, "I always take
good care of my good tippers." This encourages others in line
to tip well and to recognize that tips and quality of sculptures are
Making Yourself Visible
Buttons and Pins
- TIP pins have been invaluable to me, so if you are working for
tips, add them to your outfit/ costume.
- In a restaurant situation things are different. Wear an
apron with a pocket for tips and taping a couple of bills so
they show. ALWAYS wear a tip button.
- Get a big obnoxious pin that says "I WORK FOR
TIPS" in fluorescent green (green lets the parents know you
don't want change, you want bills)
- Sometimes I wear a button that says "It's Hip to Tip",
but I find my tips are pretty much the same if I wear it or not.
- Don't wear a GEEKY tip button. Wear a fun-jolly-colorful-
large-gaudy-embarrassing-electric-spinning-hot pink-neon green tip
button, but never a GEEKY one.
- Which tip button you wear makes a difference. I've stopped
wearing my 'most mercenary' button (a person holding a hat with a
$ sign over it) because my tips seem to be less than when not
wearing a button at all.
- A button is simply is a way of mentioning that tips are OK
without being obnoxious about it.
- The button should be humorous, and should not be offensively
mercenary. Maybe it's just a cultural thing, but I don't like
mentioning money up front. A button 'makes an end run' around
this and allows things to remain unspoken. Of course, a
"balloons: 1 C-shell" button does too, but that would make
me feel like a commodity provider/salesman/hawker/businessman, and
not an artist.
- If I do not have a tip button on, I definitely see a decreased
level of tipping. Maybe I'm just SO GOOD that the customer assumes
I'm a highly paid entertainer, working for the restaurant and above
accepting tips - who knows!
- I have a really hard time delivering tip lines while working a
line. Buttons work. Money already in a hat seems to work best.
- T. Myers writes: My tip pin reads: SUGGESTED TIP $2,350.80. People have asked
and guessed why I chose this number. No, it did not come to me in a
dream and it is not the number of dogs I've had, I think. It's a big
number to urge people to give more than $1. It is a huge number for
the absurd type humor. It starts with a 2 to get them to think
'ok $2.' The 3 and 5 also suggest possible $ amounts that are not
unrealistic. There is a 0 in the 1's digit because I did not want to
give the customer a specific dollar amount. I wanted to put
something in the pennies digits so the whole thing would not end in
00 but I did not want to encourage change. The $.80 is not an easy
change amount for someone to pull out of their pocket. Wearing this
pin causes a fair amount of comment from the customers and it does
help push the tips up. I'm sure you guys have clever responses to
their comments. Here are a few I might use. "Yes ma'm, I am
following the published
guidelines.", "Well, it's just a suggestion.",
"OK, whatdayagot?", "The IRS is having a fund
raiser. Somehow, I got involved."
- You can use tip buttons with other languages for those times
when you are entertaining within another culture. A pin that is in
Spanish is a great idea and I "borrowed" from that to make pins for
East Indian and Arabic that come in handy from time to time.
- A nice tip button I've seen read, "Your tip is my pay."
- I made a tip button with computer graphics that says "Balloons
are FREE... tips are WELCOME!" The colors used for "Balloons are
FREE" are low in contrast, but "tips are WELCOME!" is very bold and
easily read. The background on the button is an illustration of
folding money. Plus, I have a dollar bill, folded to look like two,
attached to the back of the button. I've noticed folks springing
into action only after seeing this button. I feel a little like I'm
selling when this happens, but I never say anything but "They're
FREE!" when asked how much the balloons cost.
- I have found that here in the South, subtlety doesn't cut it.
In my restaurant work, I have been able to greatly increase the
percentage of people who tip by making it obvious that tipping is
Of course, I don't stick my hand out, and I don't plop a tip
jar on the table. But I do wear two large
"can't-miss-'em-unless-you're-legally-blind'' tip buttons. Both are
day-glo green. One is on my lapel, the other on my balloon apron.
Most people are more than willing to tip in exchange for a
balloon creation, if they realize that that is what is expected.
I am often approached in the restaurant by children who ask "How
much are the balloons?" or "Are these free?'' Since I will make a
balloon for anyone who asks, technically they are free. But I tell
the child, "I work for tips". When they ask what that means, I say,
"Ask your Mom." That way, Mom also understands how it works.
I also keep one pocket of my apron filled with bills. If people
think everyone is tipping, they're more likely to do it themselves.
No matter what the tip, I always say "Thank you. You're very
In short, being polite but assertive about working for tips can
boost your restaurant income without making customers feel
uncomfortable or putting you in trouble with the management.
- For tipping situations in restaurants I wear a tip button that
says"I'm working for tips today". This lets the people know that I
don't always work for tips so that they can ask about my other
services as well as letting them know what is expected of them at
the time. I also have made a clear plastic pocket that I pin on the
outside of my apron to hold my tips. I salt it with a one dollar and
a five dollar bill but after I get started everyone gets the idea.
- Getting the right tip button for the right situation is
something I've had to think hard about over the past couple of
years. I have one large one (3'' x4") yellow letters on red that
says BALLOONS FOR TIPS. I use this one a lot.
- Another the same size and color that says BALLOONS 1 C-shell. I
use this one in the mall to avoid cheapskates (usually teens but not
always). This is when there are a lot of people and time is money.
Gotta keep that line moving - balloon machine type stuff.
- The restaurant wants me to be more subdued and I wear a rather
small pin (1"x3") that says in small letters Tips Appreciated. This
goes over just fine since the type of folks who go to this place
would expect to tip anyway. I've been in other restaurants that no
matter how big the word TIP is they expect a balloon for free. (Or
give you a dollar and ask for balloons for 8 kids).
- I absolutely detest (this is only my opinion here) the button
that says-"Tips? oh I couldn't - well ok - If you insist"
- We use tip buttons all the time when we do tip work. I ended up
making my own from stuff from the local hobby store. They have 3 1/2
inch buttons where all you have to do is place your own paper in them.
These are a lot cheaper to make, than to buy one already pre-made.
I use bright paper to add to the effect.
- Another item that helps is a suggested tip button. Mine says
suggested tip 4,332.69. I had mine made a local shop. I get a lot of
response from it. If they say it's too high, then I bend my knees a
little and ask if that's low enough. I do just the opposite if it's
too low. Or I say this is half my normal suggested tip. I normally
get a laugh. Laughing customers are bigger tippers. I always have a
couple of jokes ready at all times.
- When I start getting stiffed a lot I break out my heavy duty
button that says "YOUR TIP IS MY PAY". This one button has paid for
itself. If people know you work only for tips then they will tip you
- I have a friend who works for tips quite a bit. He has a sign
at his station that reads "I work for tips the balloons are not
free". He says that this works realy well.
- Whenever I work restaurants, I wear a tip pin that reads,
"suggested tip $2,340.80" It's great in that it gets the idea of
giving a tip into the heads of the customers, and should someone
take offense to my asking for tips (believe it or not some people
are cheap, chintsey, and get unnerved at you for asking them for
money) I just tell them I saw this pin and I laughed so hard I felt
I had to share the laugh with others. Say it with a smile and they
accept that answer. Or I say this is half my normal suggested tip.
Or 'you are lucky that today is half price day.' I normally get a
- I have a fun little pin I wear beside my tip button that reads:
Money isn't everything. But it's right up there with oxygen! It's
good for getting smiles... and tips!
- Having a tip pin helps let them know you work for tips without
asking. The 'suggested tip $2,350.80' pin helps them laugh about
realizing the balloons are not free.
- I have read a lot of books on restaurant magic and most of the
writers said they don't like the idea of wearing tip buttons. I say
that's a bunch of hooey. Even the wait staff says they wish they
could wear them.
- I saw a button one time, and I am sure a lot of you have seen
it too, that says "Tips
ACCEPTED" I liked this one, and have used it occasionally. A line
for those who ask, "How much does it cost?" that I sometimes use
is, "The bigger the tip, the fancier the balloon." Or, "I work for
tips... but don't worry, I accept cash, checks, and credit
cards... with two pieces of I.D. and a half hour's head start!" I
find that both get good results, although the second line gets more
smiles, of course.
- I'm proud to say I have never stuffed bills in my apron or shirt
pocket. I really think it looks tacky. However, I do wear a tips
button, but that is far more discreet.
- I make a garter for my sleeve out of 2 260's, each tied nozzle
to nipple. I fold a $20,a $10, and a couple of $5's long-ways. These
I hang off one balloon and tuck them under the other, one going up,
the next down, and so on and so on.
- A non tip pin - tip suggestion is to have a bill slightly
showing out of your shirt or jacket pocket. It should look as if
some patron had stuck it into your pocket while you were busy and
you just forgot about it. It is a matter of how hard you want to
push. Having a waiter interrupt you with a tip from another table
is effective - it could turn into a running gag. If done tongue in
cheek with the waiter getting louder and the amount getting larger
every time - I think it could be funny and it would certainly make
them think - Tips.
- If you want to make significant tips, wear a tip button (or
two) with a couple of dollars showing behind it. You can't be subtle
about it. If someone asks you if there is a charge, say "I work for
tips". That's all. Don't say "There's no charge, but tips are
appreciated" or anything else that makes it easy NOT to tip. Yes,
you want to be a nice guy, and you'll make a balloon for a kid even
if he isn't waving a buck at you. But you're also feeding yourself.
I've got three kids and if someone works hard to do something nice
for my children, I'm not going to stiff him. I expect people to be
fair, and most of them are.
- Make sure you have a pocket of your apron set aside just for
tips, and have some bills sticking out, preferably larger bills. (I
know one fellow who actually pins these "show" bills with a safety
pin). Have one of your tip pins pinned to the outside of this same
- Wear a T-shirt or put a sign by your hat that says you work for tips.
- I think the only sure-fire way to get the point across would be
a two-by-four with the inscription "TIP ME" that the
patron could read as it approached the bridge of his/her nose...
- I use signs ranging from the obscure, but funny to the blunt and
funny. Something like "Potentially HOMELESS, rent fund now
open for contributions" to "Help ME pay taxes too."
Or the classic "KEEP ME OFF WELFARE!" (I only used this
one once, when I was being nickel and dimed to death by kids left
for hours by their parents at a local festival) It worked for that
particular event as the tips went from change to bills for the most
- We have a sign clearly stating that our balloons have a
_suggested donation_ of $1-3, depending on the size.
- Putting a price on balloons can scare people off. Especially
when there is no evidence that other people have paid for a balloon.
Get there early and give away a bunch of balloons as advertising.
It will help later sales. The more balloons out there, the more
demand there is for balloons.
- I use a large piece of bristol board and have put pictures of
about twenty or thirty creations on it so as to give the patron a
choice. I also try and make any special requests. I had the board
then sealed in plastic. When I got home from my first tipping job I
wrote the price on each creation. Now there is no doubt what each
one costs. When a kid on their own comes up to me for a balloon I
tell them that there is a cost involved and it is at least a
C-shell. I worked out the price by considering that I would charge 1
C-shell for each balloon in the creation. ie 3 balloons, three
- When I first started tying balloons and going out into the
cold, cold world, I thought I would work for tips, what a mistake.
After just one day with kids giving me twelve cents, some a quarter,
and everything in between I could't wait to rush home and add prices
to my sign. I bought the complete package of balloon pictures from
T. Myers. Colored them, affixed them to pieces of Bristol Board
and covered them in plastic. Since I have pictures with prices,
the kids, and in most cases their parents, can pick what they want.
My prices run from one C-shell to three. If a child comes up to me
no matter where I am and asks for a balloon and says they have no
money I give them one. Very often the parent will come around and
One-liners to Use When Working for Tips
- Tipping is a wonderful tradition that we should be sure to
teach our children!
- I use the speech "If you like what I do a dollar or two
will do. If you don't please write your complaint down on a twenty
and I will be sure to take note of it."
- What's the normal tip?
Normal tip is $20, but I haven't met a normal person all day!
- Q: what can you do for $10?
A: "I can take a bow"
- The only time I've ever really been able to deliver tip lines is
near the end of a performance. That point that you say, "this
is the time you take out your money, and convince me to do the big
finale I've been talking about for the last 8 minutes,".
- Give whatever you want, just fold it up and put it in, etc.
- All you need is a sign that states: WILL TWIST FOR FOOD
- I'll ask good tippers if they are outgoing. A yes and I shout,
"I just made the Honda payment!" Turning back, I
whisper,"Don't tell anyone that I don't own a Honda."
- When you make a figure with a large belly (in the restaurant),
say "Look, you can tell he's been out to eat, his tummy is
- The rabbit I have placed in my hat gives me opportunities to use
lines like "This is my funny money bunny, he pays me at the
end of the day," and "He eats green stuff."
- I also have little slogans I say once in a while like:
"My skills are good.
My humor is clean.
I'm allergic to metal,
So hand me some green!"
- I have a mechanical monkey that talks and claps. He holds a
little basket to accept tips and usually wears a tip badge. This
monkey is a magic trick and responds to people talking to him, he
claps kids ages, etc. I put him down on the table and walk to the
opposite side of the table so people know that there is no
connection between us. While I am making balloons, he is talking
and doing his stuff. The monkey's name was Al Dente (it fit well
with the Spaghetti Warehouse.) I was worried that I wouldn't make
any tips but when I went to the first table, I put the monkey down
and the people asked, "What's the monkey's name?" In a
flash the thought came to me. I said, "His name is
TIPPER!" They got the idea ;O) It was the best night for tips
I ever had. (Yes his name is now Tipper, same as the Vice