Twisting Balloons For Tips

Feb 14, 2023

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,”.
– Unknown

Note: 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.

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 of paper!
  • 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 a smile.”
    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 telling them.

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 a living.
  • 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 money.
  • 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.

Be Direct

  • 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! Arlene
  • 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 their aunts.
    • 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 your living.

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.

General Advice

  • 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 pocket?

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 container.
  • 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 easily ignored.
  • I have 3 favorite tip jars. Found teddy bears containing animal cookies 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 you.
  • 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 paper money.
  • 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 it.

Making Change

  • 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 relative.

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&quot 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 expected.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 kind.”

    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 more likely.
  • 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 laugh.
  • 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 expected 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.

Wearing Money

  • 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 pocket.


  • 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 part.
  • 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 C-shells.
  • 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 pay me.

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 full!”
  • 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 President’s wife!)

SKB 2/11/96
SKB 9/15/96
SKB 9/25/96
LM 12/?/96
LM 1/29/97
MB 4/4/97
SKB 6/16/97
WNL 11/11/97
MB 7/11/99
MB 7/20/99
MB 5/26/00