I have been performing with balloons in restaurants now for just shy of a decade. In my experience, I have learned a few do’s and MANY don’ts in what seems to work best in increasing my tip income. I have found six main categories that seem to influence an audience’s willingness to empty the coin purse on their restaurant performer. These six categories include The wardrobe, the balloons, the entertainment, the sign-off, tip button, and your approach.
DRESS TO IMPRESS!
Dress as I like to call “Business Goofy.” This is an extension of the good ole saying “business casual,” except more fun and more appropriate for our line of work. We want to dress professionally, but we also don’t want to look like a used car salesman trying to twist balloons for children. For example, here is my attire from head to toe.
I seldom wear a hat, and if I do, it is a nice matching fedora. Have a clean shave, minimal facial hair (men), and nicely styled hair. You can get away with tasteful dyes and non-offensive jewelry.
Men. Wear a button-down nice dress shirt. No polo shirts, and definitely NO T-SHIRTS!!! Now just because it’s a dress shirt doesn’t mean you can’t pick a fun, festive color. And always wear a tie, bowties are OK and fun, but they come with their personality. I can not for the life of me explain how or why, but I have a better experience in increased tips with a tie vs. bowtie. You can always wear a vest to add character (I personally do), but please keep the dress style and remember BUSINESS before goofy.
Women. Be conservative, remember you’re a family entertainer, not a cocktail waitress. The same rules as men apply here, dress business before goofy, but be sure to add a colorful and festive flair to your attire.
Men. No slacks, no tips. Dress in a nice pair of well-fitting slacks. Not only do these look the most professional, but most slacks have deep pockets great for storing magic tricks or balloon props. No jeans! I have had managers tell me how grateful they are that I don’t wear jeans to their store and that I show a higher level of professionalism and respect wearing professional clothing. DON’T FORGET THE LEATHER BELT!
Women. Women’s slacks are always preferred, but if you have the gorgeous power dress and you want to wear it at your gig, just be sure that it is conservative and knee-length.
Men. DRESS SHOES ONLY! No sneakers, no black skate shoes (personal pet peeve), no converse, no sandals, no, no, no. Black or brown dress shoes.
Women. Dress shoes are preferred. You can wear heels, but remember you are going to be on your feet for a long time, and you don’t want to wear yourself out or get waitress blisters.
Here is where you can throw that goofy into the business. Match your tie to your belt. Your bracelet to your shoes. If you have seen the movie “Waiting” throw in some flair and be fun and outgoing!
The better the balloon, the better the tip!
Try to get a feel of your guests and recommend balloons they may like, or that showcase your talents. If a young lady is wearing pink and purple clothing, it’s relatively safe to assume she likes girlie balloons. If a young boy is wearing his favorite superhero on his t-shirt, offer him that! If you don’t have a good superhero base visit www.youtube.com/unicaw89, he does! Aside from the entertainment, you want them to be impressed with what you have created, and want their new sculpture to last the evening and be made with quality! Avoid jumping the gun and performing with balloons before you have mastered your own art form, artists have dedicated their own time and efforts to help twisters like you to “up your game” and help you be a respectable twister with free online tutorials. Don’t take these gifts lightly.
Some artists say that moving from child to child is more important and to make simple shapes. I STRONGLY disagree. This is a controversial statement, but sometimes even when rushed, take your time and make every shape memorable. You may upset some with no patience, but you create a demand for yourself, and no one will think you are a second-grade twister who can only make swords and dogs. I never make a child a one balloon sculpture in a restaurant. Every balloon you make in a gig represents your own talent, don’t lose a private event because you are pumping out the simple designs trying to make a quick buck. Better balloons get better tips, and more work later, TRUST ME.
3. Entertainment. Razzle and Dazzle!
The kids want the balloon toy; the parents wish to the show. Guess who is tipping ;-). Don’t be afraid to be a “show off.” The more tricks you can do with your balloons, the better, you want to be a wizard of the latex and not just a balloon machine. Make a routine out of all your balloons. When I make a flower after I split to make a figure 8 our of the balloon, I tell them we now have my oversized bowtie (putting it to my neck), I then tell them it’s a butterfly and make it flap like wings in one hand; then I tell them it’s a thigh master 5000™ (of course they are laughing because now I’m using it as a thigh master between my legs).
Always keep a conversation going with your table, when you have nothing better to say, just tell them what your making (this is the hand, this is the elbow, this is the shoulder. Upbeat of course!) When I make the body of a person I’ll make each hand, then call them “hand puppets” and make them move by pressing my pointer into the balloon making them bend.
Your entertainment should be completely family-friendly and warm. When you’re working with little kids, drop to one knee or squat when you are talking to them. It makes them feel less threatened by the stranger balloon twister. Your perception is very important.
4. Sign off.
You stay classy, San Diego.
This is a crucial step in the tipping process. GETTING THE TIP! You don’t want to stand there with your hand out, and you don’t want to walk away too fast, making them feel as though they shouldn’t tip you. Be sure that they know the dust is settled, and its now time to show their thanks. I tell the family, “Have a great night tonight, and a better tomorrow. I hope your guys enjoyed having a twister, and we are here every ___day night from __pm – __pm.” If they have still not reached for their donation, I then tell them I do parties as well and give pull out a business card that I have several magic tricks I can do with. I perform one of these tricks, pulling it out and hand it to a parent; this stall almost always gets the reluctant tipper, but if all else fails, wish them a good evening and walk away. Often time they will send a child after you with a tip (sometimes they need to get change etc.). Don’t be that awkward balloon twister who asks for a tip.
5. Tip button.
WE TWIST FOR TIPS!
As far as buttons go, keep it simple. I often hear people tell me it’s all about a big bright, flashy tip button. WRONG! When you are jumping in, and the first thing they see is TIP ME, you are likely to get shot down and make them nothing and get nothing. I have a subtle “I twist for tips” on my chest, the size of a small name tag. This way, it’s not obnoxious, but they know I accept tips; usually, they see the button while observing me twist, not when I’m asking them what balloon they want. If you want to get more $5 tips? Stick a $5 bill out of your shirt pocket, or out of a pocket of your apron that is easily visible. But you have to be sure there is some way that they know you accept tips. There is a slippery slope of when you are so talented they assume you are not allowed to accept tips because you must be being paid what we are supposed to be paid =-p.
WHO WANTS A BALLOON!?
Even though there is not a set price, you are selling your balloons and yourself. You want to match the audio level of your table. If they are a loud group, join in with a smile and a bang. If they are a quiet group, politely and warmly approach them. My lines change from table to table but usually consist of a short intro, a few things I can make (said VERY fast) and asking them what they want, I’m also not pushy. The easiest line to use if you’re not feeling too out there or creative is, “Hi my name is Cody, and we make balloons for all the little kids and of course big kids every Friday night, what would you guys like today?” Just keep it polite and friendly you can’t fail when you intend to make people happy.
As important as what you say is when you say it. There are times you just DO NOT go to tables! The biggest one is when the server is there, you don’t want to have a shouting match with an employee! Go to tables after they order their food, but before it arrives! Sometimes you are going to miss your window of opportunity, and you should never ignore a table. It is OK to seldom perform a “Dinner and a show” But again there is still time to this! Do not go when the meal is over because now you are slowing the rotation of tables and being bad for the restaurant business. NEVER go when the food was just presented, “When the food is HOT, you are NOT!” Use that simple catchphrase, and you should be OK. Be warned though, don’t ignore a table because timing is not perfect. I had a little girl recently waiving at me to come to make balloons at her table. I was not allowed to visit her yet because it would disrupt the flow of business and timing. I did walk over and explain to the table that I have to wait to twist for them until after their server has taken their order, I followed this by telling the little girl I would come back after her family orders, but only if she’s good before I get back =).*PS. These are tips on increasing your tips. Not set in stone rules, but just some suggestions on what has worked best for me. You should never work in a restaurant or any event (other than community or volunteer) for just tips. You should always remember your worth as an entertainer and charge accordingly. Bonuses come with your hourly rate. Working for an agency that charges restaurants, but you only get tips is OK if you are OK with this. But never let a restaurant believe that it is OK to not pay a balloon artist for their services in their store; this is an insult to you, your profession, and slowly hurt the future of our small community.