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Jun 14, 2008 08:52 PM

How much to tip musicians in restaurants?

So you're eating in a Mexican restaurant and the mariachi band strolls over. "Any requests, senor?" and you really, really want them to sing "Cucurrucucu Paloma" (or maybe "Jesusita en Chihuahua").

How much money do you tip them per song?

This doesn't have to be limited to mariachi -- how much do you tip the guy who sings you "That's Amore" at the cutesy Italian place with the accordion, or the violinist at the fancy restaurant, or...

I can't believe I'm asking this question, because I used to be a singing busboy at the Macaroni Grill, but that was well-nigh fifteen years ago and the amounts have undoubtedly changed.

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  1. I don't know the answer, but I'd like to add a corollary question-- how much do you pay for them NOT to serenade you? I'm actually not just being snarky... I am a musician myself and I find it basically embarrassing to be serenaded in those kinds of situations.

    4 Replies
    1. re: missoulagrace

      $5 should do it. We tip $10 to the piano player that we go to all the time - but not every night. He is playing to the room and not to us but we're regulars so.....

      1. re: missoulagrace

        I am with you! I avoid all eye contact, and keep my head low! I do not like to be serenaded in a public restaurant. If I want that I can get my DH, who has a lovely tenor voice, to do that at home!

        1. re: danhole

          Avoid eye contact, stare at my plate, cup hands over ears.... what ever it takes to make them go away.

        2. re: missoulagrace

          Oh, me, too!

          I'd rather have a root canal than have a musician play and/or sing at my table! It embarrasses me.

        3. For nice background music, and I emphasize background, whether a harpist, or pianist, or better still a female pianist with a mellifluous voice, I contribute a 5-spot. In classy joints that discourage solicitation of tips by the musician(s), I am sufficiently gauche and ill-mannered that I ask my server for a glass and start a tip jar with a fin, on the piano or the nearest horizontal surface. We know they are underpaid for the crime of doing what they love most -making music.
          In-your-face mariachis can be problematic; men wearing one of few freshly laundered and starched white collared shirts that they own, trying to make an honest living. But they can unknowingly be hugely disruptive to a conversation with its own good rhythm.
          The strolling violins at the Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel was a perfect balance. I have not been back since the remodel, but I hope that aspect of it's nostalgia has been preserved.

          1. good post. musicians are everywhere: subways, street corners, inside restaurants, outside restaurants, and, of course, in front of sidewalk cafes. i've learned to ignore the bad ones and reward the good ones. a buck is my usual. a euro when in euroland. the tip goes up dramatically if i make requests.

            3 Replies
            1. re: steve h.

              >good post. musicians are everywhere: subways ... i've learned
              >to ignore the bad ones and reward the good ones ... the tip goes
              >up dramatically if i make requests ...
              does the tip go up if they are playing a really hard piece ... on a 3 million
              dollar instrument?

              1. re: psb

                i love it.

                deb and i were on a flight from new york to hong kong with a layover in tokyo. we were flying business. marcia, her real name, nudged me awake halfway across the pacific. she asked if i liked classical music. i said. "sure." she said come with me.

                marcia, old-school flight attendant (a real nurse), brought me, my wife and two cabin attendants into the 777 galley and introduced us to martin beaver. martin was in the seat in front of us and plays for the tokyo string quartet, among others. the rest of the plane is sleeping. cabin lights are off and martin begins to play his violin. pure heaven.

                after the impromptu concert, martin passed his violin around. it was a stradivarius. we didn't drop it.

                i didn't think to tip.

                1. re: steve h.

                  Steve -- what a wonderful story!! Oh how I wish I could have been there!

                  I had a similar experience last year -- flying back to the US alone from Manchester, UK, I thought I would be spending 8+ hours buried in my boring book. My seatmate (a stranger, a gentleman a few years older than myself) taps me on the arm, and I remove the inflight earphones, on which I was listening to the classical channel. "Sorry to disturb you" he said. "Oh it was just Mahler" I replied. "You did me a favor" I added, laughing. "Oh, you dont care for Mahler?" he said. "Id prefer some Verdi or Puccini, but cant find the Opera channel" I said. Turns out, he's a member of the British Choral Society (I am occasionally a member of the crowd scenes at Houston Grand Opera) and we spent the next 5 hours discussing the various merits of the Verdi Requiem vs. the Mozart Requiem, etc. A MUCH more interesting conversation than I would have had with my regular traveling companion, who likes to sleep (and does so quite easily) through these long rides.

            2. Our situation may be different but Friday night we had Mexican food at a new place in a smallish town. We sat on the patio but we could hear the two entertainers and they seemed to have good harmonic voices and both played guitars. We were about to leave when they came outside. They were very polite and not at all pushy. They played two songs, "just for us" and we enjoyed it very much. I gave then a ten.

              I don't understand embassasment or why you can't "just say no".
              We ate at another Mexican restaurant where there were four mariachi players. They were terrible, goofy/silly and annoying and I wanted to break their instruments over my knee (or their heads)! They belonged in an amusement park! We had trouble hearing each other, too so it was very difficult to carry on a conversation. It very negatively affected our dining experience. We never went back.

              1. i would just like to say that the answer will be different depending on whether it is one solo musician or a combo/group/trio/quartet etc. (i.e. if there is a 6-8 member combo playing, i'ts kind of insulting to tip $5-- because what is that, split 6-8 ways). one solo musician would appreciate a $5 regular tip in my region. if i was tipping a string trio, i would multiply my tip x3-- so high-school student musicians would get $1x3= $3 for the trio, skilled, musical, pro musicians would get $5x3= $15. if you make a special request of a song i think it is $20 *minimum,* or "a round for the band," from the restaurants' bt, whatever the requester prefers. just my opinion.