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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?
              http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

              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.

                1. This is not an easy question to answer, so please forgive me if I ramble. ("when the lord made me, He made a Ramblin' Man.".......Hank Williams) I play occasionally in a trio at a local seafood shack. We play for 2 hours, strolling from table to table. I play bass fiddle, which isn't so easy to lug around a restaurant for two hours. I also drive close to a hundred miles round trip for this gig in a Dodge van that gets 14 miles per gallon. My bass fiddle won't fit in a regular automobile. So anyway, if you enjoy the music, tip big; if not, don't tip....we understand. If you don't want us to play at your booth or table, tell us before we begin. We understand. We'll just move along to the next table and hope for the best. We play all acoustic, so the noise is not overpowering. There's a fairly large Mexican clientele, and they understand the situation better than most. They're the big tippers, generally a ten spot. Depending on how busy the restaurant is, I usually go home with anywhere form $65 to $100 for my efforts. It's obviously a labor of love.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: 1stmakearoux

                    One of myf avorite restaurants here in Houston, Cavatore, has a pianist that is VERY friendly. He's also fairly talented. Between numbers he visits with the customers, and asks them if they have any special requests. SO and I are fairly regular, so he usually recognizes us, and says "something operatic for the lady?" and I tell him yes. We drop a $5 in the snifter on the way out the door, and feel special.

                    On the other hand, Ive been in Mexican restaurants where the mariachis are, well, just OK, but they hover around the tables and seem to expect gratuities. Sometimes its easier to give them a few bucks to make them go away!

                    1. re: Cheflambo

                      cheflambo, i really like cavatore too. i don't know why i always forget to go there. and i HATE mariachis. i will tell them in a stern voice that i am trying to have a serious conversation and ask them politely to move away from my table.

                      1. re: Cheflambo

                        That pianist at Cavatore's is really VERY friendly. The one time we went we were sitting pretty close to him and he kept smiling at me, and singing to me. The he came over and asked if I had a request, which I did. Then when I went to use the restroom he followed me out and spoke with me. Hmmm, maybe that's why DH won't go back! I did tip him, but the music was not intrusive at all.

                        Have you ever been around the Cadillac Bar, and seen the Mariachi players walking into the place? We were going to eat there one night, but as we drove up we saw 2 separate sets of mariachi players circling the building and going in. We went in, but there were 4 sets of those players, so we left! Talk about deafeningly loud. Between the music and the shrieks from the tequila shooter woman, I had an instant headache!

                      2. re: 1stmakearoux

                        That's $30 for gas on every trip! That adds up! It must be a labor of love in that you drive that far. I think I would be looking for an economical hatchback. Even my Saturn lets me put the seats down and access the trunk. It get 24 MPG. Perhaps that's not a solution for you (I obviously can't get some things in my car), but you could be saving about $13, or more, a trip. That's equivalent to at least four tables tips (or $9 avg. tip-split), more, per night for you. 13-20% more.... Food :) for thought.

                        1. re: 1stmakearoux

                          Have you considered an electric upright bass and a Pignose? With the right bass, you could take a Vespa to gigs! I have an EUB for which I use a fishing rod case for a hard shell case...I dont want to hijack the topic or get deleted; please contact me directly if you'd like more info. My email is on my profile.

                        2. two stories

                          1 - Palm springs in a nice mexican resto and the guys come around to serenade the jfoods. it was nice touch to a fun evening with mrs jfood, jfood gave them $5 and mrs jfood liked them so much she gave them another $5.
                          2 - delray beach marriott - family hanging out at the marriott and piano player takes a break. little jfood (11 years old) asks if she could play while he took his break. since the jfood were stayingthere for a week, they were somewhat friendly with the staff. He said sure. little jfood plays four songs and the crowd starting milling and shoving money in he sniffner of the piano. little jfood earned $21 for 5 songs. the smile was worth much more.

                          so yes jfood tips.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jfood

                            cool. happy father's day jfood.

                          2. I recall tipping nothing when the roving violinist at a Viennese Heurige got his bow caught in my hair.

                            1. UUGH, I loathe the singing beggers in Rome, They would wander into restaurants with harmonicas, violins, one guy came tap dancing in while 3 other guys were in the restaurant doing various other songs, styles, and instruments. It was a chaotic nightmare. It would be so bad at times you would scarf down your plate and run for the door.

                              I tip them nothing because to me they were the reason I did not enjoy my dinner! One poster said he tips the marachi singers just to get rid of them, that was what many people did in Rome, which is why they kept coming back over and over... and they would not leave until someone gave them money. .

                              1. Was in a well-regarded Mexican restaurant in upstate NY recently for the first time. Excellent food, not your typical Americanized type place. Everyone who works there is from Mexico; type of place you might find in LA. They had a strolling musician who actually sang well. However, he didn't come to your table asking can he play something, expecting a tip. He just approached you and started singing and of course, people seemed to fell obligated. Looks like they gave him a couple of dollars for a tip. I enjoyed it, but felt a little put out that he just started without asking.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: markabauman

                                  You've nailed the distinction! There are three different situations: giving a tip to a musician who you truly appreciate (which I do, when I do) ... being asked if you WANT music or a request, after which you tip in thanks... and just sitting there minding your own business and being intruded upon by musicians who do so because they KNOW you're obligated to tip.
                                  I AM a musician, I have busked on the street and at festivals and I have had many many paying gigs. I would NEVER swarm somebody who hadn't asked for it and insist that they pay me for the privilege.

                                2. I don't know, I hate musicians in restaurants, they are a nuisance.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Maximilien

                                    If they stay in one spot, and play, sing, whatever, then I am fine with them. If they stroll around stopping here and there, then I don't like it at all!

                                    1. re: danhole

                                      Well, there can be a downside to that too. A few years ago I had dinner at Perry's Grill on Bay Area Blvd in Clear Lake with someone who was a smoker (don't ask ... long story). So we were seated in the smoking section, which happened to be in the main room near the piano/bass and even though you would think that these two instruments together could not be all that intrusive, they were hooked up to amplifiers, so that the whole restaurant could "enjoy" the music. My date and I were literally shouting at each other all evening. We didnt tip anyone, and had (ahem) dessert at home.

                                      1. re: Cheflambo

                                        You know, I was going to edit that post to say "as long as we can still carry on a conversation", but didn't. Amplifiers . . . in a sit down restaurant? Incredible!

                                  2. I play accordion on the patio of an Italian restaurant on weekends with a MIDI amplified system, staying in one spot to provide a café type atmosphere. Customers have a choice to eat inside or out. Those that eat outside should at least tip something, $1 or $2 even, especially if they stay for an hour or more and even tell me how well they liked the music. Sadly, the number of people who ignore the obvious tip basket on their way out seems to be increasing over time. They don't understand how much practice is involved to prepare good music, transportation and set-up time and expense, and the personal sacrifice of prime time with family and friends to be there entertaining.