Gig Business

How to Get Restaurant Gigs

By Brian Jenkins

Music and entertainment provide great enhancement to the dining experience. Mariachi bands at a Mexican restaurant, face painters at the local family bistro, Irish folk music down at the pub all serve to create a fun atmosphere that keeps customers coming back for more. Your act could be the very thing that makes the local diner a Friday night destination spot!

Most restaurant managers and owners are constantly working to keep their seats filled and reservations booked. Connecting and partnering with them can create a mutually beneficial relationship. You want to perform and make money and they want a packed house every moment they’re open. Working together is a win-win proposition.


Here’s how to start.

Shape your service or act for the venue of a smaller restaurant. Walk-around talent like balloon twisters or strolling magicians are tailor-made for the ins and outs of restaurant seating. Smaller mariachi combos can entertain table to table. Bands and ensembles can simplify their set to translate well to the venue. Stand-up comedians and improv groups often make for excellent trivia night hosts. The key is seeing beyond your own routine and discovering new ways to share your talent in as many outlets as possible.

Once you’ve figured out what you can do in a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop, start connecting locally. Perhaps start with your favorite spots. Create a process to introduce yourself. If you’re at the restaurant, ask to speak to the manager face-to-face and provide your business card. Let them know you’ll follow up with an email as well.

For reaching out directly, draft an email to introduce yourself. Take time to personalize it. Mention the name of the pub or diner, and tell them your favorite item on the menu!

Dear [Name]

My name is Brian Jenkins, and I’m a professional musician with over ten years of performing experience. I’m reaching out to offer my services for your restaurant (bar, club, pub, etc.). It’s one of my favorite places in town!

As you know, adding entertainment to the dining experience is a proven way to create a great environment for your business and cultivate return customers. I’d welcome the opportunity to partner with you and provide a special atmosphere for your customers.

Please follow the link below to my website (or GigSalad profile). Here you will find videos of my presentation, client testimonials, and my booking information.

Thank you for your time,

Brian Jenkins

After connecting via email, reach out personally to arrange a meeting or audition. Set up a time that works best for them. Managers usually work non-stop from the minute they show up, so be prepared and ready to go. Minimize your setup so you can be in and out quickly. Once you’ve finished, offer them some promo material they can keep, like a copy of your music or some merch. Also be willing to to provide any posters they can use to promote you. Advertise on your own social media to draw a crowd as well.


Bonus tips!

Be sure to carefully outline your booking terms. Creating clear and detailed contracts helps you avoid any confusion or tension when it comes time to pay. Pay attention to how the evening’s revenues are shared, and don’t assume the bar tab is part of the gig. Be specific about when you are and are not performing. What are the protocols if either you or the client need to cancel? Most importantly, make sure you know what kind of performance works for that specific audience. Remember what happened to the Blues Brothers?

Don’t work for free. Exchanging services for a great “opportunity” is a common mistake made by many rookie performers and entertainers. It’s important to establish your price point for your skill and experience, and stick to it. Working for free undercuts the market for your fellow performers and dilutes the value of your talents. You’ve worked hard to develop your skill and you deserve to get paid appropriately.

At the same time, always be willing to provide more than requested. An extra balloon animal to a crying kid goes a long way to creating future customers. Restaurant staffs are often like small families, where everyone chips in to get the job done. Be flexible and accommodating. Avoid diva-like behavior that could ruin the experience for you and other performers. Cultivating a good relationship with the staff and management is absolutely vital.

Remember to respect the customers and their experience, especially if you are an enhancement act. People may not have come prepared to accept your services, so if they’re not ready with a tip after a great card trick or ready to pay for a face paint design, be okay with that. Perhaps you were booked to provide background music for your local coffee shop. If the venue isn’t packed with your fans, don’t be too frustrated if patrons are more absorbed in their conversations than your performance.  

While many musicians have strong opinions about playing covers vs. originals, try to have a few feel-good tunes everyone can enjoy. You can always take a popular song and reimagine it for yourself. Playing a few covers keeps new audiences engaged and can open the door to more bookings and events.

Have a few business cards handy with links to your social media, website, and GigSalad profile so new fans can continue to connect with you. This is a great way to increase your bookings and build your fanbase.

Every experience is better with a great band, an intriguing illusionist, or a skilled performer of any kind. Pairing up with your local diner means you’re getting paid to help make memories. Get out there and show your community what you’ve got!


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  1. Dr. Ronald G. Shapiro May 15, 2018

    Good suggestions!!!

  2. Craig Sherman May 15, 2018

    Hi Gig Salad-
    Altho I agree w/ about 90% of what you stated in the above for finding gigs in local diners.etc, what you DID fail to mention is that while putting the “looking for the gig” is on the entertainer’s part, most venues of that sort and more often than not are NOT licensed to have live music esp covers which requires city permits,cabaret,bmi, ascap and other certs,all sooooo costly to the venue so that really narrows down the market place.I am a seasoned music veteran and have been thru all this BUT I imagine for some of your younger members may not suspect this and need to be enlightened about the reality of the local gig industry. You can’t just build up your hopes and dreams on venues you’d like to play just because of their atmosphere and ambience and you imagine yourself being a big star there cuz you have “draw power”,especially a venue that’s never had live entertainment before.There’s a reason for that so that part of the responsibility is on the venue’s part.Just thought you should’ve mentioned it.

  3. PHILIP KLIPPER May 15, 2018

    I’ve worked a variety of different restaurants over the past 30 years. I usually stay at a location for years. I currently just celebrated my 3rd year at my restaurant. Please understand that it takes a while to learn how to do this correctly. I would mention to give the location your looking at a complimentary hour so they can get an idea what you do. It also lets yo feel out the lay out to see if it’s a good fit for what you do.
    Philip Klipper PM

  4. Marty Levin May 15, 2018

    Thank you so much!!


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