As a musician/entertainer with decades of performance experience from tiny dives to every 5-star hotel in So. Cal., to Las Vegas casinos, TV and The Kennedy Center, I wanted to offer some tips and ideas on how managers can increase food and beverage sales by getting the most from your club's entertainment.
For some of you in management, hiring musicians is a fun part of your job, and for others I am guessing it could be somewhat daunting. You know food and beverage like the back of your hand. But what happens if you really don't know anything about music? Or if you don't even have much interest in say jazz or pop or Latin grooves? You might only like listening to heavy metal on your days off, but are savvy enough to know that Black Sabbath won't fly for dinner music! What if you're tone deaf? (And no, that's not a dig at your love for Black Sabbath. I'm sure there are many people out there . . . somewhere, who like Ozzy Osborne.)
1) BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
There is no reason you should be ashamed if music just isn't your forte. Imagine if you were to ask a professional drummer to select the wines for your bar. There's no reason a drummer should have those skills. And especially not the drummer! They're beer drinkers. Everyone knows that.
Kidding aside, if you're doing the auditioning and really don't have much expertise, consider asking those you work with who may have more knowledge of music to check out the players along with you. In today's world, when lounges are charging upwards of $20 for a cocktail and $10 for a beer, the quality of your musicians needs to be on par so that guests will have a solid reason to stay and order more. There are excellent musicians in every town across the nation. And there are average ones. Go with the excellent ones!
And by all means, check in with your guests, too! I have left many a place thinking, 'Wow, that music was really not good" and yet I never go up to a manager and voice my opinion as I don't want to impact a musician's livelihood. Make the rounds and find out what your audience is in to. See if they are connecting with the music or if they don't even really notice it! And if they don't, ask yourself, 'Why?'.
2) SYNC THE LOOK WITH THE VIBE
Speaking of noticing things. . .
Recently I was at a beautiful property near my home in Carlsbad; a lush lounge with thick cushioned furniture and lavish flower arrangements. I popped in to listen to the music and enjoy an over-priced drink, which always do seem to taste better even if it's a bottle of Stella. (Not sure how that works?) The young musician performing in the dark corner (we'll get to that!) was wearing a plaid shirt, jeans and a baseball cap. Now, I'm old. I admit it. But so was everyone else at the upscale lounge, and none of us were dressed to hit the corn fields. The way I see it, the only musician who can get away with dressing down in that sort of room are musicians who can fill a stadium or have a true local following. He was neither. (And I only stayed for my one drink.) Now, I'm not suggesting we go back to men in penguin suits and women in gowns, but I am saying, make sure your vision for the room is in sync with the musicians you've hired to help create the vibe you want. If you don't have a really strong vision about the aesthetic, talk to the musicians about what they can bring and how they can play up certain aspects or tone down others. When it comes to 'the feel' of a room, seasoned "entertainers" understand this concept really well. Both of you can work on heightening the 'production' aspect when you are both on the same page.
3) LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
Maximize the potential pay-off of having LIVE music by using the BEST piece of real-estate, not the worst. You are paying for your guests to be entertained, right? Share the gift you are giving your patrons by situating your musicians in a prime spot. (THIS DOES NOT MEAN THEIR VOLUME, OR PERFORMANCE HAS TO DOMINATE THE ROOM! See how I even put that in ALL CAPS?) This is not about the music turning into a 'show' unless that is what you want! It's about letting your guests know that you want to give them something more than piped in music.
Even if you have to put the musicians in a corner, give the corner some pizzazz. One way to do this is to create a 'stage'. I don't mean putting the musicians up on a riser. I mean creating the illusion that there is something interesting going on! Buy some colored lights that can be aimed upward from the floor. Place them near drapery for a 'showy' effect. Use some larger plants to create the illusion of a border. (Yes! "Between Two Ferns" for you Zach Galafinakas fans.) Use floor or table candles.
Maybe move a few two-tops in front of the band to prevent traffic from flowing right in front of your 'stage' throughout the evening. This also ensures that there isn't an 'ocean' between your guests and the band. This large space makes it harder for bands and patrons to connect. When thinking about your band's location, employ the same sense of production you do for your beautifully-plated food!
Oh and BURNING HOT TIP! Turn off any TVs anywhere near your musicians.
3) LIGHT MY WORLD
If your audience can't see the band, they can't really connect with them. If they can't connect with them you've just cut your profits and might as well put on a CD. When artists are stuck in a dark, poorly lit spot, (or even in a well-lit spot but that guests can't really see but only hear) 9 out of 10 times, they don't perform. They might be "playing" and even producing high-quality music, but I assure you they aren't performing! Get your money's worth. Make your musicians feel like stars and you will be amazed at how this can bring out a star-quality in their performances.
4) FAMILY MEETING!
Think about what it would be like if your servers weren't introduced to other servers, the hosts, the bartenders? How would they do if they were just expected to 'start working'. This is often what it feels like for freelancers coming into play. We are outsiders and it can feel very awkward. And yet, your guests don't see the difference. To them, the musicians are part of your family, your establishment. To your guests, your musicians represent your brand!
As the manager, make it a point to ensure the band is properly introduced to the staff and vice versa. Have someone on staff write out the names of the performers and post it in the kitchen and hostess stand. Many times I have called clubs and asked who was playing and the person answering the phone had no idea, or the server couldn't tell me anything about who I was listening to. This is an easy-fix and makes you look like a pro. And when artists are taken into the fold like that, we want to succeed. We want YOU to succeed. We want to promote your establishment and bring our best game. We want to invite our friends to come out and enjoy your venue.
5) YOUR SECRET WEAPON!!
One of the easiest!! ways to get guests to linger longer, order more and come back often is to find a performer with a great personality and put them on a REGULAR schedule that your guests & their fans can rely on!
Find musicians who are not only good at playing music but who know how to instinctively and graciously 'host a party'! Choose talent who can essentially make your guests feel special, who take an interest in them, who will call a 'regular' by his or her name. When you see a musician doing this, hold on to them! This is gold. You've essentially just hired another you! A shmooze ambassador and musician for the price of one.
To this point, some musicians will do this automatically, no matter what venue they are at but others may be waiting for permission from YOU to engage with guests! (Remember that thing about not being part of the family and feeling awkward?) So communicate with the artists and let them know how you feel about interacting (professionally of course!) with guests.
Do yourself a favor and make life easy! Create a schedule that allows your customers and your entertainers to develop a rapport. This does not happen when an artist is on your calendar once a week for a month. It takes time. (Think about great TV shows that were cancelled too early but went on to become cult classics!) Invest in the right people and you WILL see larger returns than you can imagine! Musicians need time to figure out your clientele as much as you do.
And one last finer point. There are high-end venues that frown upon guests buying drinks for musicians. I say don't get hung up on this. This is good for sales but more importantly it makes the patron feel good about having a richer connection with the artist(s), which is the whole point of hiring top performers in the first place! We're all adults.
BEYOND ALL TIPS & MOST OF ALL!
Never forget the power YOU have within our precious communities by hiring musicians! Music is one of the the greatest unifying gifts we have left, and musicians have the unique ability to do the extraordinary by "taking us places". They can make us feel all sorts of things, heal broken spirits and elevate our moods. This is no small feat! Your room, your restaurant or lounge feeds our bellies but it can also feed our souls and with fewer and fewer places offering live music, take every opportunity you can to promote and fully embrace the impact music can have on your valued guests.
If you are interested in speaking with me more on this or any entertainment-related topic, please email me at rosemary at rosemarywatson.com
Some odd bits about the author: I began voice training at 15 but didn't start singing professionally until the mid-nineties when I was 32. Even though I was a late bloomer my timing couldn't have been better because everywhere you looked, beautiful hotel lounges were happily employing not just solo acts but whole trios and quartets! My first steady gig outta the gate was at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. And my first night of my first gig, R&B/pop singer Vanessa Williams was sitting RIGHT next to my mic stand as I was setting up. Fortunately, she left before I started! Not sure my young nerves would have been up for that. Years later though, after I settled into my role as 'singer', it was fun to spot celebrities in the crowd. I've never forgotten actor, James Coburn coming up to me one Christmas Eve at The Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. He leaned his towering physique down and said in that deep, deep, rough voice, "You sing so sweetly, baby". HA! How do you top that?! You can learn even more about me, and my comedy antics as well, on my website. www.rosemarywatson.com