Pros and Cons of Offering Live Entertainment in Your Restaurant

Bringing live entertainment into a restaurant has helped many owners develop a loyal and dedicated clientele. Offering entertainment, in some cases, can differentiate you from your competition and help build an environment that is exciting and fun for your guests. But before you hire that folk singer or balloon artist/face painter, there are a number of issues you need to consider interwin.

Do you have the room in your facility? Do you have the right environment and acoustics if you want to have live music? And, most importantly, do you have the customer base to warrant the extra expense for the “is it live or is it Memorex” experiment? There are, of course, many hassles and expenses that come with hiring live entertainers for your startup, as well as many benefits.

Five Key Considerations

Is your dining room a space that is open enough so entertainment will be visible by all or will some of your guests have an obstructed view? It is very frustrating to a customer to choose a restaurant based on a service they offer, like live music, only to find that the night they show up, they are unable to see or hear the performance because they were seated out of eye or earshot. If customers know that only a few tables are able to enjoy the entertainment, they will be less likely to build their evening around it. For some concepts, a solution may be hiring wandering performers who move throughout your restaurant interacting on a personal level with each customer. For example, Mexican concepts have success with Mariachi bands that roam the floor. More formal concepts might hire a violinist or classic guitarist. Another advantage of a portable act is that the music can go to the most receptive parties. Some people delight in this type of entertainment, and others find it an intrusion. When hiring an entertainer, you need to find someone who is not only proficient in his art, but sensitive to body language and other forms of expression that indicate the guests’ receptiveness to the performance interwin.

On that note, it is not a bad idea to ask people before seating them if they wish to be next to the entertainment or away from it, and then start a waiting list for when the tables open up.

Do you have money in the budget to warrant paying a live entertainer each night regardless of how many people are in your dining room? If a performer packs the house for whatever reason — maybe you just happened to find the next Bruce Springsteen or Kurt Cobain before they were discovered — lucky you. More realistically, however, it will be difficult to determine the exact effect offering entertainment will have on your sales. The better performers expect to be compensated and want to be paid whether or not you fill the house with guests. So be prepared to budget in the cost of their fee regardless of your daily receipts, but don’t be afraid to negotiate. One way to circumvent this problem is to hire performers who are willing to work for tips and exposure to a live audience.

One expense you might not have considered is music licensing fees paid to licensing agencies, such as ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) and SESAC (formerly the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers), which collect royalties on behalf of composers from businesses that offer copyright-protected music for the entertainment of customers and guests. If your live performers are playing “cover” songs of popular music, you will be required to pay licensing fees (as opposed to musicians who perform either their own compositions or compositions that are no longer copyright-protected [e.g., works by classical composers]). Be advised that compositions by non-U.S. artists may also receive protection in this country. If you are already paying these fees for the right to play recorded music to your guests, then they will most likely apply to the performance of live music. You should contact a representative from one or more of the music licensing agencies or an intellectual property or hospitality law attorney for guidance in these matters interwin.


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