DJ Joe was getting stressed. He would be needing gas for his car on the way home after his Saturday mobile gig, and he also needed groceries-bad. The bread products in his kitchen apartment were beginning to turn green and yellow, the milk was two weeks past the sell date, and there were exactly four little squares left on his last roll of toilet paper. He wouldn’t get paid for DJing tonight’s wedding reception until next Friday, but how could he get cash tonight?
His mind raced. “Let’s see, I could sell my body to one of the bridesmaids,” he reasoned, “but with a buck and a half I can’t even buy a gallon of gas these days. I could pick up spare change off the dance floor, but my back is killing me from setting up my rig alone. Maybe I could ask for a tip at the end of the night? No, that would seem a bit tacky.”In the end, DJ Joe stopped worrying about his financial woes and instead concentrated on doing his best to make this party the best ever. Part entertainer, part service person, and part event coordinator, he found himself personally waiting on the needs of the guests but also keeping them entertained throughout the night. And after the event, the bride’s father had noticed his extra effort and slipped him a $50 bill.
One thing is for certain, and that’s that nothing is for certain when it comes to receiving tips. There are no absolute rules that can be applied to every gig in every region of the country-or even in the same town, for that matter. You can bend over backwards to serve clients one weekend and get $100 extra from the bridal couple, and then you can do the exact same thing the following Saturday and get nothing but a sincere thank you.
In the end, it all depends on what we do to win the bonus-did we resort to falling on our knees and begging? Did we out of our way to drop overt hints? Or did we simply concentrate on doing our job and letting the “tips” fall where they might? Mobile jocks around the country have been discovering that in order to get the best tips, we should not concentrate on getting tipped as much as merely offering the best service.
The following are eleven things we can do to better our chances of getting tipped after an event:
1. Avoid suggesting that your clients tip
For years we’ve all learned at convention seminars that it’s nice to remind clients in our literature that tips are accepted for exceptional performances. But if hints are given this way, it must be done very cautiously. If clients feel that we are requiring or even suggesting tips, this tactic can totally backfire.
“The worst thing you can do-and something that will kill your referrals-is if you put on your contract that gratuities are not included in your price,” says Brian Doyle of San Francisco’s Denon & Doyle. “Some DJs at the end of the night will say, ‘The balance due is $500, but that doesn’t include gratuities.’ But I think that’s the worst thing you can do, when you throw it in their face and suggest that they have to tip you. It should be more of a subtle thing.”
In fact, according to some DJs this issue is probably best not addressed in our literature at all, but rather saved for when we meet one-on-one with clients. “I believe it is wrong to include a ‘suggested tip’ on any of my company’s literature,” says Paul Chamberlin of The Music Machine in South Bend, Indiana. “Although, I’ve even heard that a ‘required’ tip is included on the contracts of some multiple-system companies-yikes!”
Geoff Carlisle of JAMM Entertainment says he used to not get very many tips. “I think the people in the South don’t seem to believe in tipping,” he explains. “So I developed a little form that each DJ can fill out at the end of the event to show what is owed. This form shows the total charge, deposit amount, overtime charge, balance due and a blank area for the tip before the total. It seems to work very well.”
“My policy is to never ask for a gratuity or even hint at the idea,” says Jon “Gadget Man” Davidson of Atlanta-based Vibrations DJs. “That would be tacky. But when I am offered a tip, I gladly and graciously accept it and tell the client how much I appreciate the offer.
2. Provide clients with a list of frequently asked questions
To circumvent the dangers of Idea #1 above, some mobile companies provide a Question & Answer sheet for their new clients: “Should we provide a table? Should we feed the DJ? Should we tip the DJ?”
After they receive a signed contract and deposit for an event, for example, Denon & Doyle sends out such a form. One of the questions is, “Is it appropriate to tip the DJ?” The suggested answer is, “If you feel your DJ has delivered exceptional service, then absolutely. As in any service industry, please do so only for exceptional service and base your gratuity on your level of satisfaction.”
As Doyle would subtly suggest, “The more you can drop the hint and introduce it to your client, the more the word ‘gratuity’ is going to get in their brains” without actually begging for it.
3. Turn down offers for a “free” meal?
As nice as it is to eat a nice meal with nice guests at a nice wedding reception, did you ever think about the fact that you may be eating your tip?
“Meals out here in California are about $50 a plate,” says Doyle, “so if they include you in the meal count they may not be as likely to tip you because they’ve already ‘given you’ $50. I’ve noticed that quite a bit. If we mention to clients that they don’t have to include us in the meal count, they’re more likely to give us a tip.”
In fact, Doyle suggests addressing to the client concerns about feeding and tipping the DJ at the same time. “These are both legitimate questions that everyone wants to know,” he says. “Are they supposed to include the DJ in the guest count, and are they supposed to tip the DJ? But if you couch these two issues together it actually works-while you’re suggesting that they save $50 by not providing a meal for the DJ, you can say that gratuities are accepted for exceptional services rendered.”
To keep their DJs from scarfing up reception food, Denon & Doyle sends them out with “love kits” that contain such basic items as breath mints, candy bars, granola bars and bottled water.
Of course, for some DJs a free meal in itself is enough of a bonus. “A tip can be anything from money to an expensive plate or feed, or even simply helping the entertainer get another event because of doing a great job,” says Stanley Samuel of Dubuque-based Infinity Entertainment.
4. Greet your guests before an event
Employees in my own personal company, Lighthouse Productions, greet guests at a reception dressed more like chimney sweeps than DJs. Attired in black tux coats with tails, top hats, white gloves and canes, sometimes the guests even wonder aloud if they’ve arrived at the wrong reception because they don’t recognize us from their bridal party! But in the end, we make a huge impression not only on the guests but on the family of the bridal couple-the most potential tippers.
“At the beginning of an event I call this the personal valet approach,” says Mark Haggerty of Denon & Doyle, a company that does a similar routine. “When appropriate, I greet the bridal party at the limo with champagne and appetizers. This also helps you get to know the bridal party and bond with them.
“When I surpass their expectations it’s fertile ground for tips. It’s not any one thing I do-it’s all the little things done well from beginning to end. What it all comes down to is simply doing your job and paying attention.”
Says Doyle, “The moment you bring out a tray of hors d’ouvres when you’re lining up the bridal party for their introduction, the chance of getting a tip improves 100%. All of a sudden people look at you in a totally different light.”
5. Help wait on the head table?
While some DJs may think of themselves as “too good” to become “servants” at a reception, others see this as an opportunity to totally impress their clients. If we humble ourselves and take on the form of a servant, the results are impressive.
“When I do my shows, I cater to the bride and groom’s every need,” says Scotty O’Brien of Sunshine Entertainment in St. Louis. “For example, I walk around with the bride and groom after they arrive and-if the facility hasn’t made sure they have drinks and stuff-I give the bride a glass of wine and make sure the groom has a beer or whatever he drinks. I take care of more than their entertainment needs-I also take care of their practical needs!”
The result? “I always get tipped,” claims O’Brien.
Doyle remembers a reception where he played this past summer. “The staff was passing around champagne bottles and I talked them into letting me pass champagne around with them,” he recalls. “I was really able to make things happen, and the bride noticed what I had done and that the outcome was a lot nicer because of it. She tipped me $100 at the end of the night.”
Last summer the bride at one of my own shows asked me to be the one who walked around and released individual tables for the buffet line. It was another way for the guests to warm up to me, and this extra “service” resulted in a nice tip after the event.
But are these tips consistent responses for me or for Doyle or for any other DJ? Should they even be expected?
“Sometimes the client will notice what you do and sometimes they won’t notice,” admits Doyle. “But when they do notice and at the end of the night they’re about to give you a mere $20, they suddenly remember all the extra things you did and feel bad just giving a small tip.”
6. Help make the hall look good
Because he specializes in sound reinforcement, Dave Lundon of Full Spectrum Entertainment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is especially able to assist clients when they have unique sound requirements. This also carries over into his every-weekend corporate and reception market.
“If a corporate VP is going to speak and needs a microphone hooked up real quick,” he says, “or if the father of a bride or a minister is having problem with the hall’s microphone, I can take out my own wireless mic for them to use.”
And Lundon can remember playing for a Legion Hall once at which the bar paid him to go an extra hour overtime simply because they were doing so well with drink sales. He refers to this as “third-party overtime.”
Make the hall look good, and you’ll not only get referrals but the client might also observe that you’re going the extra mile to make their event successful.
7. Provide “care kits” for your clients
If Brandi Smith, the operations manager for Denon & Doyle, is aware of a client who is going to need a little extra “hand holding” at an event, she’ll inform the DJ ahead of time. This allows the DJ to respond to extra needs and requirements of a client, which can result in an extra tip after the event.
“It’s nice to have a little care kit for the bride,” suggests Doyle. “I know some DJs who bring along extra safety pins and nylons and other bridal accessories. For the guys you can bring along extra cuff links, and those little things tend to make a huge impression. How about giving wet towels to the bride and groom when they come off the dance floor for the first dance?
“It’s all those little touches that seem to make everything all right.”
8. Play humorous/memorable soundbites during the event
After the blessing and toasts in the Midwest, the bride and groom will usually kiss for the guests. But that’s not enough for my company’s receptions. We have the couple stand up and tell them, “All right, we don’t want to see you kiss like you’ve been married for 300 years-we want to see you kiss like you’ve only been married for three hours! Let’s see some Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman action here!”
As soon as the couple’s lips touch, we play a sample of a long, wet kiss. The guests go wild, the groom is made to look like Al Gore giving Tipper the Hormonal Kiss, and we’re likely to get a tip later on.
“When I do wedding ceremonies, I get a sample of the vows on mini disc,” says Haggerty, “and then I’ll play it back at the reception when the first dance starts. One time I sampled the best man’s toast, where at the end he said,’Let’s party!’ Later on, I laid that sample down a few times during dancing.”
9. Provide the groom with a rose to give the bride
Mark Haggerty loves to do whatever it takes to make a groom look good. “In our market, the first dance is usually after the introduction, toasts and meal,” he explains. “Just before the first dance, I sneak a long-stem red rose to the groom-thornless, of course-and have him hide it inside his jacket. Then, when he presents it to his bride at the start of the song, the guests let out a big ‘Ahhh!’
“You need to set this up with the florist ahead of time,” he explains,” but the groom is usually the tipper, so we make him look good-and hopefully he remembers this later.”
10. Be prepared for the awkward tip questions after an event
How do you handle the situation at the end of the night when a client asks if they should give a tip? That happens to a lot of DJs. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” they tell us. “Am I supposed to tip you?” Or, “I’m not sure how much to give you-how much do people normally give for a tip?”
These questions make us feel uncomfortable, because we don’t want to be beggers. But at the same time, unless we accidently knocked over the wedding cake or forgot to wear our tux that night, we usually do feel like we deserve a tip.
“Those are always awkward questions,” says Doyle. “But if you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to tell people in response, you’ll end up saying ‘Oh, don’t worry about it!’ And then you’ve just talked yourself out of a tip.
Doyle suggests a couple of ways to make those situations more comfortable. “I know one DJ (David Demers from A Good Time DJs), when clients ask how much they’re supposed to tip him, he asks them to pull out their wallet and take out a couple of dollars-and then give him the rest! Everyone laughs, so it breaks the uncomfortable silence, and he gets tipped. It’s taking a fun, light-hearted approach to it.”
Sometimes people will ask Doyle what his ‘normal’ tip is, he says. “I’ll say, ‘Well, I’ve seen anything from $20 to $100.’ Many times people out here will hear that $100 and decide that they want to be cool like everyone else.”
11. Let your employees keep their overtime money
Denon & Doyle’s employees get to keep any money they make for playing overtime. The company sees this as an opportunity to not only reward their employees for doing a super job, but also a chance to help them make tips. “We try to get into their brains that when they go up to collect the overtime they should do it for the company,” says Doyle. “Don’t say, ‘It’s my overtime!’ because in that case you’ll get $100 for overtime and no tip. But if the client thinks the money is going to the company, they figure they should take care of you as well.”
“And there have been several times when we’ve done really cheap gigs for friends,” he adds, “and we always tell them to make sure they tip the DJ.”
What it all comes down to is making people happy by going the extra mile. “It’s a thank you, is what it is,” sums up Haggerty. “People tip when their expectations have been exceeded. They just feel inclined to do it.”