Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Recession, Karaoke and You

While I am sensitive to the economic climate today, and it's effect on my friends, patrons and singers, I also see the economy eroding at karaoke from another direction, one which I have addressed in the following essay. Karaoke shows and similar entertainment are free to the public, but there is a hidden cost, and a threat to the future of such entertainment that the economic down turn is seeming to accellerate. The following essay addresses the impact from the perspective of the venues who pay for and provide my service, and those who work at the venues.



The recent economic downturn has affected all of us in one way or another, but most definitely has affected the karaoke community. We have seen business after business fail lately, and shows at some bars have disappeared. Many people have either lost their jobs, or otherwise do not have the discretionary income they once had to come out and enjoy an evening of food, drink, and karaoke. A good karaoke host knows what the reason for their being at a venue is, and when venues, or the people who work at them, stop making money, it puts the future of a karaoke show in peril. The following is a brief essay to explain the economics of karaoke, and an explanation of your part in that system as a consumer of the karaoke product.


This reason is simple. Bars and restaurants hire a karaoke host to attract a crowd to spend money. While having a host who is good with people, attracts good singers, and has decent equipment and selection is a plus, at the end of the day it comes down to what is in the cash register, and what the servers can earn. Bar owners are less concerned with the content of a show, than they are that the show attracts a crowd and that the numbers at the end of the day justify inviting the host back week after week. A good host will remain aware of what the bars take is, and how much the servers are earning, to be sure that the economics of karaoke at that location are worth the venue asking him or her to come back week after week. It is important for a large percentage of attendees to support the venue, either by eating or drinking, and also for the attendees to tip their servers. Servers generally make less than minimum wage, and rely on tips solely to make a livable wage.


First and foremost...smaller crowds. Secondly, those who are attending seem to spend less. It is possible to see shows that are wildly popular, with long rotations and believe that it is going to be a great night for the host and venue...but then at the end of the night, the servers have made little to no money, and the total in the cash register is very low. This has been the first year that I have gone to work at several of my venues, wondering if my future was in jeopardy there...either because the rings or attendance have been low, or because the venue overall is losing money and may close down. Where a large crowd may give the illusion of success, it is NOT NECESSARILY so.


SUPPORT THE VENUE AND THE SERVERS! First and foremost, if you are supporting the venues and the servers, THANK YOU!! Supporting can be as simple as ordering a food item, maybe a couple of drinks...and tipping your server. I understand that many do not drink, and choose to drink soft drinks or water. Please understand that the venue does have an overhead of paying for the room, the staff and the entertainment, so if they charge a premium for soft drinks, water and refills, it is merely to recoup their costs in paying the bills from a shrinking audience. Some folks have balked at rising prices, or less liberal refill policies, or higher prices for drinks not accompanied by food, by taking it out on the servers and not tipping them. The servers do not make the price policies, so please do not take it out on them. When you look at your tab, factor in not only the cost of the food or drink, but also the enjoyment you got from the entertainment. There was no cover charge, so if you feel your tab is high, pretend that it includes a cover charge to pay for your karaoke host, and the electricity, etc... Cover charges COULD become the next step if we are not cautious.


Keeping the servers and bartenders happy goes a long way to keeping your favorite karaoke show in business. If the servers do not make money, they will not want to work the shifts...and when management sees no one wants the shifts, they will more closely audit the karaoke night to see if it is worthwhile. Similarly, if the servers do not make money, they will not have a positive outlook on their job, or karaoke. Happy servers are better at their job, and if they see karaoke as a money making night, will do more to promote it, both to the public and to their bosses. TIPPING THE BARTENDER OR SERVER IS NOT OPTIONAL! This must be in the budget for the night. I have heard story after story about patrons who pay their tabs, then explain that they are broke and cant afford to tip...and then smile at the server and expect them to understand. Serving food and drink is what they do to survive, and why they are there...and they are paid by the consumers in the form of tips. To allow and expect someone to serve you, even water, for the duration of an evening with no pay is not acceptable, and will not win a karaoke night any favor from management. Imagine if your waiter came to where you work and expected you to do what you do for a living for them, then when it came time to pay, refused to pay your labor charge or commission because they did not have enough money. That is how waiters feel when they are "stiffed". After speaking to several servers, the consensus is that if someone tips a buck a drink for alcohol, or drops a five at the beginning of a night to show intent, then follows up later with 18-20% of the total bill tipped, that would be a good return. ANY gesture is better than none.

One must understand the "real estate" of restaurants and bars as well. Each table represents a station for a server, and each seat in that station has the potential of generating revenue for the server, and the venue. If someone takes a seat at a station, they are responsible for making sure the server at that station is being taken care of. The value of the "real estate" of the chair you are sitting in depends on several factors....1) How busy is the night and is that seat needed, 2) Are you intending to eat and drink, or sip water. 3) How many people at the table are eating and drinking vs not.

At venues where there are PLENTY of seats, this is not as crucial as at smaller venues where seating is at a premium. I know that one venue I work at with limited seating is working on instituting a minimum purchase policy for its premium seating soon to ensure that paying diners do not leave for lack of a seat.

I have heard singers that do not spend use the argument that "they sing well and people come to hear them" or that "they bring their friends who spend". To some extent, those statements are true, and personally, I am happy to see a crowd...the bigger the better. I work better with a crowd. There is no shame to coming and NOT spending, unless, you are taking up real estate at a crowded show, or you are not tipping the server. Even if you are not spending, if you take a seat, you should tip the server for checking in on you and cleaning up after you when you leave. Tipping a server for free water may not endear you to the venue, but your server will appreciate it, and you, very much.


Ordering anything helps...bringing friends who may eat or drink... If drinking water, buying the bottle instead of drinking the free water helps.


Together we can all ride out the economic downturn to more prosperous time, but the issues discussed in this essay are timeless regardless of any economic condition. We all enjoy a great karaoke show, but need to understand the real reason they exist for us. When the show or its patrons become a liability to the venue, karaoke and similar "free" entertainment will go away. If you are not a part of the "problem", then you ARE the solution. For that I thank you, both on my behalf, and on the behalf of the places that keep me working, and the servers who take care of my patrons. If we keep the shows viable for the venues, the servers and the patrons, our shows will be going on forever! I thank you for your patronage, and for your ear on this matter.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comment or suggestions in regard to this subject!! THANKS!!


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