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How to make money from free entertainment

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Question:

I have music in my restaurant several times a week. I am starting to get quite a few people coming in wanting to listen to the music and only ask for water or bring in ice cream from a shop down the road. I don't want to charge a cover or ask folks if they plan on buying anything from our food or drink menu as they walk in. It is getting quite popular and this is happening more and more. Any advice? Thanks for your help.

– Brant Sarber, Owner/Manager, Costa Azul, Coronado, California

Answer:

Continuing our series on mooching, it’s lovely that you are providing entertainment for the community, but if your goal is to run a restaurant rather than provide a free community event, you have a problem.

Like most problems, it seems to come down to a disconnect between your expectations (that guests will enjoy some music while eating and drinking at Costa Azul), and your guest’s expectations (they can listen to free music, whether they buy anything from you or not).

Also, like most problems, clear communication can go a long way toward fixing this. Even if you don’t enforce it, clearly posting a one or two item minimum to be seated (two drinks, one food item and one drink, dessert and coffee) and training your servers to sell, clearly articulates your expectation. Most guests will “get it,” and the inevitable few that try to game the system will at least know what the rules are intended to be.

One of the counter-intuitive things about hospitality is that guests who spend more money on reasonably priced food and drink, even if they did not intend to initially, report a better overall experience. Just make sure your offerings are appealing and reasonable—you may need to add some snacks or shareable desserts.

My advice is to communicate and sell to enhance your guest experience. You may lose a few non-paying guests but can hopefully cultivate the valuable ones as regulars once they try your food and beverage. 

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