The Solo Restaurant Gig - Guitar A La Carte

Minimum hassle, maximum cash (I'm lying a little), the most trouble I can
get into is if I've been playing a lot of clubs and shows lately, I tend to
play too loud - that's the solo restaurant gig.

Here are a few qualifications and considerations for the job. Style is
probably more important than repertoire - how you play it more than what you
play. Jazz standards, folk tunes, classical pieces, pop-rock songs,
Brazilian and South American stuff, I play mostly my own tunes - they'll all
work if you play them in a style that works with the venue. Throttle back a
bit and create an ambience conducive to dining and talking. Like it or not,
basically you are musical wallpaper.

There are the basic mundane requisites like dressing the part and not
creating a disturbance when you're setting up or tearing down (people are
probably eating). Keep the equipment to a minimum - I don't bring my
extension speaker cabinet that I use for bigger gigs. Most of these owners
have put a lot of thought into the look and feel of their establishment, and
they don't want a bunch of electronic gear cluttering up the joint. Also, I
want my amp right next to me so I can tell exactly how loud I am. The
volume is critical. Get a few steady customers to complain about you being
too loud, and you'll need to have one of those uncomfortable discussions
with the owner (like being called to the principal's office). A restaurant
owner has never asked me to turn it up. A club owner, yes, a restaurant
owner, no.

If I'm hired for the lunch rush from noon to 1:30, I need to be set up by 10
minutes to 12 (at least), and I need to get in and out of there with the
minimum of jostling around. At one place I have a deal worked out with the
owner that we asses the crowd at my scheduled quitting time, and if there
are enough customers to warrant me staying longer, we do it. Everyone wins,
I make more dough, the restaurant gets more music when they need it, and the
diners get an extension on the ambience. When I finish, I inform the owner
that I'm done, I tell him "Thanks", and I go back and tear down. I do it
very quietly in a couple minutes. Poof, like a ghost, I'm gone.

No, I didn't start playing guitar because I thought it would be groovy to
play restaurants. But hey, I've had enough crappy jobs to know that any job
with a guitar in my hand is better than the graveyard shift in an aluminum
extrusion plant. Restaurant gigs fit in perfectly with my schedule. I
teach guitar during the day, but not till later in the afternoon, so
lunchtime jobs work great. I'm playing other gigs on the weekends (and
during the week), but I seem to be able to work in these kinds of jobs just
fine, one reason being that they tend to be earlier than your average
nighttime club gig.

Now for the music. I play tunes with catchy melodies. I vary the rhythms,
keys, and textures of these pieces. I try to keep things interesting. Some
gigs I stretch out a lot, others it's just tune after tune (you can check
out an article I've written entitled "Improvising Solo" at the Acoustic
Fingerstyle Guitar Page
). I tend to blend
one song into another, providing a nice backdrop of sound. I can literally
try any kind of tune I like, and I usually sneak the new stuff in between a
couple of familiar ones. It's a great way to debut new material.

You won't get a lot of crowd reaction during the gig (actually you do, you
just don't notice it). The feedback isn't yelling, screaming, yahooing
concert stuff, but if you play well, people do let you know. They love to
come up to me after they're done eating and say how much they liked the
music. Also, while I'm playing I watch people's feet. If they're tapping
along to what I'm doing, I've done my job. Oh yeah, ask the owner about
selling CDs at the front counter. Offer them a cut ($3 to $5 on a $15 cd -
some don't want one) and tell customers about them when they compliment you.
Instead of accepting a tip, I put on the gentle hard sell about my

These gigs can be for you if you realize how your music fits into the
picture. One more thing, don't forget to ask the owner how you should

Dan Lambert is a guitarist, performer, recording artist and teacher out of El Paso, Texas with five CDs under his belt and another on the way.

His latest instrumental CD is entitled "The Double Drum Trio".

Dan Lambert

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