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Wayne Kawamoto

Restaurant Magician "Shooed Away" But Defended

By October 4, 2010

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A review of a San Diego eatery complains about the strolling magician and talks about his good nature as he was encouraged to leave the table alone.

"My biggest complaint? ...I really just want to eat dinner and have a conversation with my companions when I go out to eat. I don't need table-side entertainment," says the review. "...Ours wandered up to our table, like some overly nonchalant Jehovah's Witness, innocently asking about the Pimm's Cup I was hiding behind. Fortunately, he was a good sport about us taunting and shooing him away."

The review was followed by a letter to the editor from someone who enjoys the restaurant's magic. "I specifically go to the O'Bistro to see him perform," says the patron. "I understand that Jenny may not like table-side entertainment. But how can she slam the poor guy without even watching his performance? All she had to do was turn around and see the next people he engaged. He amazes nearly everyone there and brings many smiles to many faces."

Rejection is an inherent part of performing in restaurants, and this is regardless of how entertaining or good you are. The magician took the tack that I would have in not pursuing a table that did not appear to be interested. I see both sides. Some parties, as was the reviewer's, are at a restaurant for the conversation and don't care for intrusions. But I sense from the tone that the reviewer doesn't care for magic and/or thinks it's only for unsophisticated audiences.

I know that in an evening of performing, I can create a memorable moment for a party. Groups come back later, sometimes after a couple of years, and tell me how much fun they had and can even tell me what tricks I did (which helps me to do other items the second time around). However, it's not unusual to encounter groups who won't allow the opportunity to sample a bit of magic.

Generally, I think that those who don't want to see magic fall into three groups (this is beyond being involved in a serious conversation): 1) those who have seen a horrible magician and classify all magicians as bad; 2) those who have been abused and insulted by a magician or witnessed someone being humiliated by a magician and want no part of it and 3) religious types who assume for some reason that I am in league with the devil (I have actually had a patron say that she was going to pray for my soul).

I'm not whining here. It's simply the way things are. At each table, I only ask for the privilege of an open mind and an opportunity to perform, and I know from experience that I can often leave a magic-skeptical group laughing, amazed and entertained.

You can read the original review here. You can read the rebuttal here.

I'd like to know the magician who performs at O'Bistro in San Diego. If you know, please email me. Perhaps I can do an interesting follow-up, one restaurant worker to another (and I've been in his shoes, "shooed" away as well).

More Reading
Tales From the Table: Sometimes You Just Get "Lucky"
Tales From the Table - "The Marriage Proposal"
Restaurant Magic Reader by Jim Sisti
Live at the Jailhouse: a Guide to Restaurant Magic


October 12, 2010 at 11:16 am
(1) Pablo says:

You are missing Group #4! The people who want to have a quiet meal and not have to interact with a performer. Could be a first date , post-funeral , or a pre-divorce/breakup situation ( I have had all 3) . I always ask if I am interrupting anything. Restaurant Magi need to be mindful they are invading the patron’s private space. They may like magic but they don’t want to see it at that moment.

October 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm
(2) Jack Skrip says:

Restaurant magicians should not impose magic on people who do not want to be “entertained” at that particular moment in time, for whatever reason. Period. Being a persistent magician can be worse than being a bad magician.

The goals and underlying motivation of a restaurant magician are not the same as a magician doing walkaround at, say, a corporate banquet.

I’ve gone into this in more detail in this blog post:

Like most of my posts, I take a bit of time to ramp up to the relevance to magic, but you might find it worth the time.

October 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm
(3) TimArends1 says:

I am not a restaurant magician, but I have done strolling magic, and I can say that this type of behavior, where people just don’t want to see the magician, is very common.

I did a wedding reception gig a while back and when I approached one table, they begged off, saying they were in the middle of some kind of family “crisis” (someone hadn’t arrived who was supposed to be there, I guess). I approach the table some time later when everybody was relaxed and the crisis seemed to have passed, and they still looked the other way.

I have had some good responses to my magic, but what has struck me is how seldom patrons actually call me over to perform for them. It takes a very, shall I say, aggressive approach on the part of the magician to get people to watch what he does.

Wayne gave three reasons why people may not want to watch a magician. Number one was seeing a bad magician perform and number two was being embarrassed by a magician. To me, those are both the same reason. Both fall into the category of a bad magician. The third reason Wayne gave was “religious reasons.”

I’m afraid this overlooked the most common reason that people don’t want to watch a magician of all: some people just don’t like magic. I know this is very hard for us, as magicians, to accept, but not everybody likes magic, just as not everybody likes baseball or rutabaga.

It has nothing to do with how good the magician is. Why don’t they like magic? Because they inherently know they are being fooled. Too many people equate being fooled with “being made a fool of.” Notice the one word both phrases have in common?

I invite all to read Jamy Ian Swiss’ excellent online essay “Why Magic Sucks.” His point? Many people don’t like magicians who fool them just as they don’t like politicians who fool them.

True, magic is “the Art of innocent deception” but many people still see it as a blow to their ego. Chalk it off to a failing of human nature that we will always have to deal with.

October 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm
(4) don says:

Many years ago when I was table hopping I also had this very problem (as I’m sure most still do).
I had a poster that stated “Magic at your table-side” at the entrance, and most of the time if they didn’t want to be interrupted they would tell the host.
I was always greeted with a smile and they were thrilled that I was performing at their table. I would do one or two routines and then move on, and if they wanted to see more they would ask me to stay.
Of course I would have some that stated that they didn’t want to be entertained and I would just “Thank them for coming” and exit.
The magic was to be a filler between waiting for their meal…
I’m glad that I was able to do table magic, and the Restaurant was seeing more and more return guests.

October 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm
(5) justneal says:

Family restaurants require turnover for the owners to make money. The costomers themselves are there to enjoy a mel a go somewhere else or just back home. The local Applebeys had a balloon worker for a long while, they dont anymore.
Hotel retaurants are the better venue. You have the closest thing to a captive audience as you may ever get. These resataurants suffer as the people staying at the hotel may seek less expensive meals elsewhere.
You provide the added value of entertainment and you encourage the guests of the hotel to dine in the hotel restaurant. Far less turnover.

October 14, 2010 at 6:28 am
(6) Joshua Berstecher says:

A valid point was stated above by “TimArends1″. One shouldn’t take rejection too much to heart when performing at restaurants, being that you are more than likely not the reason that patron has come to dine…that probably can be credited to food :) . That being said, however, there are methods one can employ to avoid rejection from the crowds. When performing at restaurants, especially very crowded ones, I talk to the manager ahead of time and get the okay to display small pop-up signs at each table, the idea being that if the customer should wish to be left alone, they need simply set the sign at the edge of the table, like a “Do Not Disturb” sign. On the reverse, the sign displays more of an invite to perform at that table…great for the enthusiastic family with children who wish to be entertained!
In this way, you are more likely to avoid spending time on uninterested guests, and hopefully avoid making anyone feel intruded upon. It works for me, so just my two cents, hope it helps!

October 15, 2010 at 6:38 pm
(7) Nick Maggio says:

Would a magician “shoo” another magician away from the restaurant table? Yes, I would (politely). It is all about timing, really. If a strolling magician walked up to my table shortly after we’ve been seated or even shortly after ordering, I would be uncomfortable. There is a period of acclimation that takes place at a new restaurant. During this time, the group surveys the surroundings and the other diners. Small talk has yet to be developed to any degree. Hunger might be an issue. Feelings might be a bit unsure until after beverages are brought to the table and the wait staff serves bread or appetizers. If the magician approached at a point when the group was enjoying the food, talk was peppered with pleasant laughter and a serious discussion was not underway, then, yes, it would be a good time. It is the accomplished restaurant performer who knows when to strike and how to seek willing attention. This talent only comes with experience, maturity and a sensitivity to the human condition.

October 19, 2010 at 4:23 pm
(8) Richard says:

All of the above comments are legitimate. There is always a fine line between “entertaining” and annoying. When I go to a nice Mexican restaurant, I want to talk and enjoy the food. I do not like it when the band comes right to your table for a set. Music, as good as it is, should be in the background.

That said, I found it interesting that in one sentence, “Jenny,” the restaurant reviewer, reduced herself from legitimate journalist, to stereotypical joke. She becomes the food critic of sitcoms, like “Gil Chesterton” on “Frasier.”

I will forever picture her, sitting at the table with her “friends” and saying things like, “So this is what the little people call appetizers. (chortle, chortle) Do you know who I met at the Hamptons this summer?”

This, just before the waiter trips, spilling a try of custard pies all over her. (cue laugh track . . Close-up . . . go to commercial)

October 19, 2010 at 5:12 pm
(9) Steve says:

Yeah-Doing magic in that kind of situation CAN be tough. No doubt about it!
There is something I’ve noticed though, that I never hear magicians talk about- That is, many people are socially awkward! I think that entertainers are usually outgoing people. It can be hard for us to remember that some people HATE being put on the spot and made the center of attention in a public setting. Magic is something very rarely seen, if you think about it, and I think some people are really thrown for loop when presented with magic, and don’t know how to respond! This can manifest as people seeming uninterested, and even rude.

If the magician has a GREAT personality, then that can go a long way towards ingratiating himself with patrons. But I have noticed that a lot of magicians DO NOT have great personalities, and in fact some have downright UNPLEASANT personalities. But it’s tough-because you don’t always know whether to be relaxed or energetic with a group. However-it is my experience that magicians should cultivate their personalities AT LEAST as much as their Double-Lifts and Coin Rolls. Fitzkee summed this up very well in his great book, “Showmanship For Magicians”

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