Though I had been doing magic for two and a half years, I was just wrapping up my first year of performing part-time professionally. It was a dream come true – to get paid to perform – especially at the age of 18.

Within the first six months, I had already negotiated a 100% pay raise. Within my second six months, I booked a second restaurant and began performing regular birthday parties. I was making more money than my friends with “real jobs,” all while working no more than 10 hours per week. This is the story of…

How I Negotiated Two Restaurant Pay Raises in a Year

While a lot of folks in the magic community are happy to give advice online, I find that few are willing to give personal, in-depth stories, with real pay rates, or detail the principles and tactics that made them successful. I think that type of information can be incredibly useful, and want to share it with you today. For those of you just starting in the world of performing magic for money, or those still thinking about it, I hope you find this helpful!

negotiating pay raise numbers

The Numbers: More Money for Less Time

I walked into the manager’s office at the end of my 3-hour walk around performance, and asked if he had a few minutes. When I left that office a few minutes later, we had agreed to raise my hourly rate by 50%, while also reducing the amount of hours I worked by 33%.

With only a year of professional performance experience, I would now be making $30 per hour, with a two-hour performance expectation.

When I started in the restaurant, I wanted the experience more than I wanted to make a lot of money. My first agreement with this restaurant was 2 hours for $12.50 per hour, and a free meal at the end of the night.

Within 6 months, I renegotiated to $20 per hour for three hours, after my initial request for $25 per hour for 2 hours was rejected. And within another 6 months, I raised my rate to $30 per hour, and cut my hours down to 2 per night, to make the performance more manageable. Looking back on all of my professional experience, I think that anyone can earn this kind of money with the right approach.

The Conversation: A Tipping Point

negotiating scale

When I tell this story to friends and other magicians, they often ask me, “What did you say?” But the conversation itself was simple. It went more or less like this:

General Manager: Hey Justin, Jenn told me you were a huge help tonight when the kitchen got backlogged. Thanks for that, are you having anything to eat before you go?

Me: No thanks Tom, but I did want to ask you something if you have a minute.  

GM: Shoot.  

Me: Are you satisfied with the services that I’m providing the guests and your restaurant?

GM: Yes, we’ve had guests leaving positive comments at the hostess station on their way out. Why?

Me: Would you be open to a discussion about raising my rates?  

GM: Sure, what were you thinking?

Me: I think we should raise my hourly rate to $30 per hour, and that it would be better for us all if I worked two hours per night instead of three.

GM: That sounds fine, let’s go with that starting next week.

Now, when I tell this story to others, they usually react with “you are so lucky” or “that wouldn’t work for me!” They think this because, in their mind, it was my ability to ask in a convincing way that led to a straightforward yes. On paper, and without context, it’s certainly a little mind-boggling – after all, he just said yes! I wouldn’t be surprised if you were thinking something similar.

But the reason that this worked had very little to do with my wording, or the tone of my voice, or the phase of the moon! The conversation is really just the tipping point: I got the answer I wanted because I had spent weeks preparing. Without laying that foundation in advance, the GM probably would have told me to take a hike.

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The Foundation: A Real Business Relationship

The reason that he agreed to raise my rates was because we had a real business relationship, and we both knew it. A real business relationship is when two equal parties deliver real value to each other. The key here is the value that each side delivers – that’s what makes rate raises, promotions, and new projects happen. negotiating handshake

The value I delivered to the restaurant was many-fold: I pacified stressed guests, created distraction when the kitchen was under pressure, brought in repeat diners, relieved stress from the servers, and enhanced the dining-out experience for children and adults alike. In return, the restaurant provided me with a place to develop my skills, promote my business, and earn money.

But beyond delivering value, I made sure the restaurant staff and management saw the value I brought. Ensuring that your business partner sees your value is key to creating better results. While there are many, many tactics to ensure you’re delivering the right value and the right people hear about it, you must remember the principle that they all relate to. The principle, which can help you make more money, source more gigs, and even receive better reactions, is this: deliver value before you expect anything in return.

About the Author:
Justin Grabowski is the founder of Skild Magic, a blog helping magicians earn more money. When he's not writing blog posts or practicing effects, he can be found at the gym or out making new friends.


If you have any questions, ideas, or comments for Justin, please leave them below!