Cover charges

Cover charges
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Cover Charges:  What’s in a Cover Charge?
Written by Mellilah

People have asked, “Why a cover charge? We often have a hard time paying the flat fees, cover charges, that are sometimes collected at restaurants and bars that have live bands or other entertainment. Especially when the cover charge is high, it’s easy to think that you don’t need to make a purchase of food/drink. However, the reality is that the restaurant and the entertainment need to succeed financially in order for both parties to continue, and it costs a lot of money to put on a show.

Here are some Q&A’s that will shed some light on, cover charges:

Do cover charges go directly to the entertainers? It depends. Ask when you enter.

How much does it cost to pay for a live Middle Eastern band and dancers? A live band can cost between $500-1000 if it’s a regular gig, much more if it’s a one-time event, depending on the number of band members and the type of gig. This money is usually divided equally among the members. A professional belly dancer in Seattle gets paid between $80-120 for regular shows and about double if it’s one-time event or private party. (Band and dancer fees listed are based on the standard for Seattle, WA in 2009.) Remember that this money covers the time spent getting ready, travel time, setting up, wait time, performing, promotional materials, practice time, instruments/props/costuming, etc… for both the musicians and the dancers. This money must come from a cover charge or the establishment must generate additional business to offset the costs.

Are there other expenses in running a show? Yes, there are advertising costs and sometimes added security, special lighting, and/or sound equipment is often needed. Some shows require a soundman or other technician. The person who works the door needs to get paid. Sometimes the performers pay for these things, sometimes the owner. Either way, the costs must be offset by an increase in patrons, customer purchases, and/or the cover charge.

If the owner allows the performers to collect and keep the cover charge themselves, how many people will be needed in order to pay the performers fairly? With a $10 cover charge, you’d need 70 people just to pay 7 performers $100 each. Look around next time you are at an event and do the math. It is super difficult to have a Middle Eastern band and dancer/s with anything less than a $15 cover charge. (Cover charge multiplied by approximate # of peeps, divided by the number of performers.)

If I have already paid the cover, then do I need to make a purchase, too? Yes, you should support the establishment, too. If the customers sip on one drink all night or ask for water, the owner will most likely be forced to discontinue the entertainment or find a band that attracts a larger or hungrier crowd. So, if you like the show, you should support it by making a purchase, returning, and spreading the word!

What if the owner is keeping the cover charge? Then, the owner is taking on the risk of losing money instead of the performers, in the event the night is a flop; or the owner may gain if it’s super successful. Hopefully the owner is paying the performers a fair price. If you’re not sure, ask. You’ll still need to support the venue by making purchases, otherwise where will the money come from to pay the performers? Again, the owner may cancel the entertainment if it is a loss.

The price for drinks/food seems expensive! I’ve seen owners charge more for food/drink to help offset the cost of the entertainment, especially if the performers are keeping the revenue at the door. To me, this doesn’t sound like an ethical way to gain the needed revenue. If the place were absolutely packed, then I would definitely complain.

I hope this info sheds some light on where there are cover charges, in hopes that you’ll come out and support the shows that we all love so much without feeling like you’ve been “had.” Because the bottom line is: It costs a lot more than you realize to produce a show. Of course, remember that your money is a vote for the future. So, support the shows that you want to succeed.

Before you leave, do not forget to tell the owner that you came to see the performers! This will help encourage the owner to support additional shows.

Mellilah belly dancing at Prohibition Grille in Everett with live Arabic band.

Belly dancing in Everett with MB Orchestra

Mellilah has produced several shows, including Middle Eastern shows with belly dancing and live bands and a monthly variety show. For more info about the author, visit

About Mellilah Jamal

Mellilah teaches belly dance classes in Redmond and Bothell and performs for private parties and restaurants throughout Seattle.

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