Mariachi Musicians Explain How to Get Attention (or Be Ignored)
Like any dinner performance, a mariachi band show has its own brand of etiquette. Inexperienced listeners might wonder: Should I sing along? Am I expected to tip the band? Is this a bad time to start munching loudly on a chip?
We consulted a few mariachi (pro tip: the word can refer to the music, the band, or even a single player) on how to be good audience members. Here's what Miguel Cervantes, the musical director of Mariachi Ameca, and Raul Cervantes (no relation), a member of Mariachi Tequila, had to say.
What is mariachi music?
Let's start with the basics: mariachi is a type of Mexican folk music with a big, lively sound and band outfits as loud as the instruments. Mariachi musicians rely on violins, trumpets, and guitars to play their signature songs, and often perform tableside for you and your fellow diners.
How do I arrange for a band to visit my table?
It's easy, says Miguel. "You can always ask your waiter to send the mariachis your way. If that doesn't work, then ask one of the members in the band. If you still get no response, there's probably a big spender in the place hogging [them up]."
Do bands typically take requests?
Absolutely. In fact, it's encouraged. "Requests make it much easier for the mariachi!" says Raul. "[Then there's] no guessing on what song to play for the table." Even if you don't have a specific song in mind, he still encourages you to give the band direction if you like: "Ask the band to play something happy, sad, romantic, traditional, or instrumental."
Is it impolite to eat, drink, or talk while the band performs?
Not at all. The music is supposed to enhance your meal, not hold it hostage. "We are simply performing for your listening pleasure," says Miguel.
Can I sing along if I know the song?
Both men say go for it. "Clients have a better time when they get involved, and we get to rest our vocal chords," says Miguel. Raul agrees that singing along "makes the moment even better."
What about dancing?
Again, this is completely welcome. "If I see people dancing, then I know that I'm doing my job as a musician," says Miguel.
Should I tip? If so, when, and how much?
While tips are always welcome, according to Miguel, the band's expectations can depend on the situation. "If the restaurant owner pays for our services, [we don't] expect a tip. It would be the listeners' choice." However, some mariachis rely solely on contributions from patrons, which is why Miguel says it's ok to ask the band if they're charging for their services before they play.
So how much should you tip if you choose to? Both men threw out $20 per song as a standard figure. "That may seem high, but think about how much each member is getting paid if $20 is being divided up by 10 musicians," says Miguel.
For his part, Raul recommends waiting until after the song before tipping. He also says it can be a fun time to get the kids involved. "Sometimes, small children like to give a dollar or two."
If I don't want to be disturbed, what's a polite way to get the band to bypass my table?
Don't overthink it. "A simple 'no, thank you' would suffice," says Miguel.
"Just let them know before they get started!" adds Raul. "Once the mariachi starts the song, you'll have to wait."
This article was orignally written by Carolyn Alterio and published in 2015. It has since been modified by our editors.
From churros to cajeta, these desserts will hit your sweet tooth just right.
A co-founder of The Murder Mystery Company on playing along, looking for clues, and dressing the part.
Five tips to ensure the spotlight stays on the stage, not on you.