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Mike Seege "The Art of Restaurant Magic" Podcast Interview

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by Christian Painter and Roland Sarlot

Mike Seege, well known Buffalo magician performs at a board table.

What We'll Explore

Mike Seege shares the inner secrets of restaurant magic including the range of pay, leveraging contacts, approaching a table, getting the servers on your side, and what really matters to the guests and owners.

Who is Mike Seege?

Awarded the "40 Under 40" for successful small business accomplishments in Buffalo, NY, Mike Seege is a busy emcee and program coordinator. However, his restaurant magic has introduced him to nearly everyone in town so he not only performs multiple evenings per week himself but manages a team of magicians performing at multiple restaurants simultaneously.

Running Time:
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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The Interview

Christian Painter: On this episode of The Magic Business Podcast...

Mike Seege: I learned that the hard way starting off. I was one of these guys that would say, "I'm better than him, and oh my God, I can't believe it. This guy is hired at this event and everything else." And then suddenly you realize, "None of that matters. None of that matters!"

Christian Painter: Welcome to The Magic Business Podcast, where we share insightful and delightful inner secrets about the business of magic. This is where magic professionals are going to present their real-life experiences and some of their most guarded secrets to help further your career in the magical arts. I'm your host, Christian Painter, in partnership with the MagicOracle.Club, where you can hear all of our magic business podcasts.

Mike Seege is a professional magician based out of Buffalo, New York. He has been awarded the 40 Under 40 for successful small business accomplishments in Buffalo. He is constantly busy as an emcee and program coordinator throughout the city because everyone knows Mike. He knows how to promote himself and he knows how to network. He is also a member of the prestigious 4F Close-Up Convention. He has multiple restaurants that he works in Buffalo. We can just call him a master of restaurant magic.

If you've ever thought about working a restaurant, pay close attention to this issue of The Magic Business Podcast. Mike, welcome to the show.

Mike Seege: Hello. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, we're going to have some fun today.

Christian Painter: I am looking forward to this because you are a master at the restaurant game and I've always said, that is a great place for everyone to start. Do you agree with that?

Mike Seege: I do agree with that. I've been doing magic for a long time and I've been doing restaurants pretty much since I started doing magic. And it's a great place to start. I don't know, i just have a lot of fun with them. I meet a ton of great people through restaurants and it's my go-to thing. I love doing them.

Christian Painter: Now, if I were to look at your business model, how much of your business is working restaurants?

Mike Seege: I'd say about a third of it.

Christian Painter: So, that's significant.

Mike Seege: Oh yeah. Definitely. Yeah. I'm a full-time performer. I do okay and a third of it from restaurants, yeah, definitely.

Christian Painter: So before we dive into actually working a restaurant, let's get the naysayers out that because I've heard this a lot, "Well, you can't really make any money working restaurants."

Mike Seege: I would disagree with that. I think the problem with that statement is there are a ton of magicians that do not make a ton of money doing restaurants. And I think that is why they believe. I remember hearing one time at one of those meetings where I happened to go, a guy came into lecture saying, "Hey, if you want to go, this restaurant's looking for somebody to do some magic and for every two hours that you would do magic, they will give you a meal."

And I started laughing thinking, "Well, this is obviously a joke. Come on." And then they just went onto the next topic and I'm going like, "What? For real?" And I looked at my friend next to me and he goes, "Yeah, they're paying them in pudding." And I go, "Okay." So if that's what guys want to do, that's great, but I think restaurants are a great place where you can go and you can make some great money, some great tip money, plug yourself, come up with new effects, try stuff out. I mean, you have everything rolled into one right there. Where else can you go, try out material, be the star of the night, week after week after week?

Christian Painter: So before I even go back to any of the pay, let's talk about, it's not like you work one restaurant.

Mike Seege: No, no, no. As a matter of fact, I mean, things are a lot different now because of COVID and everything else but at one time, we were doing... I myself was at five myself throughout the week and then there was a chain where there were four restaurants in this chain and I had guys going to the different locations every week, four different guys rotating. And then I would every once in a while, throw myself in there just to bounce around, check with the managers, make sure everything was going good. I kind of ran that whole entire thing, the restaurants paid me, and then I paid the guys.

Christian Painter: So let's put this in perspective, five restaurants plus you're controlling others.

Mike Seege: Yeah.

Christian Painter: And you're not in New York City. You're not in LA, you're not in some mega metropolis. You're in Buffalo, New York.

Mike Seege: Buffalo, New York.

Christian Painter: I was thinking about what they were telling you at the magic club about, "Oh, they'll pay you in pudding." But to be fair, I mean, my very first restaurant, I just worked for tips and a meal, but it was my first restaurant. I was just hoping that I wouldn't look like an idiot, and I think that's okay. But then later, once you have established your chops, then I mean, not getting paid would be crazy. Wouldn't you agree?

Mike Seege: If you want to go out and mess around on a Wednesday night and get a meal, yeah, that's great. But if you want to make some money and if you sit down and map out where you want to be in one month, three months, five months, a year, it's just like anything else, if you put your mind to it, if you set goals and work hard towards those goals, everything will come.

The restaurants that I've been at right now, I'm at four of them right now. I've been at two of them 13 years, one of them 10 years, and the other one 15 years. And it's one of those things where you just go, "Okay, well, what can I do? If I can get some new promo cards to put up at the hostess stand or over by the bar area so people can see them. Yeah." I mean, it's simple work just to make those up, get them printed, bring them in. It's money out of my own pocket, but in the long run, I mean...

Christian Painter: Wait a minute, let's go to those cards for a minute. So you're using those so that people will now request you? Is that what you're hoping to do?

Mike Seege: No, it's just simply advertising cards. It's not really a business card, it's almost like a postcard or it just says, "Wednesday night kids eat free 5 to 8 PM. Magician Mike Seege is here entertaining tableside. Come on in. Enjoy a great meal. Get some great entertainment. Every single Wednesday here," and it's got the restaurant's name, the restaurant's phone number, the restaurant's address and everything else. And it's simply that if somebody's there and they grab it and they go, "Oh yeah, I got to remember this. Or I got to bring my grandkids or I got to take my kids." Or, "Hey, Wednesday, we have gymnastics. We should stop here afterwards. It's on the way home." They see it again, it's not really advertising. I mean it's advertising me, not advertising me to book me for shows, it's just advertising me at that restaurant.

Christian Painter: And now the restaurant loves that because you got people coming there because, "Oh, we want to see the magician."

Mike Seege: Yeah. And it's little things that you do, stuff like that, that the owner goes, "Hey, look at this guy. I mean, he's doing this all on his own and he's..." I mean, do you have to do that stuff? No, you don't have to but I don't know how many restaurants will keep you around if you don't put in a little effort to-

Christian Painter: And that ladies and gentlemen is worth the price of this whole podcast right there.

Let me go back a step again. So let's say I've been at my lower end restaurant for six months, I've got the hang of this now, I know how to do stuff. I'm ready to now go to a step up in the restaurant chain and work for money. So what's a good... because let's remember now, I've only got six months, maybe, of experience. What's a good starting price to ask?

Mike Seege: That is going to vary on where you are and what city you're in. And I should say this and I should go back because I don't want anybody to think that there's something wrong working for free. And the reason that I say that is, you kind of made me think of something when you said, what's a good price to ask? It depends on what city you're in. I know friends and they live in Manhattan and they used to go and work restaurants for free. And the reason that they used to work for free, they'd work these cocktail hours, they'd come in and they'd do this magic and then be free. And they'd get a ton of corporate shows from people that were just stopping for a drink after work, happy hour and everything else.

That is because of where they're located in Manhattan and that happens. Here in Buffalo, we don't really have that type of scene downtown. I mean, yeah, it's there a little bit, but if I want to do something like that, I mean I've established myself so much here in Buffalo that I have those connections already from the events that I host or emcee or that I've worked other ways to get those connections. So to start off, I mean, it all depends on how long you want to work, where you are.

Christian Painter: Not being from LA or New York, so if you do land a higher end restaurant, what do you think is a... I know it's hard by section of the country, that's why I'm going to say, think of being smaller cities. What's a good higher end that you think is possible to be hired at a restaurant?

Mike Seege: I would say like 150 bucks, 200 bucks. I mean, if you're getting 200 bucks, I'd be happy with that. I'd be really happy with that. And I'm just being honest. I mean I know that there's guys out there that are going to go, "Well, I wouldn't leave my house unless I'm making 350 a night," and I always go, "Okay, well whatever. You're an idiot." I'm making a living doing magic. I'm not driving Uber. I'm not doing anything else. I'm doing magic. So yes, I might get paid a little less than you, but I'm doing magic for a living and I'm happy with what they pay me.

I always used to go in, and the way I would pitch it was, one of the things I would pitch is I'd come out and I'd go, "Listen, it's..." Whatever you want to say, "such price for two hours but if you have me three hours, it's only 25 bucks more," or whatever. And you have these places that go, "Well, yeah. Obviously I'd have you for three hours." And my attitude was, you're out for the night already, whether you work two hours or three hours, I mean it's not like you're getting off the restaurant on a Tuesday night and suddenly going out partying. I mean, you're going home afterwards. So what does it matter, two hours, three hours?

So I would always try to pitch the three hour gig. I always try to shoot for the 5:00 to 8:00 time slot and my thought was always like, "Well, yeah, the first half hour is dead but they know that it's going to pick up. And then that last half hour, it's slow, but again, the night's winding down." So, you really work two hours, but you're there for three and you got paid for three.

Christian Painter: I think again, young people who maybe have not worked a restaurant before, think, "Okay, I'm ready. I'm going to load up." They're loading up like they will never go back to their house for three months. You know where I'm going already.

Mike Seege: Oh, yeah.

Christian Painter: Because they got five tricks in each pocket.

Mike Seege: So I'd do something a little different than most people when it comes to restaurants. You will get to a point when you're working restaurants enough that you will get to a point where people are coming in to see you. And they're just coming in because they know you're there that night. They don't even want to see any magic anymore, they're just, "Hey, Mike's here. We got to stop." Be like, "Yeah, how you doing? Blah, blah, blah."

Or if you were working a kids' night, and like some of these places I've been at so long, their kids are no longer kids. Their kids are in high school or their kids are in college, but yet these couples are still coming in to see me because they feel like we're good friends and they like me and I like them and we can talk about everything. And, "Oh my God, I can't believe that she's starting her senior year of high school. I remember when she used to come in here and she was in fifth grade."

Magic-wise, here's what I do. I walk up to a table, someone, the hostess sits everybody down, I do this. I walk up, I introduce myself. I say, "Hi, my name is Mike Seege. I'm the magician here on Monday nights. Thank you so much for coming in." By the way, I should let you know, most of the places I work are family restaurants. So it's like a kids eat free thing. I always try to plug that when I walk up to a table. So I'll go, "Hey, listen. My name is Mike Seege. I'm the magician. It's kids' night. Kids are eating free tonight and I'm here, we're going to do some magic. If you guys eat good," and I look right at the kids and I go, "If you guys eat good, we're going to come back. We're going to do some magic and we'll have a lot of fun. If you eat really, really well, we're going to come back and we're going to do extra tricks for you."

Now I leave. I just say, hi. I'm there for 40 seconds. I leave. That immediately tells them, I hear it as soon as I start to walk away, parents going, "You hear that? You better eat good." They're focused on those kids eating. I leave. I let the server take the order, take the drink order, take the food order. Now I come over and sometimes, if it's slow, I will walk up and go, "Listen, I'll tell you what, I was going to wait until afterwards, but I want to do this for you." And I make them feel special and I say, "We're going to do a trick." And we do one trick. And then I say, "Okay, after you're done eating, I'm going to come back and do that other trick because I know you're going to eat well." And I say that to the kids and then I leave.

And then when they're done eating, I walk back up and I do one more trick. I'm not doing a set for 30 minutes. I'm doing one or two tricks and my attitude is, I've been to that table now three or four times, they have enough of me that they love me because they love the magic, they love the attention that I've given them. But I've also done that intentionally because I'm not giving them everything I have. I'm giving them one or two things because guess what? Next Tuesday or next Wednesday, I'm going to be there again. I want them to come back and see me and see what else I have. "We got to see what else this guy has."

So that's my whole attitude. I know guys that walk up and they'll do a set for 15 minutes and that's great. If that's the way they want to work, that's fine. I guess everybody works differently but for me, I hit those tables three, four times, and then as they're leaving, I make sure I say, "Oh, thanks for coming in. Don't forget, next week I'll be here. I hope to see you guys again." You're giving them attention. You're essentially doing what that owner wants. You're making them happy.

Christian Painter: And I'm going to guess, because in the introduction we talked about, you do a lot of work in Buffalo. I'm going to guess a lot of that comes from the fact of what you're just saying now, you make people feel special, so when they have events or when they have things and they go, "Hey, we need somebody. I know exactly who we can use."

Mike Seege: Yeah. I've been very, very fortunate in that, and that all does go back to the restaurants. I've been very fortunate to just work hard and fall into the right places. And I don't know if this is going to work for everybody, I know a lot of magicians are not sports people, but when the Buffalo Sabres need somebody to do their Halloween party for the kids or their Christmas party for the players or whatever, I mean, I'm the guy they call. The Pegula family, I mean, they own the Bills, they own the Sabres, they have me every year at their picnic for all the teams, the Sabres, the Bills, the Bandits.

And again, that's something that you look back and go, "Okay, yeah, I'm doing restaurants, but look at the people I'm working for. And these people, I mean back when the Sabres... I'm sorry, when the Bills were Super Bowl contenders years and years ago, Jim Kelly and all those guys, I mean I've worked Jim Kelly's golf outing for the past, I don't even know, 15 years? And that all stems from a woman seeing me at a restaurant and she said, "We have a Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. I have a party coming up next Thursday. Do you want to work it?" "Yeah." Boom. I work it. She goes, "You were great. Listen, I run the Jim Kelly golf tournament. I'm going to put you there."

I mean, these are celebrities from all over the country come in to golf at this, it's a celebrity tournament. They see me, everybody's asking for my card, and next thing you know, Andre Reed's getting inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and he goes, "I need you there. I need you to work my party, man. I want my party to be the best. I need you there." "Okay." Boom. Next thing you know, I'm there. And I mean, I know that chain from that, I can tell you that night, I can tell you exactly where I was standing when I met that woman and...

Christian Painter: It's not because you walked up and you did a 15 minute killer set. This is because you have ingratiated yourself, you make people feel special, you've talked to them. We haven't even done magic yet. They're just happy. They're excited when you finally do it but you have made yourself a personality and a friend. And I think that gets missed on a lot of people who, they're so busy worried about, "Well, what's my opener? What's my middle? What's my closer at this restaurant set?" And you're not even in that world. You're somewhere else.

Mike Seege: Yeah. Yeah. Not at all. I mean, you couldn't have said it any better. I mean, the tricks are just... I mean, yes, don't get me wrong, you want to entertain them and you want to fool them and you want them to go, "I don't know how the hell this guy just did what he did," but it's about making them feel special. And I will tell you this, I learned that the hard way starting off. I was one of these guys that would say, "I'm better than him and oh my God, I can't believe that this guy's hired at this event." And everything else, people would ask me.

Christian Painter: "My double lift is better."

Mike Seege: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and then suddenly you realize like, "None of that matters." None of that matters!

Christian Painter: How long do you think it took you before you felt like, "I understand this and I am really good at it now?"

Mike Seege: It took a while. As full of myself as I am, sometimes I'm 180 degrees opposite. "Nobody likes this and what am I doing?" So I'm always second guessing myself on a lot of things.

Christian Painter: You didn't answer though. For the younger listeners, because they're going to think, "Well, I've worked this restaurant for three months, I'm a master now." And no, you've now learned how to not be in the way of the waitress.

Mike Seege: Yeah. Yeah.

Christian Painter: But really, before you kind of understood it's about being a personality, it's about being an ambassador, it's about that, how long do you think it took you? A year? Two years?

Mike Seege: I think it took a couple years before I thought to myself, "Okay, I'm pretty decent at this." And like you just said, and this is another thing, this is very, very important. This is... I could not stress this enough. You mentioned the servers. The number one thing I try to do at any restaurant or tried to do at any restaurant was to get the servers on your side. Because in my opinion, the servers are only there to help you. If they like you... I always say, "Hey, my name's Mike, and this is the deal and I'm the magician. And listen, if you need a couple extra minutes at a table because they overcooked the steak or they did something, just let me know I'll go over and I'll do some stuff."

And I always just tried to go out of my way to make those servers feel special, even if it was little jokes. I'm finishing up a set or a trick and they're dropping off a meal. And I always go, "Oh, you guys got my favorite. She's..." Little silly stuff like that. And my feeling was, if they have a team meeting Sunday morning and manager goes, "Yeah, what does everybody think about this magician? I know we've had him for a couple months. What does everybody think?" If those servers don't like you, they're going to go, "Yeah, no, just get rid of this guy." But if they like you, they're going to go, "Oh Mike, are you kidding? He's great. He's awesome at our tables and everything else." And that might save you.

Christian Painter: There you go again, right there again, this little bit of advice is worth the price of the lecture. I mean, that's twice that I can say, people need to pay attention. All right, Mike, we're coming down to the end of the interview. Because we're on the MagicOracle.Club and what we like to say is our guests are the oracles. In this moment, you are the oracle of which people are seeking knowledge. What's the question they never ask that you're like, "This is a question you should be asking me?"

Mike Seege: That is a tough question but I guess they should ask me but along with asking me, they should ask their self is, are they ready to work a restaurant? It's easy to say, "I'm going to go do this and I'm going to make this money and I'm going to be great and everything else," but are they ready? Do they truly, truly feel that they are ready to entertain and put a good feeling about magic in people's lives? And I mean, you and I know we do what we do because we love to do it, we're good at it, we impact people's lives and we make them feel better. And everything we do is for the good.

Are they going to be ready to go up to a restaurant and someone... A perfect example, I had a family come in a couple years ago. They come in every Monday, every single Monday, they come in. And they come in this time and the mom is kind of sad and the daughter looks like she's sad, and the dad's just got this look on his face. And I go, "What's going on?" And the daughter goes, she's a teenager, she goes, "I need everything you have today to make me smile." And I go, "You got it. What do we need to do?" And I just start being silly and joking around and find out that they'd just came from a doctor's appointment where the dad had less than six months to live.

And you go like, "Holy crap." And now he's no longer here, but that mom and daughter still come in every Monday and I did everything I could. So, are you ready to take that challenge on? To go, "Yeah, I'm here for them?" You're not there to get a pat on the back, you're there to give them pats on the back. "Thank you for coming in."

Christian Painter: Ah, that's brilliant.

Mike Seege: I tell them, "I wouldn't be doing my magic unless people like you came in here. So thank you for coming in. Yes. We had a lot of fun, but we had fun because you guys came in tonight to see me."

Christian Painter: That is brilliant, Mike. I think that is... No, seriously, that's amazing. And also, a perfect way to end this interview. Mike, thank you so much for being a part of this. This has been amazing.

Mike Seege: Oh my goodness. Thank you.

Christian Painter: Thank you for listening to our Magic Business Podcast. Please visit the MagicOracle.Club where you can hear all of our Magic Business Podcasts and enjoy a vast array of additional magical knowledge. I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Seneca, a Roman statesman and writer, and this just goes to show you, nothing much changes in life. And his quote is, "He who makes timid requests invites denial." So what he's telling you is, be bold. As always, we at The Magic Oracle wish you continued success on your path in the magical arts.

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