If only barter was still a type of payment!
It wouldn't be a problem: you pay my electricity usage for a year, and every Saturday I perform at your restaurant for free. Deal.
No muss, no fuss.
The problem is that our society works with money. And even if it’s so hard to believe, yes: artists have to pay bills too!
So, when people ask: “I can’t pay you, but what if I offer you the dinner?”, they put you in a situation where you have to find other ways to survive.
You may choose to say yes to that kind of offer (if you are a student and you have to build up your experience and your resume), but there are a couple of things you need to know.
First of all, what they are offering, in other industries is called fringe benefits: they are forms of payment (not in money) that may vary depending on the industry: they can be car expenses, gift vouchers, products or services…
My point is that fringe benefits do NOT substitute the payment in cash and are just one of the sections of a remuneration package.
So, if your client cannot pay your full cachet, you can arrange with them a discount on the amount paid with money, in exchange for other things: car park, free or discounted products/services etc.
An example: one time I performed in a fine winery, and in that specific occasion I got paid 75% of my cachet in cash, while the remaining 25% was a payment in sparkling and red wines!
This gives them the chance to pay a discounted price for the performance, and it gives you a package that doesn’t lower your pay rate.
The key word in this whole scenario is to compromise: you have to find a solution that satisfies both parties.
Finally, do not accept their conditions just because you don’t want to argue, or because you are afraid to lose a potential performance. If you say yes once, you won’t be likely to get your conditions the next time, and this will affect other performers too (remember: we are all in the same boat and we have to work as a team in this!).
If your client insists and doesn’t accept any compromise at all, don’t transform yourself into the Hulk: just smile and move on.