Dallas Convention Woes

Mary Kay convention pumps millions into Dallas economy but little into waiters' pockets

Downtown Dallas restaurants brace for Mary Kay conventioneers

Mary Kay pink Cadillacs
Mary Kay's 50th anniversary Cadillac Rally block party in 2013. Photo courtesy of Mary Kay
Mary Kay seminar
Mary Kay seminar attendees line up for registration. Photo courtesy of Mary Kay
Mary Kay pink Cadillacs
Mary Kay seminar

If it's July in Dallas, that means the annual Mary Kay convention hits downtown, where more than 30,000 attendees are anticipated at this year's seminar, taking place from July 16 to August 2.

Mary Kay began hosting this event in downtown in 1974, making it the longest running annual event at the (now) Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the event pumps $32.1 million into the Dallas economy.

But into restaurant waiters' pockets, maybe not so much.

 Mary Kay spokesman Crayton Webb said he understood the restaurants' plight, but for some at the seminar, even attending is a financial challenge.

"They're seeing pink. I'm seeing red," quipped restaurant owner Joe Groves, who said that his West End diner Ellen's Southern Kitchen has been beset by customers taking up table space and ordering water only, or leaving tips of 10 percent or less.

The downtown branch of Campisi's has been especially hard-hit, said one staffer who asked not to be named.

"They've been terrible tippers; it's hard to find one that gives you more than 13 percent," the staffer said. "One table split a single pizza, asked to pay with five credit cards, and then tipped a dollar. When we see Mary Kay, we know what we're going to get, and there's nothing we can do."

"I won't go into detail, but we don't like this time of the year," said a server at Iron Cactus. An employee at Italian restaurant Porta Di Roma was philosophical. "That's the way it is with conventioneers," he said.

Mary Kay spokesman Crayton Webb said he understood the restaurants' plight, but for some at the seminar, even attending is a financial challenge.

"These women loyally and willingly come to Dallas in the middle of the summer, and they pay their own way," Webb said. "Some have just started their businesses. They are coming on their own dime and their own time.

"They're trying to be responsible. Many have roommates. They're trying to figure out how to do the seminar and still be economical."

One manager at Dallas Fish Market said they hadn't seen many Mary Kay ladies. "They're easy to spot," he said.

"I think because of our price range, we don't get as many, but the less expensive restaurants see a higher influx," he said. "For us, when it's a party of six or more, we can always add a service charge."

At Y.O. Ranch, they were preparing for a group of 100 attendees. "We're Mary Kay central," said manager Michael Street. "I can't answer the tip situation, but for us, any convention is good."

A server at Sol Irlandes, the Mexican restaurant at Stone Street Gardens, said that "you gotta take the good with the bad," and bad tippers are part of the job.

"The thing about Mary Kay is that the place is going to be full," he said. "And really, the Baptists, the church folks, are the worst. We had a Baptist convention last month. They like to tip God and forget the servers."