In the San Francisco food community, Marcia Gagliardi is best known as “the tablehopper” but many queers remember the popular nightlife events (think +Rehab+ and feather) she co-produced before launching tablehopper.com. When Marcia isn’t dining out and gossiping about the San Fran restaurant and bar scene, she’s busy running a small business and adding to her writing credits. So grab a table for two to nosh on these money questions. Enjoy!
1. How many nights a week do you table hop on your own dime? How did you learn to eat out on the cheap?
I’m usually out six nights a week, so I’d say a couple nights are on my own dime, a couple nights because I’m invited by restaurants or publicists, and the final two are events where I’m probably drinking my dinner, ha ha.
2. Alcohol will always ratchet up the dining bill. What tips can you share for ordering wine or cocktails on a budget?
Well, one thing that helps me is I really have to watch my figure, especially in this profession, so unless the restaurant has put together an interesting cocktail program, I’ll often forgo an initial cocktail and order something like a glass of bubbly that will take me into the first course (especially if a food-friendly rose sparkling is offered!). Then I’ll just order a glass of wine for the entree/second course—I also like to order half-bottles to share with a dining partner, which is something I’m seeing offered more and more on wine lists.
3. What is your most significant memory about money?
When I was laid off from my advertising job in 2000, that first year as a freelancer I had two-thirds of my previous salary go away. It was the biggest shock to my finances, and taught me how little I could get by on. I didn’t like it, not one bit, but it really forced me to revaluate what is truly “essential.”
4. What is your worst habit around finances?
I am terrible at saving, partly because there are so many things I can put money towards, from computer equipment to maintaining my Italian sports car to paying off the VISA. And everything I eat and drink can be chalked up to “research,” so I have to remind myself that a little restraint now will most likely be helpful to me later (both financially, and calorie-wise!).
5. How does one start a business on a shoestring?
I wish I had started tablehopper with a bit more capital, because the initial costs of getting your website up and identity package done (and business cards printed) aren’t cheap. Befriend a designer, and try to work out some trade on anything you need! Figure out what your skills are, and what you can offer.
You also need to prepare yourself for a very intense start-up period of work work work—tablehopper is only a third of the work I do because it still doesn’t pay me enough (yet). You have to figure out where your additional income will come from while your business is getting started; I supplement my income with additional copywriting and marketing gigs.
Say goodbye to your free time to do things like watch movies and read magazines—I had to cancel my Netflix and my pile of unread mags is tragic right now. But I know it won’t always be like this, and since I love what I do, I don’t mind all the extra work hours.
Oh, and make sure you start or are part of a support group of fellow freelancers or self-employed types—it keeps you from working in a vacuum, you learn invaluable tips from each other, and it’s important to have the support of people in your life who understand the challenges of what you’re creating.
Another thing is not all creative projects will generate money, but they might create community, great contacts, or just good memories. When I was throwing parties with my friend Ryan Robles, like +Rehab+ and feather, we weren’t pulling much money when all was said and done because we wanted the creative class to come to our parties, so we didn’t charge a heavy cover charge, if at all. We were so proud of all the parties we created and hosted—it was a wonderful way to showcase the talents of all our creative friends, from visual artists to drag performers to obscure DJs. People still ask me when I am going to do another party, but I tell them I can only do one non-cash-generating project at a time (LOL).
6. How did you learn to work effectively from home? What were some of the challenges?
I feel like I was built to work from home—I can stay really focused on my task at hand. I know some people like to watch TV or read during the day, but I don’t have time even think about messing around like that. I don’t let myself do lunch meetings anymore either since they interrupt the day too much—I try to keep focused and stay on task throughout the day.
I will let myself run a few errands during the week to take advantage of my flexible hours, like get groceries or go to yoga in the middle of the day, and trade off by working on Saturdays. I actually get my best writing done on the weekend because people aren’t emailing or calling as much. I also am a night owl, so I tend to stay up late writing and working—I am so grateful I can make my own hours because I have never been a morning girl.
7. Is there truth to the saying do what you love and the money will follow?
Absolutely. I feel like when you’re on track, things just fall into place. I have had incredible synchronicity with the tablehopper venture—things keep happening that reaffirm I’m doing all the right things by following my passion. It’s more than being smart—you also have to be an optimist and trust things, be confident things will work out. Not to sound hippie-dippy, but belief and pride in what you’re doing creates good energy, and people respond to it. You will also work harder, and better, because you’re doing what you love.
8. Name three inexpensive dining experiences where you can take a date without breaking the bank?
Well, I adore ethnic eats, and am grateful for how inexpensive those dinners can be! A couple faves are Korean or Vietnamese cuisine. One cheap eats spot I love is Bodega Bistro on Larkin Street in San Francisco, a simply delicious Vietnamese place—and there’s a cute bar, Olive, just up the street that’s a perfect hideout for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Another idea is why does a date have to be dinner? I think lunch is often more comfortable, and certainly easier on the pocketbook.
Lastly, there are some great early-bird/prix-fixe specials offered at a lot of restaurants—granted, you’ll probably be dining with an older crowd, but you’ll be out early enough to catch a movie!
9. What suggestions do you have for managing finances when you no longer have an employer automatically deducting taxes and retirement contributions?
First, MAKE YOUR QUARTERLY PAYMENTS. One year I didn’t, and boy, did I regret it later. Find a good accountant to handle your taxes, ideally someone who has other freelance or self-employed clients so they can give you good tips—just ask some of your self-employed friends who they use (and like). And do your best to create a cash cushion for yourself—sometimes checks are late, or you get sick, or the expenses rack up and suddenly you are short on funds.
10. How does money play a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
It used to be a non-issue in my romantic relationships, but then a boyfriend left me holding the bag on a big fat debt, so I am never lending money to someone I am dating, ever again. In fact, I am no longer dating anyone who makes less money than I do—I am so done dating creative-artist-musician-slackers, I don’t care how cute or sexy or smart they are. I can and do pay my own way, but no more dead weight.
More about Marcia Gagliardi
A freelance food writer for the past five years, and a resident of San FranDisco for 13, Marcia (rhymes with Garcia) Gagliardi is perhaps best known in the food community as “the tablehopper.” Her cheeky weekly e-column, archived on tablehopper.com, recently launched in 2006. The tablehopper e-column is chock-full of insider news and gossip about the San Francisco restaurant and bar scene, covering what’s hot, opening or closing, along with restaurant reviews, culinary events, and even star sightings in bars and restaurants. You can subscribe for free at tablehopper.com.
Marcia was voted “Most Obsessive Restaurant Informant” by 7×7 magazine and “Best Fresh Scuttlebutt” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She also writes for San Francisco magazine, has a tailor-made monthly tablehopper column for the Northside paper, and is the Regional Managing Editor for Northern California for Gayot.com.
Marcia’s background includes working as an advertising copywriter and traffic manager, and she also co-produced a variety of memorable nightlife events in San Francisco, like +Rehab+ and feather with her partner in crime, Ryan Robles. Marcia and Ryan’s parties were part of their mission to “Put the disco back in San Francisco,” and were known for their unique concepts and damned good music, always drawing an eclectic and mighty nice crowd.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.