In Restaurants, Regular is King

In Restaurants, Regular is King

Who wants to be regular? Everyone, when it comes to restaurants. Being a regular is excellent for guests, restaurants and their waitstaff. So why aren’t more people regulars?

While restaurants focus on how to bring guests to their business, many don’t prioritize turning guests into regulars. Restaurants and servers should also work on cultivating regulars to help keep their tables full. 

What better way to understand the benefits of being a regular than examining the classic TV show, Cheers, the place where ‘everyone knows your name.’ While it is true this was only a tv show; there are still lessons that can be learned.

At our essence, we are pack animals and like being around other people. That is a big reason why we go to a restaurant rather than eating at home. What Cheers did, and we think all restaurants should do, is take that guest experience to the next level. After all, that is what hospitality is? Here are some suggestions that can help turn that guest into the future ‘Norm.’

First and foremost, always read your guests and provide the dining experience they want. If and when the opportunity presents itself, create a personal connection with your guests. I always hated approaching the table and robotically introduced myself and providing my name. It felt forced and awkward. However, there were many times where it didn’t, and that is when a connection can and should be made with your guests.

It is also important to notice your guests, remember and welcome them. I was horrible at this, but it wasn’t until one interesting shift when I realized how wrong I was. I used to wait tables in Los Angeles and serving on celebrities was somewhat normal where I worked. One night another waiter asked me if it was all right for his guests to by my table a round of drinks. “Not a problem,” I said, “What’s the occasion?” The server told me the lovely older couple at my table was baseball Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax and his wife.

I’m not even a baseball fan, but Koufax was a true ledged.  The truth be told, to show you how much I knew, I thought he had passed on like Ruth and Mays. However, I was wrong, and it was Mr. and Mrs. Koufax. At the end of their meal, I did something I never did as a server. I blabbered on for some time about what a hero he was and what an honor it was to serve them. Then there was what seemed like a five-minute pause, and no one spoke. Then, with the delivery of George Carlin, Mr. Koufax said, “You know you’ve waited on us five or six times, Jon?” Amazingly, this ledged recognize his waiter yet I didn’t even know who he was or that he was a regular.  The moral of this story, remember the restaurants' regulars (especially if they are Sandy Koufax) and make them feel part of your restaurant’s family. 

Guests not only want to be around people, but they also want to feel like they belong. That is why all members of the restaurant’s team should know to recognize your guests and, at the very least, acknowledge their presence. It’s also a great idea, when applicable, to introduce guests to other guests. While the bar setting is more of a natural fit for this, whenever possible, casual introductions of guests to each other should be made. After all, what’s better than one big, happy family?

Comping guests a round of drinks, an app or dessert is a great tool to show how much your regulars mean to you and your restaurant. Everyone, no matter how wealthy they may be, loves getting something for nothing. Moreover, nothing says ‘friend’ like giving something to someone. After all, if your personal friends visited your restaurants wouldn’t you get them something? That same hospitality should be extended to your regular guests. Not every time, mind you, but often enough, so it is not expected but, instead, appreciated. I would even suggest that your server should have a specific dollar amount of comps they can provide to their guests. Can this be abused, sure, but if you trust your employees (and if you don’t, they shouldn’t be working for you) the benefits far outweigh any negatives. 

Lastly, it is an excellent idea for servers to have their business cards with their name, even if you have to pay for them yourselves (there is also a pocket in the Waiter Wallet where they can always be at the ready). After a great experience, when you drop the check, share what a pleasure it was to have waited on them. Then, present your card and say something simple like, “Please ask for me the next time you visit us. I’d look forward to seeing you again.” Not only will they likely tip someone they know better but, they will help keep your station full, even on slower shifts.

While new guests are great, having a stable of regulars will keep your restaurant full and create an environment where everyone will want to eat, drink and be merry.