At restaurants, VIPs become VIPs in a number of ways. Some are friends with the owners or the chef before the place opens. Some are investors. Some are big-shot editors or celebs. And some, over time, cement themselves as regulars. That’s done by visiting frequently and continuing to spend money (and leave good tips), but also by befriending the team. Lots of restaurants use reservation systems to keep tabs on how often guests are dining plus POS technology for insight into how much they’re spending, and can choose to acknowledge folks for that behavior. Furthermore, operators train their staff to recognize repeat diners and to treat them as such. In most cases, however, the guest has to put in some work as well.
People who love restaurants and understand how they operate see the upside of this sort of relationship. If there’s a spot in their neighborhood they go to often, a place making food they’re crazy about or with a vibe that can’t be beaten, they want to solidify the warm feeling they have when they’re there by making it reciprocal. And of course, they want to dine often (read: be able to snag a table when others can’t).
There are tactics to achieving this. Introduce yourself early on. Ask for their name. Say “great to see you again” when you arrive. On your way out, say, “thanks for everything. I’ll be back soon.” The list goes on. This kind of banter can be carried out with any given staff member, although ideally, it’s with a general manager or the owner or the chef—someone with the power to add notes to your name in the guestbook.
Here’s the thing, though. It seems easy, but it’s not for everyone. For starters, lots of people are shy. Bold extroverts are rewarded in this race. Secondly—and this is what drives me crazy—men have more tools at their disposable to get chummy. Plus, we all know that more men are restaurant owners and head chefs than women.
“Hey, man” is a greeting that I will never utter. It’s a bro-to-bro exchange that makes my skin crawl because I can’t tell you how many friendships I’ve seen formed by strangers who put it into play. “Hey, man” is the easiest, most natural way to communicate “I know you, you know me” even if the person you’re speaking to doesn’t know you at all, or doesn’t recognize you from the one time you were in. It’s pointed and it’s personal; dudes can use it without having to know the other dude’s name. “Hey, man” is a cheap trick to invoke companionship that I’m forced to bear witness to time and time again, as I’m burdened with the knowledge that there’s no female equivalent. Instead, I have to try harder. I have to force myself further out of my comfort zone to establish connections with people whose establishments I love in order to make friends and reap the benefits of a “regular” identity.
I know this is not my usual restaurant-related content, so thanks all for hearing me out. I’m eager to hear your thoughts, as well. Email me back or find me on Twitter @emilyjwils.
Recommended food reads:
“Who says what is wrong—and right—to eat?” (h/t Josy for sharing!) [Topic]
The return of Pastis, at long last! [Eater]
Bring back chicken salad. [TASTE]
Pete Wells’ funny and true take on The Standard Grill (I went last night, worth a go.) [NYTimes]
Ooooh: 3-D printed cakes. [T Magazine]
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