November 12, 2008

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

Win enemies and influence friends — become a regular

Do you get miffed when another table seems to be getting all your server’s attention? You stare hungrily at your empty table. They’ve already got their appetizer … and they were seated five minutes after you! Up comes their second round of cocktails! Guess what: They’re probably regulars.

Many diners believe an enduring myth that service staff “vet” guests as they come in, then decide to fawn over and spoil a lucky few based on their clothes and accessories, the technological elegance of their cell phones or the class of the vehicle they arrived in.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, if a 20-seat Hummer limo rolls up and disgorges a crowd, we’ll take notice, but mostly because we think the car is cool. Really, an unannounced limo party usually spells bad news for servers: We’ll suffer headaches from folks who feel entitled, while they’ve actually blown their budget on the limo. What do we get? A crappy tip.

No, we’re on the lookout all right, but we’re watching for our regulars. We know what they’ll expect, what they’ll order, what they like. We know that they will tip — if not exorbitantly, at least appropriately. We know that if they camp at the table for a long time, they’ll make it worth our while by ordering extra dishes or bolstering the tip well beyond the standard 20 percent. We know their needs: Maybe she’s a vegetarian. He’s lactose-intolerant, and his dad has a gluten allergy. If you’re a regular, we won’t forget these important things. One of our regulars got doctor’s orders to avoid our place for lunch unless we could serve his favorite dishes over whole-grain pasta. We got wind of this and hurried out for a supply of whole-grain pasta in a variety of shapes — just for him.

Becoming a regular is like getting into a new relationship: It requires some commitment. You could even say it’s like getting serious after a blind date. You have to make repeat visits, explore the menu and not always order the same thing. Let us know when you’re coming: Make a reservation. Give us compliments — but only when due! Insincere flattery will get you nowhere.

How can you cultivate a server, bartender or cook? Get to know him or her. It’s easy: Start by talking to the people who serve your table. Where else has the server worked? When does he or she work? You’ll need to know so you can ask for this server again. Love the soup? Ask which cook made it … and leave a little extra for a post-shift beer, or write a complimentary note. Learn the names of the cooks, the hosts, the managers, the bartenders, the owners.

Become a regular and you will be rewarded with little freebies, samples of new stuff, specials that are being considered for the regular menu. And you’ll have a good shot at that hard-to-get table on a weekend or holiday, even if you forgot to make a reservation or have to double the size of your party unexpectedly.

Regulars are our bread and butter, part of our restaurant family. It’s always nice to see you again — especially in these uncertain times. Get ready to be catered to. Where’ve you been? We’ve missed you!

 

The writer, a graduate of Sullivan University, has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro. She is now the pastry chef at Café Lou Lou.