Seven Ways to Endear Yourself to Your Favorite Restaurant #hackdining

Part of a small series showing food being served as a chef and a customer interact in a restaurant

Favorite restaurants are sanctuaries. They’re where you go to celebrate, relax after a long day, catch up with dear friends, or find solace from the troubles of the world. What draws you in as a diner, though? Maybe you worship the food. Perhaps you adore the staff. Possibly you just dig the vibe. It’s easy to figure out what keeps you coming back.

But flip that notion on its head. What makes a restaurant’s staff love certain guests more than others? We recently discussed what diners do that drive restaurant workers crazy. So, how can guests curry favor and become friendly with the teams at their go-to eateries? Here are seven ways to endear yourself to your favorite restaurant.

Give a gift
A regular at Washington, D.C.’s Tico routinely, but randomly, brings in flowers to hand out to the female staffers and guests. “I’ve never experienced that before,” says Steve Uhr, regional operations director for Good Essen, which oversees chef Michael Schlow’s ventures, including Tico and The Riggsby. “I feel neglectful that I don’t do that for my staff.” During last holiday season, the same guest gave generous presents to several staffers who regularly took care of him. “It’s thoughtful, because if you go and buy something for someone, you have to think about your relationship to that person, which makes it a lot more personal,” says Uhr.

Show your appreciation
The kitchen staff puts long hours in behind the scenes making meals happen. Though they’re creating the food, they often don’t get the opportunity to interact with guests. Chef Quinten Frye at Big Bear Café in Washington, D.C. wants to hear when guests enjoy their meal. “The easiest way is coming back to say thanks or give a simple handshake,” he says. “It’s always gratefully received.”

Be inquisitive
Restaurant staffers appreciate when guests listen to what they’re saying, whether they’re going through the daily specials, describing the tasting notes for a particular wine, or explaining how a certain dish is prepared. It’s equally appreciated when guests are willing to share their likes and dislikes, so the staff can create the best dining experience for them. “The bigger thing is when people want to participate in a dialogue,” says Caitlin Doonan, beverage director of New York City’s Toro. “When they ask us what we’re excited about or what we like, that’s great. It’s more than placing an order. It becomes a two-way street.”

Act like you’re visiting a friend’s house
The metaphor of the restaurant as a home is used over and over again — and with good reason. Many staffers talk about the idea of creating an inviting, relaxing, and comfortable environment for their guests, so they feel like they’re visiting a friend’s house. To complete that vision, diners should be on their best behavior. “Just be polite,” stresses Frye. “I’m a southern guy – I grew up in San Antonio, Texas – so I’m a yes ma’am, no ma’am, please, and thank you kind of a guy. To this day, I pull out my girlfriend’s chair when she sits down. The small stuff goes a long way.”

Don’t linger
We’ve all been in restaurants where you could tell from the energy of the space and its staff that they’re firing on all cylinders. Every table is full, the bar is packed, and the host stand looks like it’s being overwhelmed by a human tsunami. When you’ve finished your meal and paid the tab, it’s time to get up and go. “Be conscientious to other people that are hungry and wrap it up,” says Uhr. “We appreciate being able to serve other guests as quickly as possible.”Continue Reading

How to Become a Regular at a Restaurant

The restaurant world is abuzz about regulars this week. The New York Times recently talked to William Herz, a regular at NYC Theatre District stand-by Sardi’s for almost 80 (!) years (Forget a favorite table; Mr. Herz even has his own cup.). And, the folks behind legendary Manhattan media magnet Michael’s have started tweeting about the movers and shakers who regularly power-lunch there each day.

While diners love being regulars, restaurants love regulars because they, like every business, depend on repeat business. I spoke with New York restaurateur Dean Philippis, owner of  Mill Pond House and Piccolo Restaurant, whose restaurants are regularly filled with — you guessed it — regulars. He says, “Every time that door opens up and it’s a regular, well, it’s the most flattering compliment a diner can give you.” Such flattery is always recognized by Philippis and his staff. “We make sure we remember their names. We know what tables they like to sit at. We have their drinks on the table before they have to order them. We never take them for granted.” From bringing restless children ice cream while a frazzled parent enjoys an entree or dashing out for slice of pizza for a picky young diner, he says, “It’s about the consistent level of care a guest receives.”

Obviously, it’s not difficult to become a regular at a restaurant. If you’re looking to speed up the process, it helps to book on OpenTable as it’s easy for the staff to tell that you’ve dined with them previously. Philippis also recommends that aspiring regulars frequent a restaurant on a weeknight. “During the week, there are more opportunities for my staff and me to engage with guests and really get to know them,” he shares. While the Bay Area Food Blog has just posted some fun tips for being a “good” regular, Philippis notes, “Diners shouldn’t have to do anything more than continue to show up to be embraced as a regular.”

Are you or have you been a regular at a restaurant and for how long? What are the perks of being a regular? Tell us your story here or join the conversation on Facebook.

State Your Complaint: Restaurant Critics; Restaurant Designs; Restaurant Menus; Restaurant Websites, and Being Treated Like a Regular (Huh?)

State-Your-Complaint* Will a Twitter campaign take out your least favorite critic? Doubtful, but one tweeter is trying, taking aim at Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. [Grub Street Los Angeles]

* Phil Vettel stews over restaurant design flaws. I would concur with the oversized menus being a problem. I never know what to do with them if I just want to enjoy a cocktail before ordering but am sitting at a tiny table for two. Suggestions? [The Stew]

* Menus are less-than-appetizing at many restaurants, as far as Baltimore Sun blogger Laura Vozzella is concerned. She doesn’t mention my new pet peeve, which is seeing the word “foraged” on menus (Way too precious and fetish-y for me, thankyouverymuch!). [Dining@Large]

* Restaurant websites come under fire for a few of the right reasons. [Eater PDX]

* Restaurants come under fire for all the wrong reasons, thanks to the Chicago Tribune‘s Christopher Borrelli and his resentment at (GASP!)  being treated like a regular (when he is, in fact, a regular). Here’s a bit of free advice, Mr. Borrelli: If you don’t appreciate that restaurants or the barristas at your local Starbucks are able to anticipate what you’ll order, stop ordering the very same thing every time you dine out or grab a coffee. Live a little! Try something new — but not out of spite, because that’s just plain silly. That is all. [Chicago Tribune]