Hello, I’d like a table, I’m local, are probably the seven most humorously aggravating words on the restaurateur’s give-me-a-break list. The delivery of the sentence alone paints a picture of a fully booked dining room, with standing room only at the bar. When these words are loudly spoken, the hostess usually is unable to squeeze one more body into the room without having a mutiny or hostage situation occur. Of course, the disgruntled customers hovering around the hostess stand who have heard the announcement now await to see how the person in charge handles the situation. Although a sticky wicket in the making, it can be turned into a beautiful soufflé’.
A few things to remember- nobody ever plays the local card unless the restaurant is no longer accepting reservations; is in the midst of a special event weekend where every restaurant in town is completely booked; or the customer was supposed to have made reservation and forgot.
Usually, these people have never been to your restaurant before, otherwise the hostess would know them or at least recognize them.
And, thirdly, I am going out on a limb here, the phrasiologist who came up with the “I´m local” greeting, probably only goes to restaurants once or “on special occasions”. Seldom do you build a customer relationship with an “I’m a local” verbal badge wearer.
But, we still have to address the circumstances. Two ways to do it.
If it is totally impossible to accommodate the customer, explain, in the most genuine manner you can muster under the stress filled atmosphere of your hospitality venture, that a table that evening is an impossibility. Suggest the next time they need a table they call ahead and make a reservation. Offer them the restaurant’s card and a complimentary drink card which should be signed by a manager, not a bartender, for their next visit.
Suggest another restaurant in a close proximity and offer to call that restaurant for a table. When calling, make sure you ask for the manager, that you are “completely booked” – you are never “too busy”, and that “The Locals” are “one of your best customers.”
Completely booked puts the onus on the customer. “Too busy” makes it appear you just can’t deal with them. Elevating the party to “best customer” level automatically endears them to your restaurant, and may make it easier to get a table at the neighboring eatery. When telling the story to others, and believe me, they will, “the locals” will suddenly realize how hospitable you were and will come back. And, they will probably never use that phrase again.
The other option in dealing with the event is to begin a conversation and immediately make friends with them. Ask how long they have been in town. Where they live. What other restaurants they go to. If, after finding out this information you think you may be able to develop them into a regular Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday night reservation, suddenly look down in the reservation book, amazingly find their name, and inform them that had called on Monday, or weeks earlier, to book the reservation and you will have a table in a short period of time.
Ask them to wait in the bar and you may have made a customer for the life of the restaurant.
There is a third option. On busy nights, the small sign on the hostess stand, simply stating, “We don’t serve locals. Please use your name” garners a lot of smiles and basically states the point. And, your locals who frequent your restaurant will get it.
Simply, everyone becomes a local as soon as they step into your world. If you look at them any differently, you are not living up to the rules of hospitality.