(Blogger’s Note: This is the second in a three part series on attracting and maintaining regulars.)
Although some customers shun “regular” status, as noted in an article in written by Christopher Borelli in The Chicago Tribune, it is vital to every restaurant’s base to make customers feel wanted, needed, and important. If you can make them feel like a regular, that’s a plus.
The bar at Park Chow in
They cater not only to the neighborhood crowd, but to students from UCSF, and tourists visiting
When Angelo Camarata sold his restaurant in west View, Pa. he thanked his customers, especially his regulars who would show up everyday to their home away from home.
In an era where coffee shops have soared in popularity and cafes have bridged the gap from small restaurants where customer quickly eat and go to meeting places to conduct business, Park Chow has mastered the atmosphere of combining a restaurant, bar and meeting place. It may sound easy, but to be all things to all people is a difficult undertaking.
On any given day the Park Chow bar – they serve strictly beer and wine along with entrees, apps and outrageous desserts- was playing host to customers eating lunch, locals enjoying a simple bowl of soup, and a few Dot-Com executives conducting business, accessorized with open laptops while scattered papers covered the oak and surrounded their luncheon plates.
One of the decisions restaurant owners need to make in their plan to attract, keep and maintain a regular crowd is what is going to be used as the bait: The perk every regular looks for. There are a few.
One is the complimentary drink. In many bars and saloons the “house drink” or the “buy back” is a perk that can keep a customer coming back – and drinking- many rainy afternoons away. This is a standard operating procedure for a majority of restaurants, yet for some eateries the tradition is fading as they seldom offer a complimentary anything. That can cost owner’s regulars.
Another perk regulars are looking for is Wi-Fi. It may seem like a small or inconsequential culinary add on, and it will cost you real estate in the long run, but it does attract a regular clientele. Many crossover eateries- those small cafes looking to compete with the Wi-Fi offering giants- Starbucks, Pete’s and other coffee venues- offer the service but do not promote it or make it convenient to use. This will cost you regulars. Few people have high frustration levels.
But Wi-Fi isn’t the only answer.
A few decades ago, I was having lunch with a young pup of an editor, Jonathan Himoff. We were sitting at the bar at JG Melon and PJ Rocco, the Melon’s bartender know for his famous line, “this one is on Mr. Kennibliltz” so as not to fall out of grace with the owner, Jack O’Neal or the customer, was paying close attention to our discussion.
Himoff decided to open up his newest editorial tool, a laptop computer. The year was BI – Before Internet- and Himoff was simply pulling up a story that he had been working on about Richard Avedon.
Melon’s has never taken credit cards in its forty-plus year history. (It takes checks, offers a few house accounts, and will hold a tab, behind the bar for regular, regulars. All great perks in the day and age of stiff credit card processing fees.) When Rocco, who was hardly register savvy, never mind computer knowledgeable, saw Himoff’s clunky laptop, he lost it.
“What are you with the IRS? Get that thing off the bar. This ain’t no library. Get it outta here. What are you clocking sales?” he asked as he grabbed the jug of house pour Chablis- rapidly tipping the jug to the rim of his water glass, panning the bar, and quickly sipping before gaining his composure.
Today, Himoff is CEO of a major company. Rocco has retired, and Melon’s still doesn’t take credit cards or offer Wi-Fi. It also doesn’t have a problem with losing regulars. Their secret is strictly and simply, atmosphere. They are the entire package.
When asked where and when he was the happiest, in a recent Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire Ralph Lauren responded, “Eating a burnt-bacon cheeseburger and pecan pie at JG Melon.” That says a lot from an important regular. Melon’s attracts the old fashioned way, with ambiance, undercover buy backs, and a staff with a personality and a dash of attitude.
But you need not be on
Let’s take Starbucks – that corporate coffee giant who has somehow mastered the advice of Allison Brockman Dickinson and The Little Price: stay little.
When Howard Schultz decided to speed up the process of drink delivery by having the Barista ask that so ever important question, “May I have your first name?” the procedure quickly became a community building resource for the chain and the customer.
Suddenly, everyone knew the name of the person in front of them and behind them. While waiting in that small community of anxious coffee drinkers, Bob Venti Black Coffee began a conversation with Karen Soy Chai Latte. Steve Frappacino was subliminally putting the moves on Chelsea Cappuccino and Billy Grande Black Cherry Mocha was getting jealous.
Eventually groups formed, relationships began and ended and today, Starbucks is the community meeting place for people who enter as Bob and have a last name that describes a coffee drink on the menu.