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What is a "regular" at a restaurant and should it get you something?

Recently I was sharing a story about a restaurant in Princeton, NJ - that the place has great food, but we stopped going. Here's the thing: for over two years (or more?) we went every other week - usually, every week. While the wait staff was always pleased to see us, we never got any acknowledgement for being - what I would consider - a regular! One night we called ahead for seating (you could do that M-Th) and when we got there, they told us it was an hour wait. I finally said something about coming every week and the guy gave us some free shrimp tempura. Honestly, it was kind of too little, too late. This restaurant is about $80 for two, so it isn't super cheap or super expensive. I don't think my husband and I expect much. Or, do we? What do you think?

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  1. the problem with (relatively)expensive restaurants is often you're paying for more than the food. i would be annoyed if I went to that restaurant and wasn't acknowledged, too.

    in general,, i feel like being a regular entitles you to get the food the way you want, quickly, without a hassle. also, they should not necessarily charge you for small extras.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fara

      when you say get your food "quickly" do you mean a consideration for shorter wait for a table?

    2. I think that although the people at the restaurant like to see a familiar face, there's really nothing they can do to make you feel especially part of the family except to acknowledge they recognize you and maybe try to give faster service if they're not too busy. There are several places we spend more time at in several states.... and the most we can expect is that they recognize us..... perhaps drinks come a little faster, or they remember what we do drink... I don't fault the staff... there's so much they have to do.
      Every once in a while we do see an up tic in something almost intangible... And we respond in kind - vis a vis a tip. etc. It's nice to be welcomed at a place you like and where they know your name. But I don't fault them if they are frazzled.

      1. I think you're right to be annoyed. I always have a regular dinner spot and a regular bar. Several years ago I had to work late and through the weekend and my clients and I decided to get a bite on a fri around 7. We went to my place, there were several people ahead of us, we got the next table and before menu's came, the waiter brought my ususal cocktail. We were obviously given special treatment/acknowlegement and it was very appreciated. It's really little thing, but they add up. It's nice to be appreciated

        10 Replies
        1. re: rednyellow

          The trouble with that sort of thing is that it isn't fair to other patrons. It can't have been fun for all those people who were waiting ahead of you! Yes, there are perks to being a regular but the restaurant runs the risk of losing new business by doing things like that. How many times have you read complaints here about peoples' tables being given away and other diners getting preferential treatment? That kind of bad word of mouth can really hurt a business! Regulars are great, but they rarely stay regulars forever and restaurants need new customers too.

          It's great to be a regular, but unfair/unreasonable to expect special treatment on a busy weekend night. I am a regular at a couple of dozen places in my neighborhood, but on busy nights expect nothing more than the exact standard of service that is being given to everyone else. I never expect freebies and would certainly not be able to enjoy my meal knowing I had stolen someone else's table.

          1. re: hrhboo

            I disagree. I dont expect anything, but very much appreciate it. The rest. can handle it very well, discretely, as if we had a reservation.

            1. re: rednyellow

              Regardless of how the restaurant handled it, I wouldn't feel good about it. It's unscrupulous and inconsiderate.

              1. re: hrhboo

                I understand your opinion, but dont share it. If I'm spending quite a bit regularly at a rest. I'm quite fine with vip perks. I"d never try to flaunt it, but am happy to accept it.

                1. re: rednyellow

                  Of course, you're entitled to your opinion. When you arrive on time for your reservation at a place at which you are not a regular and are still forced to wait for a table, please understand that this is likely the reason.

                  1. re: hrhboo

                    I agree with hrhbo.

                    'Regular' status should, hopefully, entitle one to the owner stopping by to chat, getting a table via a last minute call, a little something extra from the chef, and an out-of-ordinary greeting at the door, but it doesn't entitle one to line jump.

                    1. re: dolores

                      If you have "MVP" status, or whatever they choose to call it, on an airline, they jump you ahead at a special shorter check-in line. You get first shot at boarding. This is even if you are flying coach. I liken it to getting a table ahead of others. It can even be handled discreetly so no feathers are ruffled. I don't feel guilty about it, not in the least. It is a gesture of appreciation to a dedicated customer. We need more of this, not less.

                      1. re: Leonardo

                        Interesting comparison. Actually, airlines don't do that discreetly at all; they announce "we will begin boarding with our first class, 1K, elite and platinum members" or what have you. It's also possible to buy into those programs directly, in addition to what one pays for airfare. I wonder if the overt nature and accepted practice by airlines doesn't ruffle feathers or is people are simply used to it.

                        It also doesn't quite hold up to the restaurant situation because someone boarding earlier doesn't change the seat that the other people are going to get (except for Southwest, but there's always an exception, right?) and doesn't change the flight for those people.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          And how much does that alienate the average customer. The last time I flew United Airlines (and probably the last time), they had EIGHT different preboarding groups.

                          After twenty minutes of waiting someone shouted out, "When do the peons board?"

                      2. re: dolores

                        I totally agree. I think here is the difference as far as I am concerned. Lets say I am eating at a restaurant for the first time and somehow I become aware that the people at the table next to me are getting some kind of preferential treatment. As long as our needs are met and the food is good, we will come back. It is a non-issue for me. However, if we have been waiting thirty minutes in line and all of a sudden a repeat customer with no reservation walks in and jumps the line, we are leaving never to return. Of course, every restaurant has that right to make the choice for themselves as to which customer they deem more valuable and I do understand that.

          2. Thanks for the responses. Now there have only been a few responders, but if people think a regular just deserves acknowledgement and nothing more, then if feels like there is a big opportunity for restaurants who are willing to acknowlege good customers. I know ther are places out there...we now go to a place - once a week, at least, and they basically make us what we want. Yes, 90% of the time, it is straight off the menu, but if we liked a special, and it's not featured, they will still make it if they can. Needless to say, I am still going to this place once a week - going tomorrow!

            1. I think that being a regluar can bring you some little perks, but you shouldn't expect them. A good restaurant should find a way to make their regulars feel known and appreciated without making non-regulars feel like crap.

              In your situation, anyone who called ahead for a table and were then told it was an hour wait- anyone should be miffed by that, not just a regular.

              In my experience, being a regular doesn't entitle you to bumping other diners in line, or in any way inconveniencing others. A drink or glass of wine sent to the table, however, is a nice acknowledgement, and it doesn't make others feel "less than", because they never have to know.

              1. We are regulars at a neighborhood steakhouse that I would say is in the moderate price range..$80 for two excluding drinks/wine, tax and tip. We go probably 3 times a month. I have noticed that we always get one of the better tables and they are friendly and welcoming. Our habit is to have a glass of wine at the bar first and naturally we have gotten to know the bartenders. This has resulted in very good pours on our wine by the glass. This is much appreciated as we like expensive wines. Of course we tip accordingly.

                I would never expect to be seated ahead of other patrons and in fact, I always make a reservation. The main payoff is the welcoming attitude and the fact that we feel so at home there. It really makes our dining experience that much better.

                1 Reply
                1. re: baseballfan

                  I think you and hrhboo expressed my thoughts as well. There are many ways in which a good Mgr/Wait Staff can show appreciation to a repeat/regular patron that doesn't inconvenience other patrons. There should be no sense of entitlement at someone else's expense. Having been a 'non regular' and having seen 'regulars' treated preferentially at my expense I would never assume someone else's time is more (or less valuable) than mine. As a regular at a few local restaurants, I am always pleased by the warm greetings and menu reccs of the Mgr and staff. Anything more, EG: c'omps', are gratefully appreciated, but never expected.
                  A smart Mgr wants to maintain AND expand his customer base. He/she knows
                  'growing' a loyal following at the expense of new customers is impossible.

                2. My wife and I are regulars at several small, rural restaurants. We get lots of perks, although we don’t expect any. We often get free meals or free bottles of wine. We get unlimited salsa along with excellent service at our favorite, local, Mexican restaurant. We get special wine glasses at one of our favorite haunts. We get notices of special events and wine tastings, etc. One Italian restaurant brought in a case of Brunello especially for my wife and I. Actually, we get excellent service at all our regular stops and they always comment on how much they appreciate our business. I’m not a big, Chowhound-class tipper, so it must be because my wife likes to talk-up all the servers and owners. However, we’ve had wonderful service in cities too. La Ciccia in SF last weekend was warm, friendly and outstanding. Angelini Osteria in LA gave us outstanding service, even squeezing us in without reservations. The General’s Daughter in the Sonoma wine country of CA a few weeks ago was one of the most fun dining experiences we’ve ever had because of the staff. Now being a regular can be embarrassing also. One restaurant knew our regular Friday night drinks at the bar while we waited for our table. Once we brought a guest and were treated like Norm at Cheers, so our guest assumed we were real lushes.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: BN1

                    That happened to me too! I took my brother and his wife to a seafood place with a great view which we liked to stop by occasonally on our scenic rides, and as soon as we sat down the waitress, who's a real pro, said to us: "Black Russian with Stoly and Absolut and tonic?" Brother to me: "Come here often?" Whoops!

                    1. re: coll

                      Isn't that nice?

                      I'm in Westchester NY and still haven't found a restaurant to call my 'regular' place.

                  2. jfood is a regular in a lot of restos in the neighborhood for a couple of reasons. When the jfoods moved to town 11 years ago there were few if any good restos. The one good one the jfoods went to, he became friends with the chef. So as new restos moved in, jfoods tried them and if good they returned. And being a lover of food, hence participating here, he would discuss with the MOD, and they became friends and discussed likes and dislikes. It's the way it goes in a small town. Now there are lots of good restos in town and in the surrounding towns and jfood has built a relationship with many of the MODs and Chefs.

                    What does jfood expect:

                    - a warm hello and welcome back
                    - if available a nice table and if just M&M jfood a nice quiet table
                    - good service (should be expected for everyone)
                    - good food, and no upselling
                    - if he calls for a reso and there is a waiting list a little favoritism if something opens up
                    - if there is a reso for a table at 8 and jfood can get in and out from 630 to 800 please let him know and will gladly eat and leave by 800. be considerate both ways.
                    - if there is some braised dishes from the night before, alert jfood that there are 2-3 dishes left and see if he would like.

                    Nice to haves:

                    - a little something when he and his party sits down. if jfood has left thousands at the resto a little something from the kitchen makes the start very nice
                    - every now and then send over a dessert on the house. if there is something new the chef is trying, send one over and say they would like some feedback

                    Jfood does NOT expect:

                    - jumping the line, that creates a bad karma atmosphere, not good for eating.
                    - if jfood calls late for a reso and the resto is booked he does NOT want to be squeezed in at the expense of others who have already booked for the night.

                    jfood is a regular, not an owner.

                    1. Interesting to hear the various responses. Seems like a general concensus is that if it is a small gracious gesture, and doesn't put off others, then it is appreciated, but not expected. IMHO, that is where I am at. Going to that restaurant for over two years, and never expecting a line jump (I should have mentioned that they do not accept reservations) - and never getting any kind of small gesture, I guess that was the end of it. I appreciate being "squeezed" in for a reservation at places, and the remembering of sparkling water for husband, flat for me. We do have some restaurants that will "ask us to try" a new soup on the menu or a dessert at no charge. I am always extremely appreciative! I think discretion is important - and I do see it a little differently - I am not being discreetly comped at others expense - rather, really, my own. We calculated at another restaurant spending over $5,000 in one year, and when the manager brings us olive oil with our bread vs. their butter, I think that we are not getting that at the other patrons' expense. Per the "Norm" comments, I think discretion is always best for everyone - and, I don't necessarily want to feel like I am obligated to talk to people at my regular restaurants - sometimes I am tired - that is why I am eating out.

                      1. After years of sampling lunch combos at many of the Chinese restaurants in W.L.A., I finally found a clear favorite, Hu's. I really like their twice-cooked pork (spicy, hold the tofu) and they also added their fine kung pao chicken to the lunch choices. I really appreciate the dish of chinese chicken salad they serve between the soup and the entree. I began going once a week, sometimes twice. Now I have two special requests I ask for every time: First, I don't drink tea, but I want one of their big glasses of water, first filled with ice, along with the regular small glass. Second, please bring me the hot chili oil to spice up the soup and the rice. Well, there are two waiters who regularly serve me. One started bringing the ice water and chili oil automatically after a few visits -- I appreciated it, and even told him, and the manager, that it made me feel like a regular. The other guy still hasn't noticed -- still have to tell him each and every time.

                        1. One would have to presume that if you become a regular at a restaurant it's because you like the food, the service, the setting, etc. Yes, in the course of doing so you'd spend money and time. But the restaurant will have provided that very food, service and setting that made you want to return many times. So far as I'm concerned, the trade has been fair...in fact, given the likelihood that everyone has at least a couple of restaurants to choose from, the trade may have been more than fair since in order to become a regular you'd have to keep choosing over and over again to return and must, therefore, have felt like you were spending your money well.

                          I don't understand why many then develop an expectation that they should get something different simply for showing up repeatedly. So long as the restaurant continues to do what made us return a lot, we'll be very happy.

                          I find it nice when the folks at a restaurant my wife and I frequent say "hi, it's nice to see you again, thanks for coming back." We have the advantage that most of the wait staff know of my wife's dietary restrictions which means we don't have to ask about individual dishes and their ingredients. They always take good care of us. We also make sure to be respectful of their business: we make reservations, call if we're running late, etc.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ccbweb

                            What usually happens (at least in our experience) is that we start out frequenting three or four or five relatively comparable places when we first move someplace, but at some point one place is quickest to recognize us when we come in and make a special point to be friendly -- possibly sending out something to the table, or even just remembering our names and preferences. That place becomes the first choice on the list a lot more often, simply because you feel at home there, and confident that you will be treated nicely.

                            I don't think it is dumb business on the restaurant's part to put some effort into recognizing the regulars. Not only are we a reliable source of income, but we also very often bring new people there, who are predisposed to liking the place because of all we've told them about it, and end up going there later on their own.

                          2. many restaurants make it a top priority to aknowledge regulars in some way. some don't. i'm speaking of the owners/management here. waitstaff always like regulars- we'll remember your name, give you the best service we can even if we're busy, etc. but if we work for managers/owners who don't feel compelled to "give a little back" to regulars, what can we do? a few times i've bought my favorite customers a drink out of my own pocket.

                            some owners are just stingy- they don't see that a gesture toward a regular results in more business in the end. maybe they just take regulars for granted?

                            1. The only thing I "expect" is to be welcomed back and treated warmly. If they are booked but can "fit me in" - usually at an early time for a limited time - I appreciate that, and where we're known, I do make a point of saying our name (I used my husband's since I post on CH so much). Other than that - it's gravy, so to speak.

                              1. I think regulars have a certain responsibility too. We are regulars at a few place around town, and we will always do what we can to be considerate of the other patrons. For example, if SO and I are sitting at the bar with one empty seat on one side and two on the other, then three people come in wanting to sit, we have no problem rearranging ourselves to make room for the other party. We'll do the same if we're at a four-top and a two-top opened up. We'll just move to the two-top to make room for others. The restaurant owners/bartenders/servers always appreciate it, and sometimes we are rewarded with a free round of drinks or something. Consideration should go both ways.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mojoeater

                                  that sounds like good common courtesy, regardless of how often you frequent a place.

                                2. I am a regular at several restaurants and bars. I always appreciate the freebies and extra service but never expect it. Sometimes "regulars" get a little too spoiled and start to expect the world. I work at a hotel now, used to be a waiter and a receptionist at a hair salon. I truly do appreciate most regulars and try to go the extra mile when I can. Little things like knowing how they like their coffee or what room number they prefer. But sometimes it just isn't possible to get them these extra services. The regulars who graciously accept our apologies and understand that we are offering the best that we can are the ones that are a joy to work for. The people who throw stupid little tantrums and throw it in my face how much money they spend at our establishment over minute problems (i.e. getting room #312 instead of #212) are the ones that I sometimes wish I could lose.

                                  1. It is the regulars who keep a restaurant in business Mon-Thurs. A restaurant would be foolish not to treat them a little extra special.