The Flip Side – Cultivating Regulars

There’s this coffeehouse in our neighborhood that wants to build community.  They don’t allow computers on the weekend.  They have comfy places to sit.  They host movie nights and theme nights.  J and I have been there several times but we would never be considered regulars.  Why?  Because the staff doesn’t remember us. This is not a slam on the staff.  They are friendly and the service is prompt.  BUT if the place’s goal is to cultivate community, they need to be interested in their customers.

Here’s what I’m talking about.  We went there for a craft night they were hosting.  It was their first one so not many people brought crafts.  I brought my quilting and J and I laid out a quilt on a table.  We notice another person was drawing and engage her in conversation and talk about our quilting.  At no time during the whole evening does any of the staff come by and ask us about our craft.   If you want to build community it starts at the top.  No matter how great and comfy your space is and what sign you put out saying “we love community,”  your staff needs to show an interest.

And showing an interest doesn’t mean you become my friend.  It does mean you remember me.

Remembering me means – if I come more than five times, you have a sense of what kinds foods and beverages I like; you let me know the specials and new stuff on the menu that I would like.

Beyond that, you have a sense of my life – if I’m going on a vacation soon or coming back, how my dog is doing.

If there’s stuff we have in common then you remember that.  Case in point – for the couple who owns Aunt Mary’s, the husband is from J’s hometown and the wife is from my hometown, in Vietnam.  That’s a pretty funny and interesting connection.  And we come back over and over again.

The thing about regulars is – it’s a win win situation.  For a lot of the restaurants we’ve become regulars at, we make reservations, which makes their lives easier.  We tip well because we know we’ll get a great meal.  On our end we know we’ll get a great meal because they know what we like in a very thorough way.  But beyond that we know we’ll get a warm welcome.

J said one night, the mark of a good restaurant is that you leave happier than when you came.  That gets easier for a restaurant to do if they know what makes you happy.

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One Response to The Flip Side – Cultivating Regulars

  1. DancerInDC says:

    This is so very true, and frankly is the kind of op-ed that should be in places like the Huffington Post!

    And I think it’s really true of any service-related business – everything from B&B’s to dry cleaners. Notice your repeat customers and take an interest in them, and do something to distinguish yourself as a unique local business.

    One of our favorite restaurants is Cafe Berlin here in DC, and it’s in part because the staff do start to remember you. We have one server in particular that we always talk to when we visit, even if we’re not in her section. And when Scott went recently without me (ahem), she asked where I was. On top of that, the restaurant has made a good effort to advertise heavily with neighborhood rags as well as the gay newspapers. They know their audience and make the most of it.

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