Before delving into the “how,” it is important to establish the “why.” Why would you want to become a regular somewhere? Your answer may be solely on the “free stuff and perks" spectrum. That can be a benefit that comes from this sort of relationship with an establishment. That’s certainly a choice. I personally approach it from the more romantic notion found in the TV theme song; “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” You want to have a little taste of home away from home. Who doesn’t want a friendly face that might be legitimately happy to see you? In my book, that friendly camaraderie is worth more than the possibility of a top shelf drink when you paid for well or a basket of onion rings on the house.
Now, how does one get to that point where bartenders, waiters, staff, and managers distinguish you from the myriad faces they see every day and every week? It’s not an overnight deal; it’s a process. Like any relationship, it takes work.
There are three basic steps you can take to establish yourself and hopefully be anointed with the title of “Regular.”
Half of life is just showing up. -Hunter S. Thompson
1. Be there.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? You have to go to these establishments. You have to go to these establishments a lot. The busier the place, the more you have to go. I have been going to the same Fantastic Sam’s (don’t judge) to get my hair cut for over ten years. My woman remembers me and I only see her for twenty minutes once a month. This middle-aged Armenian woman has been in my life longer than my wife has. She’s seen the hairline recede like a glacier and has offered no comment…unlike my wife. She probably has roughly fifteen or so clients a day and over the course of a month, that’s hundreds of dudes’ hair; yet, she remembers me. It took a long time to get to that point, but when she gives me that half-scowl and silent nod of acknowledgement when I walk in, I know she knows me—really knows me. I like to think that she takes a little extra care with my hair, making my $14 haircut look like it cost nearly $20.
[Side note- I think our breakthrough happened when I brought in a picture of myself after a previous haircut she had done. I was wearing my contact lenses and was dressed in a suit. I told her "Can you do it like this one again?" She looked at the picture and said "He's very handsome, who is this?" "Um, It's me." She looked at me and then back at the picture. She then nodded and motioned to the chair.]
For some perspective, compare the face time with a stylist with that of a bartender at a popular bar. That bartender sees hundreds of people a night for only the amount of time it takes to shout out a drink order and for them to toss back that drink and some change. That’s an extreme deficit of face time. You are nothing but a blur. That bartender is not going to remember you if you only go in once a month or probably even once a week. You have to make yourself a fixture.
It’s not what we do once in awhile that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently. -Tony Robbins
2. Be consistent.
Consistency is key—two keys actually. First, consistency of time in your patronage; you can’t just go to the same place over and over again all willy nilly. Most places have staff running on different schedules. By taking a scattershot approach to your attendance, you diminish your possible returns. It doesn’t matter if you went to that coffee bar four times in one week if it wasn’t the same staff seeing your caffeine starved face each time. You might as well have gone only once and saved some dough or spread that effort over four different establishments—there’s nothing wrong with casting a wide net. Walk into that bar every Friday at 10pm. Sit down at the counter at the diner at 8:45am every Sunday. Be there for the dinner special Taco Tuesday every…Tuesday. Once you’ve gotten a toe-hold, then you can start to vary your schedule. That busboy smiling and uttering a quick “Good-to-see-you” in front of that waiter you’ve never seen before is as good as a marker from Sky Masterson.
Second, consistency in what you ask for is important. You want to build up to being able to say “the usual,” because if you can do that you have arrived. This can sound really boring, being locked into the same thing over and over. You will make it through this first-world problem, I promise. Slight variants are okay, even encouraged, as long as you aren’t asking the establishment to break policy. A slight variant or a bit of flourish makes your request more memorable and that feeds the goal. Your face, at that time, ordering that same thing, might just start to stick. You, yes, you can be that lunch guy that asks for horseradish on your burger every Wednesday.
And three, be nice. -Dalton, the greatest bouncer in the world.
3. Be nice.
It’s the simplest idea in the world and sometimes it is the hardest to realize: be nice. When you walk into an establishment, be on your very best behavior. ‘Get more flies with honey,’ you know that whole deal that moms and the PSAs at the end of 80’s cartoon have said since time immemorial. Personally, I find most people to be awful. It is hard to be pleasant to awful people. Now, imagine dealing with people if you are in the service industry. It’s a potential parade of awfulness all the live-long day. Don’t be part of that sad parade. Smile, engage in pleasantries, and try to remember names--but don’t be a creeper about it—you’re still a just customer, not their buddy. Let me stress—don’t be a creeper.
If you have a complaint, present it not as the end of the situation but as the beginning of the steps to fix it. Remember that “please” is a very powerful word. If a place has a strict “no substitutions” policy, it’s a far better idea to NOT ask for a substitution, but if you really want to, go ahead and ask (remember the power of “please”) and if they say no, don’t push. Forget the idea that you as the customer are always right. No one actually believes this. An establishment might placate you because it’s “good business,” but being difficult is definitely not a way to win friends. I’m not saying eat dirt or put up with poor treatment--because why would you want to be a regular at such a place? I’m saying you, the individual, are responsible for being a gracious guest. And a good clue that you might have made it into the ‘regular’ category; they actually will do your substitution.
Also, it should go without saying: don’t forget to tip.