It might seem slightly redundant to suggest that you return for another meal if you have had a great experience at a restaurant. But these days, when the word “new” is equated with “good,” the urge is always to go in search of the latest exciting restaurant and to forget the older places immediately after your first and sometimes only experience.
I have definitely been guilty of this in the past. While it can certainly give you bragging rights over other diners to say you have been among the first to step through the doors of a hot new dining spot, there is also a great deal to be said for becoming a regular at a handful of exceptional fine dining establishments.
The reason is quite simple. Regulars at restaurants get better treatment. That is not to say that first-time diners or infrequent visitors are treated badly. But just as you would with anyone who gives you a great deal of business, restaurants realize they need to pay special attention to those who come through their doors on a regular basis.
Many of the best restaurants will keep a record of the people who dine with them often, and annotate it with a list of useful information. Good hosts and waiters know this too, greeting those customers by name, taking them to their favorite table, and offering their favorite cocktail, all as soon as they walk through the door.
Special attention can take many forms, but it begins when you try to make a reservation. All restaurants keep a handful of tables back for regular diners. So even if they tell most people who call that they are fully booked for the evening, they will always try to fit in a regular, even if it is at very short notice. Having a few places like this to call upon is a very useful weapon to have in your dining armory.
The special attention continues once your meal begins. While other tables may be looked after by newer or junior servers, you can be sure that a regular will be looked after by the senior and most competent staff member in the house. The restaurant knows that one incidence of poor service is enough to turn a customer off for good, and it can definitely add to an evening’s enjoyment if it is clear your table is being singled out for exceptionally good treatment.
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The same is true as your meal progresses. Many restaurants will be happy to provide regulars with their favorite dishes even if they no longer appear on the menu. They may also store a particular bottle of wine for you if they know it is one you order often, or they’ll even waive corkage charges if you prefer to bring your own wine. Such things cost the restaurant very little, but often mean a great deal to the diner and certainly add to the overall experience.
The other benefit to becoming a regular is even more mercenary. Regulars not only receive better treatment, they are often the recipients of free courses, glasses of wine and desserts. I recently visited one of my favorite restaurants in London and, for once, ordered a different entrée from my usual chicken dish. The waiter brought out my chosen dish and then brought out my regular entrée for me to share with my guest, with the words, “It wouldn’t seem right if you came here and didn’t have the chicken.”
Being a regular usually not only ensures you will have a top-notch experience, but it is also a valuable position to be in if you are setting out to impress guests. Getting that seat at a new place may be exciting at first, but if the meal fails to live up to expectations, you will spend half the night apologizing rather than wowing them.
It is far better to choose a restaurant that knows you, where you will be treated like a king from the moment you walk in the door till the moment you leave. It will allow you to concentrate on the task at hand: impressing your date, family or business clients. And when they ask why your table is being singled out for such great service, you can just shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh, I’m a regular here.”