Having a solid group of regular is a bit of a Holy Grail for restaurants. It’s a symbiotic relationship that gives restaurant regular, dependable business and the guest a place where they feel welcomed, appreciated, and part of the club.
The big obstacle in the way, of course, is getting regulars. But instead of waiting for your guests version of Prince Charming to come walking through the door, restaurant operators & marketers might find more luck in being proactive and hunting for their own regulars.
One way of finding regulars is by courting local groups that meet regularly in your area to make your bar or restaurant their unofficial headquarters.
When not working for prestigious media startups, I fence for fun. Every Thursday we have practice and after every practice 20+ of us invade the restaurant for post-practice food, drinks and merriment. The bill hits the low $400 on a conservative day. Our server gets a sweet tip for his efforts, and we’re always guaranteed a table – even on the rare days we fall below their 10-person minimum for reservations.
It’s a win-win for all parties involved and keeps us coming back.
Cool story, bro, but how do I do that?
It’s going to take a little legwork on your part. With my fencing group, we found this restaurant ourselves and sort of just set up shop there week after week. But you’re going to catch more leads by being proactive with a search.
Start off by contacting local schools, religious & community centers, and recreational locations (among others) that operate in your area. See what groups meet there and then. See if you can get contact info for the leaders of the groups and contact them. Offer them a warm seat and cold drinks, and to book a reservation for their group.
You may have to play the numbers game a little bit, but finding one or two groups to come in on the regular will be a nice boost to business, especially if it’s on a typical slow night.
You got them in the door, but they’re not close to regulars yet. You need to seduce the group while they’re there.
Send over your best server(s). Visit them yourself to check in. Give them a free app or two for the table. Make them feel like VIPs. Ask them about their group, what they do, how they got into it, etc. Your food and beverage program are solid, but if they feel like just regular ol’ guests, they’ll probably be a one-and-done customer.
Regulars feel like they’re part of the club that is your restaurant. Make ‘em that way.
Invite them back
Hopefully your service and menu is enough to convince the groups to come back for another go and continue their way to regular status. However, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them. Get in touch with your contact and make sure they had a good time. Get feedback. Offer your thanks for being willing patrons and offer to make another reservation for them for their next meet-up.
If they had a bad experience, the chances of them coming back are slim, but it’s still worth the effort of trying. If nothing else, find out why they had a less than stellar time at your location and use that feedback to grow and get better.
Use the same server
One of the things my group loves about our regular watering hole is that we get the same server every week (barring him being on vacation, etc.). What are the benefits of this?
- He knows what we love and loathe, and can make recommendations based off that knowledge.
- He’s a familiar face that we’ve grown to love and trust. He’s become more than just a server to the group. He’s a friend and an honorary member of our group in a way.
- When things get messed up we realize it’s a rarity because of the consistent great service we usually get.
Keep up the seduction
Once a group has hit that “regulars” status, now’s not the time to sit back and let things fly on cruise control. You still need to make sure your groups are enjoying their stay and feeling special.
For example: Our group’s regular restaurant only takes reservations when a group calls with 10+ people. Typically, this is super easy for us as we travel in a pack of 20+, but there are some days (weather, vacation, etc.) where we have dipped below 10. Despite this, they still reserve a table for us when we call. It’s a small exception that they make, but keeps our group happy and feeling like VIPs.