Regulars – The Life Blood of your Business!

Cheers is a fairly good example of keeping your regulars. Everyone knew everyones name - It was almost a family!

Cheers is a fairly good example of keeping your regulars. Everyone knew everyones name - It was almost a family!

Most bars have a small group of regular clientele that frequent their establishment. They are the loyal clients who, more often than not, tip well and don’t ask for any special kind of service. In many cases they are the types who spend thousands a year in your bar or restaurant. They are the cornerstones of your business, you certainly can’t afford to lose them, so the question clearly is how do you keep them and how do you get more of them?

I’ve seen low volume establishments where regulars are held in the highest honour, and high volume bars also where they are overlooked with the attitude that “it doesn’t really matter what kind of service they receive, they’ll come back anyway.” In an industry where service is paramount to the success of your business and your frontline service staff are often on a career stopover on the way to something better, maintaining relationships with current regulars and offering experiences that bring new customers back is a great way to build your business at little or no cost.

Operators need to actively empower their staff to make sure that they you are cultivating long term relationships with as many clients as possible and creating culinary and drinking experiences that they’ll remember, and come back for. Rob Montgomery, Bar Chef and Manager of The Miller Tavern insists that details are the key. “I have operational systems covered so my staff can focus on guest experience details. Our philosophy is that we treat customers like they were a guest in our own home, I empower my staff with the same ethos and give them the tools to accomplish it.”

There is an important distinction to be made when a server approaches a table or a bartender lays out a beverage napkin for a new guest at the bar. Its called “The Law of Attraction” and it basically states that if your servers have an attitude of expectation, your guests will follow suit. If your servers primary goal is to provide a memorable experience that will bring guests back and turn new clients into regulars, the guest will not only tip well, they’ll also come back with friends. You may remember a book or DVD a few years back called “The Secret.” While there certainly are some esoteric concepts, but the main message as it is applicable to your bar staff is that the service we give should be given without the expectation of monetary return.

If you can change the concept in your staffs mind from “I expect to make 15% of this guest” to “What can I do to give this guest an unbelievable experience so they come back again and again,” the gratuities will take care of themselves. The easiest way to explain this to your staff is by highlighting who they really work for. Consider the following scenario as it applies to most bar staff.

A bartender works for 6 hours at a rate of $9.00 per hour. The restaurant pays them $54.00
During those 6 hours, the bartender sells $800 and makes 15% in gratuities or $120.00

In this scenario, the guest is the one paying your staffs’ way, more than double what the restaurant or bar pays them for their time, which begs the question: Who do the servers really work for? The answer is obvious, the bartenders and servers work for the guest first and the establishment second, and while it may be a change in the way you think as an operator, this fundamental switch regarding who pays the bills will change the way the way guests are treated by your staff.

This switch has the potential to eliminate the times when guests deal with sub-standard service by leaving little or no tip, and leave feeling dissatisfied. Management can circumvent this experience with a quick chat with each table and gain valuable feedback about server performance. Guests are quite often more apt to give negative feedback to someone who is empowered to change the situation. “Mistakes and mishaps are inevitable in any restaurant; if they are handled correctly the guest will take notice. Fixing mistakes promptly and properly can impact guests greatly. Some of our longest running guests started off on the wrong foot, problems were solved and the guests were impressed enough to return again and again,” says Montgomery.

The secret is that everyone wants to feel special. Having a drink or menu ready for them before they have to ask shows them that you’ve got their needs in mind. The key is to treat everyone who walks through the door like they were the owner’s best friend! People respond to that kind of service, and with this philosophy every guest is a potential regular.

It may not always be possible to chat and check with every table in your establishment, so creating an atmosphere where your service staff feel comfortable approaching management to resolve guest issues in a timely manner is crucial to your ability to turn any negative experiences into positive ones. Sometimes I’m a bartender, other times I’m a guest. The bottom line is that when the service, drinks and food are good, I’ll probably come back for seconds, maybe even become your regular. If things go wrong and the problem isn’t addressed, you’ll never see me again. If there’s a problem and you address it you guarantee that I’ll come back with my friends. Maybe they can be your regulars too.

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