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Shouldn't customers be friends?

• See more reader letters in Back Talkin'

In the December issue, editor Michael Sanson discussed how too many restaurants fail to recognize and cater to their regular customers. If you’re not developing relationships with your customers, he wrote, then there’s a good chance they’ll go to competitors who will make them feel wanted and taken care of. The following are reader responses to his comments.     

NuWay Lounge has been around for 75 years this coming January. As the owner it’s my job and pleasure to personally get to know each and every guest who walks through my door. At lunch service, for example, we have their preferred beverage waiting for them when they sit down. In this still-struggling economy I encourage my staff to establish relationships and get to know every guest that comes in. They are keeping our doors open.

Becky H. Myers
NuWay Lounge
Spartanburg, SC

What we do here is that whenever a regular customer comes in my hostess or dining room manager calls me and I personally make it a point to greet them and thank them for coming. My f&b director makes a point to touch every table at night as well. On a higher note we also introduced a manager’s reception from 5 to 6:30 p.m. every third Thursday of the month during the winter months. This invitation goes out to all our regular customers and some new ones as well. We have them sign in and provide their emails so they get an email every month reminding them of the event. We do complimentary wine and beer with a signature cocktail that goes with the month, and our chef prepares a sampling of appetizers from our menu. And all managers are present to greet and socialize. It has become a great event and our customers appreciate and look forward to it every month.

Christine Penrose
General Manager
Riveredge Resort
Alexandria Bay, NY

We pride ourselves on the relationships we have formed with our customers over the past 18 years.  We have what we call a regular customer board in the back of house with pictures of our regulars and notes of what they like or dislike and any food allergies they may have. This helps acclimate new employees to their new customer base. People really appreciate and are often flattered when you remember something special about them. In fact, we tell new wait staff that we have a smile policy while at work because we know there is a correlation between your mood and your interaction with customers. We also send a seasonal newsletter to regulars who wish to join the mailing list. It contains fun information such as good foods to eat seasonally and current events at the restaurant.

Andrea Molnar
Lui Lui
Athens, OH

I have been in the business for 30 years and have always focused on creating a relationship with all our guests. Regardless of whether it’s a fine dining or a casual concept, the hospitality you provide makes all the difference. Anyone can provide a service, but the hospitality you provide can make or break a guest’s experience.

I do my best to touch as many tables as possible and find out if the guests have dined with us before. I make it a point to introduce myself, give them my business card and thank them for dining with us. I then make a note in their Open Table file when I met them and any pertinent information about our meeting. This helps to ensure a “welcome back” greeting on their next visit.

The days of stuffy professional service are over. Efficient, professional and friendly service is the new norm. Guests love meeting the manager and talking about their experience and, before you know it, you’re getting a hug and a kiss and “how’s the family?”

I have been very lucky over the years to make great social friendships with some of the guests I have met in this business. The relationships I have built over the years make it all worthwhile.

Mark D’Alessandro
General Manager
Columbus Hospitality Group

In my two neighborhood restaurants our managers are our maître d’s. Theygreet, seat and engage in continuing conversations with our guests. My entire staff gets to know our customers. We know their names, their families, their lives, their likes and dislikes. They really don’t expect preferential treatment but we administer it to them. Best available tables, on occasion complimentary food and drinks, but mostly sincere thanks for being the loyal, great customers that they are. They are the foundation of my businesses and are recognized as such. We are continuously busy as a result of this passionate, old-fashioned restaurant hospitality approach.

Nigel Leeming
Murphy’s On The Green
Hanover, NH

I have become friends with my guests. I know all my regulars by name, first and last, and I explain to my front-of-the-house crew how important it is to know our guests. I know their drinks, any allergies and, of course, any dietary needs. I also put all these items into the computer system so if I am not at the restaurant, my servers and hostess will know what is going on. I think the most important part of keeping your guests as friends is to make sure your employees know their importance. Keep telling your employees, even if you sound like a broken record. If it’s important to me, it will be important to the staff.

Edwardo Requena
Moro Restaurant
Wilmington, DE

Much of our very successful business is based on regular customers. When we purchased the restaurant from my grandparents two years ago, it became instantly clear to me that the customers liked being recognized and acknowledged as an important part of our business.

We’ve made a point of giving free cookies to first-timers. It’s a great way to get to know new customers and also let them know we look forward to seeing them again. We do the same for our younger visitors. Kids get free cookies and this makes them feel like part of the family.

I love getting to know my regulars better with each visit, and I find great pleasure in meeting all of our first-timers as well. Running a restaurant can and should be a social affair. If you make everyone feel welcome, they’ll be back.

Dustin Hostetler
Grumpy’s Deli

My dad always reminded me that our restaurant really belonged more to our customers than to ourselves. “We are just the ones with our name on the mortgage,” he would remind me. So your comment about treating the customers as if they are returning home was spot on.

Robert K. Arnold
National Sales Manager
Hampton, NH

Staff turnover does make it difficult for return customers to feel recognized, but recognition is so important to secure their return. As an owner, I spend many nights visiting each table. If it’s busy, a brief hello is all it takes.

I recall being at a competitor’s cafe and I knew the owner. She knew I was there and  I felt a little slighted when she failed to say hello.

Linda Duthie
The Grill Bar & Cafe
Leadville, CO

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