Imagine this . . . a guy walks into a restaurant and immediately he’s chatting with the manager, they hug and share a quick laugh. Shortly after that, the manager tells the hostess where this gentleman’s table is—he doesn’t have a reservation, by the way—and as they walk to his table, waiters he walks by say hello to him, the bartender says hey as well, and he stops by the pickup window and has a quick word with the chef. Before he has a chance to go through the menu, a complimentary round of drinks are brought to the table, and the man confidently tells the waiter, “I’ll have whatever the chef recommends tonight.”
We’ve all seen this scene before. Naturally, your reaction is: I want to be that guy! I want to walk into a restaurant and be best friends with everyone who works there, and be treated like someone special.
I’ve wanted that too, and at a few restaurants I frequent, I’ve managed to become that guy. I’m not rich, I’m not famous, I’m not someone who has done anything remarkably special that I should be that guy, but by being friendly, being myself, and remembering that people who work in the service industry are first and foremost, people, I’ve become that guy. Below, I’m going to tell you how you can become that guy in a few easy steps! Because after all . . . honestly, who doesn’t want to have that sort of connection with their favorite restaurant?
1. Pick your location wisely, it’s important!
If you want to be the guy, the first thing you need to decide is where you are going to put down your roots, your time, and your effort in order to make that happen. First, it has to be a restaurant which you enjoy going to—duh!—but there are a few nuances you want to take into consideration as well. Besides cuisine, what type of restaurant are you trying to become friends with? There’s a big difference between frequenting a corporate franchise restaurant on a regular basis or a more high-end establishment. At the end of the day, we’re going to be talking about getting “in” at these places based on us building relationships with the people who work there, but keep in mind that these places, independently of you, might have certain policies and standards that you want to be aware of.
The next thing you want to take into consideration is location. Your restaurant of choice should be somewhere that is convenient for you. Think about their location in relation to yours. It should be close to work, home, or somewhere that you don’t mind using as an excuse to travel out of your way for. There should be some matter of convenience and comfort in this decision.
Lastly, and this relates to our first two things to consider, how comfortable do you feel at this place? Do you feel like the ambiance, the dress code, the people, etc., make you feel welcome? Have your place in mind? Fantastic, let’s move on!
2. Get your foot in the door!
Now this might be the trickiest part of this entire process. Assuming the restaurant you’ve selected sees a decent amount of customers, your goal is to make sure that you stand out in a positive way. That when you leave, you’re not just another customer, but you’re a person who treats the staff really well and is going to be remembered for it!
So, how do you do that? It all starts with being polite and cordial. The hostess checks your name for a reservation? When they read back your name, don’t just say, “Yes, that’s me.” Be outgoing, tell them it’s nice to meet them, thank them for assisting you. And if they give you their name, use it when you’re speaking with them. Do the same with whoever shows you to your table. It is crucial to address everyone by name—it’s a good way to stand out in their minds.
3. Build rapport with your server
When you’re seated, be sure to continue the same polite behavior with your server. The key is to make sure you stand out for all the right reasons. If they introduce themselves, be sure to do the same, and tell them that you’ve been really looking forward to dining here. Once you’ve put in your order, things are sort of on cruise control for a little while. Your waiter is going to check in with you during your meal, and they’re going to keep going about their work. So far, you’ve been so friendly with everyone that you’ve met that you will probably want to keep the ball rolling—but remember, while you’re enjoying a meal in leisure, this person is still working, and you don’t want to overburden them. If they ask about the meal, feel free to throw in there that the food is great. Maybe go so far as telling them that if they have a minute, would they mind telling the chef that the food is fantastic, and you wanted to personally thank them.
4. But … I hate eating at restaurants by myself, what do I do instead?
Depending on the establishment of your choice, eating at the bar is another option. Personally, I recommend this route for the following reasons: 1) usually the bar is right by the kitchen; 2) sitting at a table by yourself might make you feel awkward; 3) often, the main waiter station is near the bar as well.
By hanging out at the bar, what you’re losing from dealing with the waiter, you’re gaining with the bartender instead. You still want to be personable, introduce yourself, and make sure that in some way you’re standing out from the crowd. Again, you also want to respect that the bartender is working while you’re relaxing. When they engage with you, take this as an opportunity to chat up your experience, or something light, but don’t pursue them. Don’t get in their way of working.
5. Leave an impact on your way out
You’re finishing up your meal, and now we want to make sure you’re leaving a good impression on your way out. On the surface, the easiest way to do this is tip well, but I’m going to come back to our central theme: treating people as people. Good tips are good, but experiences stand out more. On your way out, be sure to tell your waiter that you really appreciated their service. If the host/hostess or manager is still around, be sure to thank them, as well as endorse the work of whoever served you. Make sure that by the time you’ve walked out of the restaurant you’ve made it a point to stand out to the people you’ve met by having been kind, appreciative, and a good guest.
6. The Follow-up
You’ve gotten through your meal, and you left a good impression. Now we want to build off that. But how do we do that? Well, we go back and do it all over again! So when should you go back? My answer is, as soon as possible! You’ve left a good impression from your last visit, and you want to keep building on your momentum. However, you should keep in mind that people are usually more willing to be personable on a slow Tuesday night than they would on a busy Friday night. So make sure to keep your expectations in check.
Now, there are a couple of ways to go about doing this. First, when you talk with the hostess/manager/etc. like we did before, address them by name. This time, also be sure to say that it’s good to see them again, it’s great to be back, ask how they’re doing, and so on. You could even go so far as to ask if the waiter who helped you last time is in tonight, and if so, if you could sit in their section again. If it all works out, you’re in a prime position to build off these relationships you started building the last time you were here.
If you didn’t sit at the bar last time, I’d recommend that you do so this time. Bartenders are by and large social people. While bars themselves tend to be crowded and of a quick pace, most bars at restaurants are quieter. There’s a good chance that while the bartender at this restaurant is working, they’re not necessarily that busy. As long as you’re not hogging their attention, you’re probably giving them good conversation while they’re going about their work. Whichever way you choose to go, be sure to say that you’re glad to see them again, you had a great time the last time you were there, and so on. From that point on, go about your meal as you usually would. Don’t expect any sort of preferential treatment yet. But when given the opportunity, just be engaging with those helping you. This might yield you immediate dividends, or it might not, but just keep doing what you’re doing.
7. The Next Step
So by now you’ve been hanging out at this restaurant a few times. You know your way around the menu, one or a few of the waiters know who you are, and you’ve probably been comped a dessert or something. So now what? Here’s when you start making your push. At some point by the end of the meal, ask your server if it’s possible for you to speak with the manager. They’ll probably be nervous about this request, but ensure them everything is OK. Then, when meeting with the manager, you glow! Tell them how great the food is, how great the service has been, and how much you enjoy visiting this place, time and time again.
If you’ve played your cards right, and managed to build relationships with the people working here, there will be some sort of payoff like a round of drinks or dessert on the house. Pending on how your exchange with the manager went, you can consider asking if it’s possible for them to relay a word to the chef, or if it’s possible, for you to do so yourself. This is touchy, and might not be feasible, but feel out the situation. Most importantly, you’ve established some connections with the front of the house staff. Once you have that, you’re in good standing with that restaurant.
8. Now What?
That question, I leave to you. Once you’ve become that guy at your place of choice, there’s a lot you can do with it. The obvious answer is that this becomes your date spot, because being that guy is a great way to impress on a date. Another option is that this becomes your place to celebrate special occasions. Yes, it’s nice to be able to impress people, whether it be family, romantic interests, or whoever, but this relationship isn’t based on impressing people. It’s about acknowledging people who work very hard and whose hard work makes lots of people happy, and those friendships shouldn’t be pressured by the expectation that you will receive certain things because that became the norm. Ultimately, I leave these places as places for me to hang out, because when I’m at my favorite restaurant, I’m hanging out with friends, which is exactly what I want when I go out.