Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Place to Call Your Own

You might not realize, but we do NOT maintain a regular office. I prefer to work out of bars, where I can sip a tasty beverage whilst planning to conquer the world. And it occurred to me to figure out WHY this works so well. The camaraderie, the comfort...whatever it is that feeds your inner Hemingway. Fetching bartenders and tasty nibbles don't hurt, either...

Here’s a few tips:
Choose the right place.  It needs to be close to your house and somewhere you enjoy.  Otherwise you won’t go often enough.  Also, make sure its small and been around long enough to have a staff that’s worked there for a while.  You want to make sure you’re not lost in the shuffle. Having internet and power is a must.
How Often?  At least once a week.  At first you want to pick a weekday until they get to know you.  Also, try to avoid a happy hour place.  You don’t want to compete with after-work douchebags for the waitress’ attention.
Choose the right time.  You want to go early or late.  Never at rush hour.  At least until you’ve gained a regular status.  Best way to do this is to get a beer solo around 5:00.  The staff will have already prepped for dinner and usually have time to chat.  This is where you want to strike up a conversation.  Learn their name and repeat it a few times.  Don’t be offended if they don’t learn yours right away.  This takes time.
Order right.  If you order your steak well done, no one will talk to you.  If you order something weird on the menu, they’ll be eager to know what you think.  Remember, a good chef is an artist.  Send the dish back and you’ll crush him.  Be honest, give constructive criticism, and he’ll love you.
Tip generously.  Tipping might be the strangest part of our culture and it’s hard to get right.  If this is somewhere you want to become a regular at you’ve got to set a precedent and stick with it.  I go 25% always.  That’s a good tip but not outrageous.  No waiter will turn down money but they also don’t want to be power played.  And yes, you do tip on drinks and tax.
Dress well.  A good manager knows that the look of the clientele is a part of the decor.  They want to attract young, good looking people.  So make sure you dress the part.  No sandals.  No hats.  No tank tops.  You don’t need to wear a suit (unless the dress code calls for it) but be respectful.
Get to know the other regulars.  It’s just as important as knowing the staff.  View the other regulars as gate keepers.  If you’ve got your head down, playing on your phone all evening, they’ll never let you in.  So jump in on their conversation and offer to buy them a drink.  You’ll be accepted in no time.
Now You’re Getting Somewhere.  So the staff is starting to recognize you.  It’s time to exercise some of the benefits.  Pick a table and asked to be seated there always.  When you call to make a reservation, mention your name and ask something about the hostess.  “Chrissy, it’s John Smith.  How’s your sick dog doing?  I was hoping you had my table open around 9:00 tonight.”  That makes it personal and gives them something to remember about you.
The Buy Back.  At some point you’ll be given a desert or drink on the house.  Be over the top grateful.  Tip like the item was part of the bill.  I know this goes against what I said about tipping, but this is different.  Also, don’t be afraid to reciprocate.  If you stay until closing, buy the kitchen a round of beers from the bar.  Trust me, they’ll remember.

There’s a place a block down the street from where I live that’s been around since the 1920’s.  It’s an institution with lots of regulars to compete with.  But when it changed hands last year and the new owner’s were looking for some press, I offered to help.  I asked a local newspaper if I could write a review.  Boom.  Regular status achieved.