QUICK ONE: Turning Casuals into Regulars

Detail: a 1970s pub table.

If someone comes into your pub twice you’re missing a trick if you don’t say hello.

We were hanging out with Bailey’s parents recently when his mum told us this story about their pub-going in the 1970s:

The second time we went into The Cobblestones the landlady came over and said, ‘Right, if you’re going to be coming in regularly, I ought to know your names.’ Then a few months later she said, ‘I’ve got something for you,’ and gave Dad a pint glass with a euchre hand on it, and Grandpa a glass with cherries on, because he liked the fruit machines. We drank in there for years.

This seems like such a simple, effective, emotionally manipulative approach. If you see the same face twice, make a formal introduction, and then use those names at every opportunity. Then after, say, three months of regular custom ask if they’d like a loyalty card, or a glass behind the bar, or make some other small gesture — ‘That one’s on the house.’

Lock them into the relationship, like the free sandwich thing at Pret a Manger.

In practice, there are probably all sorts of reasons this doesn’t happen so often these days, not least the fact that it feels ever rarer to actually find the licensee behind the bar. We often ask (because we want permission to take photos or need to ask some questions for one Thing or another) ‘Is this your place, then?’ and we can’t think of many occasions when the answer has been anything other than, ‘No, I’m just the manager.’

In big chains, though, Creating Regulars could be built into staff objectives and the performance management programme… Aaaaaaaaand we’ve depressed ourselves.

8 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: Turning Casuals into Regulars”

  1. I have to say I actively dislike people in pubs asking me who I am or what I’m doing there. It comes across to me as intrusive and over-familiar. There are subtle ways of embracing people without being so direct.

  2. Christine and I visited a bar/brewpub in Napa. The first time was perfectly pleasant, nice beer and service. On the second visit the man behind the bar rang a large bell as we entered. This was the welcome and the recognition to which you refer. We called in every night we were in the town.

  3. “Creating Regulars could be built into staff objectives and the performance management programme …” I appreciate this was written tongue in cheek, but it does reflect reality in some establishments. Once a welcome becomes formulaic, it ceases to work. How many of us are impressed by staff who, clearly under instructions, say “Enjoy your meal”, or ask if everything is all right, and are usually at a loss what to do if you say “no”?

    There’s nothing wrong with a natural welcome, but going over the top can seem intrusive, as Curmudgeon points out.

    1. Tongue in cheek ? Maybe, but probably not.
      I was friendly with a ‘Spoons branch manager who was told in his annual appraisal that he was too distant and aloof from his regulars. He was encouraged to engage more with his regular customers. The trouble was that he found that really difficult, as he had little in common with them, and was more of an office manager than a publican. However, he did keep a good cellar and a decent range of beers, which illustrates how many qualities are needed to run a good pub, with a superpub being a further step up the ladder.

  4. It’s fine line to walk, and tricky to get right. No one wants to go down the road of America where people fake it for the tips.

    1. On the contrary.
      I’ve just returned from my annual trip to the States and I continued to find bar workers to be overwhelmingly friendly and helpful.
      I appreciate outstanding levels of service when I go out to eat and drink and even if it only means the staff are working hard for their tips I much prefer that to sloppy,rude and disinterested people serving me my pint.

  5. Certainly something that needs to be cultivated over time and have organic or even spontaneous roots. If I sit or stand at the bar (rather than sitting at a table or on a bench) I’m basically saying I’m up for a chat beyond just ordering and it usually happens down some line or other.
    Recently a barman ran across the bar as soon as I walked in, eyes gleaming and uttered: “series 2 and 3 of People Just Do Nothing have now been uploaded onto BBC Iplayer!”
    This was the continuation of a conversation we’d had about three weeks earlier and made it seem like a few seconds ago. That’s the kind of welcome I love.

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