Frank Bruni sings the virtues of restaurants that are loyal to him (The New York Times, 9/18/13). "I’m here to sing what’s too seldom sung: the joys of familiarity. The pleasures of intimacy. The virtues of staying put," he writes. As a restaurant critic, it was his job to hit as many restaurants as possible. "I was a paid philanderer," he writes. "It was exhilarating. It was exhausting." But now he says he’s re-discovered the value of "the smiles you get from hosts, hostesses and bartenders who know you," which "are entirely unlike the ones who are just meeting you."
Some restaurants, such as the newly opened Charlie Bird in SoHo, make a point of cultivating regulars, which its co-owner, Robert Bohr, says is designed "to be a repeat refuge for neighborhood folks who like to drop in impulsively. A few tables are informally tagged for such ‘walk ins’ … and the menu accommodates snacking as well as feasting." "It’s regulars who support you on off days, in bad weather, during times of the night that aren’t prime times," says Robert. In return, regulars can make special requests because they’ve "been loyal" and he knows they’ll be back.
Regulars make their hosts feel good, too. "It has such a huge impact on the morale of the staff, to see people falling in love with what you’re doing," says Eamon Rockey of Betony. "It changes the culture of the restaurant," he says. The staff becomes less focused on "razzle dazzle" and more on "reading diners’ minds, anticipating their needs, soothing them." At Barbuto, one of Frank’s favorite haunts, the regulars also influence the menu – specifically the roast chicken and the kale. Jonathan Waxman, its chef and owner, says the only reason those items are still on the menu after nearly ten years is because regulars demand them.