On Becoming a South Florida Regular

Categories: Review Debut
yellowchairs.jpg
Is there a chair here with your name on it?
There are three types of regulars, though they're not mutually exclusive. There are those who patronize a place because their friends own it and hang out there. Take the crew that's often at Laser Wolf, who dated/went to high school with/are in the same social circle as the people on both sides of the bar.

The second type of regular has found a menu, cooking style, and price point that resonates.They've honed in on the chef or a bartender who takes care of them. They might bring their friends here. They might have parties here. Or they might come here three times a week after work and sit in the same chair. Yet this regular is more remote from the staff and other customers than the first.

The third type is the one who lives a stone's throw from a place. These are the most fair-weather regulars if they move quite a bit. Or else they're not, if they're rooted to a home for a long time. This is a relationship of convenience.

I was reminded of this when I ate at the Checkers Old-Munchen pop-up over the weekend, the place that's staged at Diner by-the-Sea as the original Pompano location is rehabbed after a March fire.

While talking with Old-Munchen owner Matt Moore, a white-haired guy in a black shirt blazed into the shop, kind of flustered and out of breath.

"Find the place?" Moore leaned back on his stool and greeted the man, whom he clearly knew. "It took me two days, but I finally did." The man kept getting lost and would turn around to return home, frustrated. "Grab a seat." said Moore. "I'll take care of you."

It struck me that this guy missed his local so much that he'd go two towns out of his way to find this temporary location. He was in good company, since half the place was filled with Pompano regulars. Matt pointed out clusters around the 30-seat shop.

This is a different scenario from the one at Trattoria D'Angelo, the subject of this week's review, where I went with friends and sat out on the deck. Sure, Angelo Elia has quite a following, with five restaurants and a stand-out name in this area's restaurant scene.

Yet on the back porch at a table of four, I was one of several tables filled entirely with visitors. We were all new. Despite this, service didn't waver; it was great. Yet the back patio isn't where the regulars hang out. Like a lunchroom cafeteria, this area is marked for tourists and visitors. The bar and the tables closer to the kitchen? Those are for regulars.

Meeting the regulars is one of my favorite benefits of this job. It has allowed me to meet scores -- perhaps hundreds, by now -- of the people who live here, find out what they do, and learn why they call a restaurant or bar a home away from home. They have helped me get to know South Florida more than anything else in my job.

This week's Wall Street Journal dedicates a column to The Regulars, one in particular who spends $4,000 a month at his local. In the article, they're defined as people who visit a place at least three times a week. "Regulars are everything in our business," says a coffee-shop owner.

Restaurateur Danny Meyer of Union Square Cafe and handful of other well-regarded places, talks of the need to balance regulars and visitors. "You need fresh blood, because, look, regulars die. They divorce. They move. They become regulars at other places. Things happen."

Looking for a place to become a regular? If you're a Delray resident, consider becoming one at Trattoria D'Angelo, since the food, drinks, and service are delightful.

If you've already got a seat somewhere with your name on it, what's your place, and what's the draw?

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Location Info

Diner By-the-Sea

215 Commercial Blvd., Lauderdale By The Sea, FL

Category: Restaurant

Laser Wolf

901 Progresso Drive, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Category: Music

D'Angelo Trattoria

9 SE 7th Ave., Delray Beach, FL

Category: Restaurant


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4 comments
NJ R
NJ R

Part of the trick: Know Your Audience. The managers who thrive are the ones engaging their customers, especially their regulars; we need to be managed as much--and as well--as an employee.

It's not like we need our asses kissed, either. I'm totally okay with hearing "that's not our thing" or "don't ask for that on Saturday", if there's an underlying relationship where it won't come off as brusque. If we're going to share that much time and space, we should learn how to operate comfortably around each other.

Lisa Melegari
Lisa Melegari

We're regulars at a few places, being residents of Wilton Manors for nearly 20 years. Wilton Wings and Calypso Restaurant & Raw Bar are 2 of our top spots "where everybody knows your name" (and we know theirs, it's a mutual friendship). 

We also used to be regulars at the Flanigans on Commercial, but a manager change (we miss Shawn!) and now constantly rotating staff has killed that for the most part. Still, one of their long-time waitresses, Kathy, actually took the time out to visit my mother in the hospital when she was terminally ill from cancer. That's above and beyond a waitress/customer relationship - she's a sweetheart!

Sflfoodie
Sflfoodie

Melissa, I have worked with Danny for years and could not agree more. As a South Florida Industry Veteran, I've seen many of my regulars come and go over the past dozen years. Some are great, others not so. Some are willing to forgive you for the worst of your blunders while others will crucify you for the smallest of errors. Every regular has a different belief and method of madness for finding their own 'local' and after years of research, the restaurant industry has failed to find the golden egg. 

More than the aforementioned, a restaurant operator in today's world needs to be concerned with the 'generational' issue. Yesterday's Boomers (mostly regulars) expect the top notch, regardless of time and day. They are so used to the attentiveness of yesterday that they are not willing to give up some of the costly traditions that businesses can't afford to provide anymore (a recent case of this would be Morton's customer base vs. the brand's sale and store closures to reduce overheads). On the other hand, recent years have proven that today's Gen X (and tomorrow's Millennials) are very mobile and non-binding. Instead of voicing their opinions in person, they prefer to amplify their voices over the social media speakers. 

Hence, you can't simply depend on either of  them to grow your sales. All we as restaurant operators can do to keep our seats filled and doors open are: offer the best possible prices without sacrificing the service, the product or the brand's image.

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