It is an axiom of eating out that the best restaurants are the ones you go to most often. If the restaurant is any good, whatever you might lose in variety, you make up for in preferential treatment: better tables, more attentive service, free drinks and dishes from the kitchen.
Some diners take this to extremes. If restaurants are fond of their regulars, they adore their super-regulars. These are the customers who will go to a restaurant again and again, dozens if not hundreds of times. They will know the staff as well as they know their own family and be so familiar with the menu they could recite it on command. And these aren’t end-of-the-road cafés where you might expect regular business, but true destinations.
‘There are a couple of levels of regulars,’ says Will Beckett, co-founder of the steak group Hawksmoor. ‘Super-regulars are a tiny percentage of your customers, but not necessarily a tiny percentage of your revenue. We refer to them as a family, those people who come in all the time.
‘All of our restaurants will have between five and 30 people who they know by name. They know their family, the customer will have had everything and know everything inside out. The teams will go out of their way to be nice to them, and the customers will go out of their way to be nice to the staff.’
They also keep staff on their toes when it comes to the menu: as they will naturally try everything, you must ensure that even the less frequently ordered items are up to scratch.
One Hawksmoor diehard is Professor Dominic Regan, a lawyer. ‘I would say that, over a year, I go at least once a fortnight,’ he explains, a number all the more impressive considering he lives in Bristol and his nearest Hawksmoor restaurant is in London. ‘Being a regular pays a big dividend.’
He doesn’t have a steak every time, he adds. He mixes it up with fish and vegetables. ‘Once they had taken a beetroot salad off [the menu]. I mentioned it and the next time I went, it was back on. Another time I’d had a horrible journey down from Manchester. When I got to reception, they came down with a glass of Champagne on the house and said, “I think you need this.”’
If the professor’s Hawksmoor habit sounds expensive, it is positively cheap compared to some. For most diners, a trip to Moor Hall, Mark Birchall’s two-Michelin-star restaurant in Ormskirk, Lancashire, where dinner – a tasting menu – costs £225 before drinks, would be a rare treat.
Not for one of Birchall’s super-regulars, who has made around 60 trips to Moor Hall and the same again for The Barn, which is its more accessible à la carte sister restaurant. Birchall estimates the customer has spent well over £40,000 in total.
‘It’s lovely,’ he says. ‘They are the real VIPs, the people who come back. You spend an extra few minutes talking to them. He has become a good friend.’
For Will Beckett, as for other restaurateurs, the vital question is how to elevate your customers to this hallowed status. ‘The assumption is that if someone turns up often enough, you start treating them like a regular. In fact, it’s the other way around. When you start treating them like a regular, then they start turning up more often.’