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Restaurants where it's most worth being a regular


Fat Guy
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Do those of you who have dined many times at Momofuku Ko expect us to believe that you are not getting preference in reservations?

I can vouch for the no preference in reservations at Momofuku Ko. Just tried this morning, and I was shut out (again).

I've been to Ko 6 or 7 times and can confirm no resy preference. Having said that, if you're flexible about when you want to go, have a fast internet connection and practice a bit so you understand how their user interface is structured, it's not as tough a reservation as many people would have you believe.

I've gotten an occasional wine upgrade at Ko but that's about it. I will say that I'd probably eat at Ko more often if the menu changed more often. I don't think I've ever been there and not gotten the shaved foie, some version of the buttermilk/fluke dish, and I think I've had a version of the short rib dish just about every time. I'm not complaining that they keep these dishes on the menu - it makes sense that they would as the majority of their guests will dine there once in a lifetime but it's a factor for me.

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As a starting point, here are the lists of current four- and three-star restaurants from the New York Times website....

For some reason, the Times is only listing those places Frank Bruni has reviewed, which is a bit odd. I am quite sure that Tom Colicchio still believes he is a three-star chef, even though the stars came from Biff Grimes.

These, to my knowledge, are the three-star restaurants named by Reichl or Grimes that Bruni has not either re-confirmed or demoted:

Aquavit

Chanterelle

Craft

Gotham Bar & Grill

JoJo

Kurumazushi

La Grenouille

Nobu & Next Door Nobu (but Bruni did review Nobu 57)

Sushi Yasuda (visited by Bruni in Dining Briefs)

Tabla

Union Square Café

Veritas

that is a very interesting list!

veritas should definitely get a rereview, craft too, and chanterelle, and maybe aquavit.

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While I eat out in upscale restaurants a fair amount, I'm not a regular anywhere. But I see a big difference in our treatment between those places who recognize a knowledgable diner in the first few minutes and those who don't, such as Daniel (not recent) or Jean Georges.

Two questions:

Is there some cross referencing of people on Open Table shared by restaurants?

Do those of you who have dined many times at Momofuku Ko expect us to believe that you are not getting preference in reservations?

no but you can use opentable to access other guest information in a restaurants group, if the group wants it configured that way, but a jean georges restaurant can't look at gramercy tavern's opentable guest history and notes

Edited by Wemedge (log)
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Is there some cross referencing of people on Open Table shared by restaurants?

As Wemedge noted, participating restaurants do not typically have access to one another's guest databases.

Do those of you who have dined many times at Momofuku Ko expect us to believe that you are not getting preference in reservations?

Every reservation I've made there, I've made online like everybody else. Thanks to a combination of persistence and teen-acquired video-gaming reflexes, I happen to be better at it than the average person. But no preference.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I would think it would help at Rao's. Il Mulino.

I realize this was meant tongue in cheek, but it's worth noting Rao's for a moment. The only way to eat at Rao's is if you're a regular or a guest of a regular. So nobody really knows how non-regulars are treated. It makes the analysis difficult.

I was a regular at Il Mulino for about a year in the late '90s, when I worked downtown and had the budget for that sort of thing. I'm not sure there's any food benefit to being a regular there. It's just easier to get in. But you get offered the same stuff as everybody else, and you pay the same.

Actually, we do know how non-regulars are treated...they can't get in. Entry is the ultimate perk. Waverly Inn is experimenting with a slightly kinder/gentler version of this philosophy. Le Cirque in its heydey was slightly comparable, where the perk of being a regular was that they treated you like a human being. Yes, I'm kidding...kind of.

To answer an earlier poster's question about Japanese restaurants, I'd concur with FG's statement. They very clearly appreciate your business, and are friendly and offer you input about what's best, but there are very few comps. You may get offered great things that aren't on the menu, but you'll pay for them. I think it's just a cultural difference. This, however, doesn't apply to Americanized Japanese restaurants, or "nouvelle" style ones like Nobu, where being a regular can result in the usual comped dishes and quick seating even without a reservation.

On note related to this thread's topic, I can recount a story of essentially the opposite of what the thread is about. We were completely duped by an slightly unscrupulous (or just cheap) restaurateur a few years ago. I'll leave names out, but the place is no longer open anyway. When we arrived, we found out that my date had been an old friend/acquaintance of the chef/owner, from a time when they had both lived in another country. He welcomed us warmly and brought us several items to try in addition to what we had ordered, asking for our opinions of them. He also brought us several glasses of wine, dessert wine and other add-ons. We were really enjoying our meal, and were chuffed enough about all the extras that we decided we would become regulars even before the meal had ended. So on the surface it would have seemed that the chef/owner's actions were an excellent business decision. He had won over a bunch of future business by being so generous. Except for one thing. When we got the bill, we were charged for every single one of the things he brought us that he we hadn't asked for. (And no, we hadn't requested that he should just give us whatever was good or anything like that. We had ordered a la carte.) He then made a lame and nervous joke about how he had considered comping us for the stuff he had brought, but decided against it "because he was cheap". He laughed, but wasn't kidding. (Fair disclosure: we liked the food enough that we returned once or twice anyway, but he lost a ton of patronage that way.)

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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To answer an earlier poster's question about Japanese restaurants, I'd concur with FG's statement.  They very clearly appreciate your business, and are friendly and offer you input about what's best, but there are very few comps.  You may get offered great things that aren't on the menu, but you'll pay for them.  I think it's just a cultural difference.  This, however, doesn't apply to Americanized Japanese restaurants, or "nouvelle" style ones like Nobu, where being a regular can result in the usual comped dishes and quick seating even without a reservation.

Well, I'd expand on this a bit. It definitely pays to be a regular at Tsukushima. Sushi bars, it pays to be a regular. As a general rule, the closer you are to the person serving your food, the greater the potential hookup, but the rest really depends on the particular sushi chef or server.

A far far greater asset is language...

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So, it's time to admit that the title of this thread irritates me ever so slightly. It implies to me that one would choose to be a regular at a spot where one is more likely to get something of value for free. I can't imagine I'd bother being a regular at a place other than one that I just truly loved. I mean, it's nice to get stuff, but that's not why I'm there.

Other than neighborhood spots and cocktail bars, I don't think I'm a regular anywhere. It takes a lot of going back in a short period of time to be a regular, and with a million other places I'd rather try for the first time and a relatively limited budget, it doesn't happen often for me.

I think the Ko commentary is very interesting, especially in comparison to the extreme comping that goes on at Ssam and Noodle. I wonder what makes them implement an entirely different approach at Ko. It's not like Chang is opposed to special treatment, he just doesn't do it at Ko.

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It implies to me that one would choose to be a regular at a spot where one is more likely to get something of value for free. 

As between two places that are equally good, of course most people will choose the one that offers better value.

It takes a lot of going back in a short period of time to be a regular, and with a million other places I'd rather try for the first time and a relatively limited budget, it doesn't happen often for me.

For anyone with a finite dining budget, there's going to be a trade-off between depth and breadth. The more you go to one or a few places, the less of a budget you have to try new places. So if you place a higher value on trying new places than on getting better treatment at old ones, it's best to allocate funds towards new places. A lot of people, however, have the opposite preference.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It implies to me that one would choose to be a regular at a spot where one is more likely to get something of value for free. 

As between two places that are equally good, of course most people will choose the one that offers better value.

It takes a lot of going back in a short period of time to be a regular, and with a million other places I'd rather try for the first time and a relatively limited budget, it doesn't happen often for me.

For anyone with a finite dining budget, there's going to be a trade-off between depth and breadth. The more you go to one or a few places, the less of a budget you have to try new places. So if you place a higher value on trying new places than on getting better treatment at old ones, it's best to allocate funds towards new places. A lot of people, however, have the opposite preference.

Interestingly, though, several people on here are "regulars" at Ko and get very little of measurable value for their patronage.

I'm curious to know what people's reasons for being a regular are then and how it evolves for them. Do you make a conscious decision to go back again and again with a goal in mind? What do you get out of it that's not about free stuff? David's mention of Cendrillon includes friendship, community and camaraderie, and I think my regular visits to my neighborhood spots and cocktail bars are for much the same reason.

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[

Interestingly, though, several people on here are "regulars" at Ko and get very little of measurable value for their patronage.

I'm curious to know what people's reasons for being a regular are then and how it evolves for them.  Do you make a conscious decision to go back again and again with a goal in mind?  What do you get out of it that's not about free stuff?  David's mention of Cendrillon includes friendship, community and camaraderie, and I think my regular visits to my neighborhood spots and cocktail bars are for much the same reason.

I regularly dine at Ko, and the reason I go back so often even though there are no tangible benefits is for the single reason that I love their cuisine. Since I usually space my reservations to no more than monthly and alternate between lunch and dinner, I am always pleased with the changing menus. My favorite (the shaved foie gras) is always on both menus. Unlike other posters on this board, it was only recently that I had the deep fried short ribs at dinner; I loved it so much I've been back for dinner twice since. Sometimes there will be a course that I don't care for (sweetbreads/rabbit--just a personal dislike as opposed to Ko's preparation), but I would say that I love probably 90% of the courses. Sometimes I'm sad when Ko retires a favorite, but there's always a new favorite.

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So, it's time to admit that the title of this thread irritates me ever so slightly.  It implies to me that one would choose to be a regular at a spot where one is more likely to get something of value for free.  I can't imagine I'd bother being a regular at a place other than one that I just truly loved.  I mean, it's nice to get stuff, but that's not why I'm there.[...]

You make your point clearly, and I think many people would agree with you. But I really appreciate this thread, because it constitutes information. What anyone does or doesn't choose to do with the information is another question, but do you agree or disagree that it's good to know these things?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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To answer an earlier poster's question about Japanese restaurants, I'd concur with FG's statement.  They very clearly appreciate your business, and are friendly and offer you input about what's best, but there are very few comps.  You may get offered great things that aren't on the menu, but you'll pay for them.  I think it's just a cultural difference.  This, however, doesn't apply to Americanized Japanese restaurants, or "nouvelle" style ones like Nobu, where being a regular can result in the usual comped dishes and quick seating even without a reservation.

Well, I'd expand on this a bit. It definitely pays to be a regular at Tsukushima. Sushi bars, it pays to be a regular. As a general rule, the closer you are to the person serving your food, the greater the potential hookup, but the rest really depends on the particular sushi chef or server.

A far far greater asset is language...

As usual, Raji sums up the situation with respect to Japanese food better and more concisely than I did. +1 for the point about language. I don't speak a word of proper Japanese, but just the fact that I know so many FOOD words in Japanese has been a boon to my cause.

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[
Interestingly, though, several people on here are "regulars" at Ko and get very little of measurable value for their patronage.

I'm curious to know what people's reasons for being a regular are then and how it evolves for them.  Do you make a conscious decision to go back again and again with a goal in mind?  What do you get out of it that's not about free stuff?  David's mention of Cendrillon includes friendship, community and camaraderie, and I think my regular visits to my neighborhood spots and cocktail bars are for much the same reason.

I regularly dine at Ko, and the reason I go back so often even though there are no tangible benefits is for the single reason that I love their cuisine. Since I usually space my reservations to no more than monthly and alternate between lunch and dinner, I am always pleased with the changing menus. My favorite (the shaved foie gras) is always on both menus. Unlike other posters on this board, it was only recently that I had the deep fried short ribs at dinner; I loved it so much I've been back for dinner twice since. Sometimes there will be a course that I don't care for (sweetbreads/rabbit--just a personal dislike as opposed to Ko's preparation), but I would say that I love probably 90% of the courses. Sometimes I'm sad when Ko retires a favorite, but there's always a new favorite.

I think the fact that Ko's menu is constantly evolving/changing also makes it a good candidate for revisits. This, of course, applies to any place that varies its menu frequently, but Ko is REALLY good.

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So, it's time to admit that the title of this thread irritates me ever so slightly.  It implies to me that one would choose to be a regular at a spot where one is more likely to get something of value for free.  I can't imagine I'd bother being a regular at a place other than one that I just truly loved.  I mean, it's nice to get stuff, but that's not why I'm there.[...]

You make your point clearly, and I think many people would agree with you. But I really appreciate this thread, because it constitutes information. What anyone does or doesn't choose to do with the information is another question, but do you agree or disagree that it's good to know these things?

Sure, it's interesting. I'm more curious about the process of/decisionmaking behind becoming a regular ...

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Sure, it's interesting.  I'm more curious about the process of/decisionmaking behind becoming a regular ...

I think most people become regulars because they like the restaurant, and because it's convenient. At some of these places, that effort is repaid with benefits unavailable to the occasional or one-time visitor. At others, all you get is the opportunity to keep paying for more of what you enjoyed in the first place.

So what FG is trying to suss out is: Which are those places where it actually makes a difference? Whether you would want to be a regular there is a whole other question. For a whole bunch of reasons, the answer may be no, but it's useful (or at least interesting) information.

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For most people, becoming a regular and reaping the benefits of becoming a regular is a passive, pretty much accidental process. Nonetheless the treatment they receive can influence their decisions about where to make repeat visits. As between two restaurants, equally good in most respects, the one that offers some value added is going to get more repeat business.

But it doesn't have to be a passive, accidental process. It's possible to know up front which restaurants offer value added and which don't. For some people, this is desirable information. To others, it may seem impure, but my feeling is that when you're paying people to cook and serve food the impurity train has already left the station.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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To Daisy's point, I think this is really a matter of feeling appreciated for your repeat business and loyalty. And that appreciation can be shown in many ways. So in my mind, it's not a matter of "getting something for free", especially since many of the perks discussed aren't freebies, but an appreciation and recognition that in a city with so many dining options, you've chosen to return to theirs over and over.

That being said, I've been to Ssam close to 20 times, and while I'm always treated well, I don't think they've once realized that I was a repeat customer. Nonetheless, I'll be back another 20.

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I am a regular at several places -- none of the ones we are talking about here like Rao's or Il Mulino.

First, it was never my intention, goal or motivation to "become a regular" so to speak. I liked the restaurant, obviously a lot, and as such I went back a lot; and like any relationship, a familiarity developed -- me with them and them with me.

Second, I have never expected anything in the way of complimentary food or drink. Never. When a bartender buys me or my party a drink, or the restaurant buys us dessert or our after dinner drinks, whatever -- it's very nice, but I have never once expected it. Being that I never expected, I was never dissappointed when it didn't happen, and of course I was pleasantly surprised and it made me feel good when it did happen.

Third, after becomming a regular, do I expect anything? Yeah, I guess I do. I like to be recognized. You don't have to run over and kiss my ring, but a quick "Hello" or acknoledgement makes me feel like you are going to care about me and my experience. Sure, that should be the case with everyone, but if you feel that in advance, it adds to the mindset -- whether the experience goes well or not ironically. I expect to get a nice table, or at least not a smaller table -- one with more room than less. Perhaps a more quiet location, closer to this or further away than that. More importantly -- if I am regular -- servers, bartenders, staff, everyone, they all know that I tip well; especially if I enjoy the experience. There's a bit of a quid pro quo there, but this is a service industry. To the restaurant -- more importantly -- I am an ambassador. If I like a place, everyone I know will not only know about it, but chances are most of them will dine there, probably with me, LOL. But they will go and the restaurant of course loves that.

A mindset of good feeling, good experiences, and all that comes with it -- it can be circular and contagious.

Thanks and great thread.

Eric

PS -- if anyone is a regular at Rao's or Il Mulino and wants to teach me how to get a reservation, I'd be interested in learning, LOL.

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  • 4 weeks later...

On Grub Street today, there's a piece about How to Become a Regular...go ahead, click it.

Some of the suggestions seem quite ludicrous to me, like:

Thank your server by name if he or she is in earshot when you get up to leave. And also thank — and tip ($20 minimum) — the maître'd or manager. Let us emphasize here, you're doing this on the way out.

Though it sort of redeems itself by saying:

Restaurants — any one worth becoming a Regular at, anyhow — reward their local customers above all others.

Some of the comments are golden as well.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Maybe I'm missing something here (no doubt I am) but I think that, unless you're going for "regular-hood" at a top 50 NYC restaurant (where there's intense competition for status), many of these "tips" are not on my planet. I do agree with generous tipping, sharing the wine a little & making some of the comments described... but I've never brought a bottle of liquor in as a present and never tipped the manager or maitre d' on the way out. And I'm not buying rounds of drinks for the kitchen while they're on duty either, although I've been known to drink with some of them at other times. Overall, the entire tone of the article is that demand exceeds (by far) supply and that the owner is the one with all the cards. My take is that owners want regulars and will go out of their way to create a base of solid customers for their restaurant. To do all of the things described in the article comes off as "needy" and even a little oily to me, as opposed to giving the feeling that you genuinely like a place and appreciate it. But, as I said, maybe I'm missing something.

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My sense is that, while none of those ideas is wrong, you can become a Regular simply by patronizing a place regularly. Obviously, if you slip a twenty to the maitre d' it could hasten the process, but it's not essential. It also depends on the place. I suspect it would be a lot harder to make a dent at Ssäm Bar, where they already have plenty of long-term regulars, and where they are perpetually full anyway.

ETA: The irony is that the author if the piece, Ben Leventhal, gets treated like royalty wherever he is recognized, simply because of who he is.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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Someone should write a whole book containing strategies for becoming a regular, getting hard-to-get reservations, etc.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My sense is that, while none of those ideas is wrong, you can become a Regular simply by patronizing a place regularly.

ditto. just frequent the restaurants that resonate with you. get to know the staff and tip well, but that goes without saying. this piece is over-the-top and most of the suggestions seem too eager.

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