Press Club

Restaurant Talk: How To Be A Regular

Restaurant Talk is an occasional feature written by Nick Freshman, a native Arlingtonian and co-owner of Spider Kelly’s and Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon. Photos added by

The bar at Spider Kelly's, before openingI’ve seen this question come up a lot in other online forums, and we also get it in person at the bar from time to time: You like a place, it seems to fit you, and you wonder how you get to be recognized.

The truth is, it’s pretty easy. Each place is different, and some are frankly not interested in you being a regular — they’re too busy or they just don’t care — but most bars and bartenders love their regulars.

To that end, I offer a few easy tips. If they seem like common sense, that’s because they are — there’s no secret password or handshake. Well, maybe at some of the speakeasies in the city, but you’re on your own there.

  • Be nice. Yep, that’s it. Be friendly, patient if it is called for, and use basic courteous language. It’s a sad statement about our society that being nice often causes you to stand out, but it does. Customer service is a tough business, and bartenders have to endure a lot of people that forgot all the rules we learned in kindergarten.
  • Come often. I know, you don’t feel like you’re learning anything here, right? Again, it’s basic. You have to show up to be recognized. Not every day, but once a week or so is good enough for a good bartender to easily remember what you like to drink and where you like to sit. Also, and this is important, you can’t only come when it’s packed. When there are 400 people in the place, all surging to the bar, the bartender doesn’t have any time to get to know you.
  • Tip generously. Feel like you know all this already? Great, you’re perfectly qualified to be a regular, so come sidle up to the bar and get started. Honestly though, bartenders work for tips, so you’ve got to show some love when you pay your tab. I don’t mean 50%, but if you had a good experience, maybe even got a free cocktail, and you leave only 15%, the bartender probably won’t make space at the bar for you the next time you come in. (See “How to Tip,” below, after the jump.)

Five Ways To Never Be A Regular

This part could be even more helpful, and it comes to you by popular request. Popular request from bartenders across Arlington, that is. Remember that for the most part, bartenders love their job and love taking care of you, but as I said earlier, a lot of people forgot what they learned in Kindergarten.

  • No touching. Keep your hands to yourself, even if you’re just trying to get their attention.
  • No yelling. That also includes whistling, slapping the bar and — the most condescending of all moves — snapping your fingers. The bartenders will get to you, they are not ignoring you. Please be patient.
  • No fighting. Crazy that I have to write this, right? Just relax. If someone bumps you or says hello to your girlfriend, take a deep breath and chill out. Fighting is the best way to not be welcome at the bar. In fact, it will get you instantly banned from Spider Kelly’s.
  • Put your phone down. When it’s your turn, just put your phone down. The call or the text can wait, but the bartender won’t. It’s just basic courtesy. I see this at coffee shops all the time, and it makes me nuts.

BONUS: How To Tip

First off, if you get bad service, tip accordingly. I don’t subscribe to the belief that you should tip well no matter what. If you had a bad experience, and if was particularly the fault of the bartender, then reducing your tip is completely appropriate.

If your experience was affected by something outside the control of the bartender (the A/C struggling, the bathroom was out of order, et), however, that isn’t really their fault and their tip should not be affected. Of course, how they handle the situation can make all the difference, but you should keep in mind what they can directly control and what they can’t. Any issues outside the bartender’s purview should be brought to the attention of a manager. A proactive manager can save your experience if they are given the chance.

  • Tip every order. If you are not starting a tab, then tip every time you go to the bar. Bartenders have little faith in the “I’ll get you at the end,” theory. Besides, in a bar like ours, you’re unlikely to get the same bartender every time. They have no idea what you tipped before or what you promised to tip later.
  • A dollar a drink isn’t enough. This is Clarendon. Drinks are expensive, and the bartenders don’t set the prices. 20% is a good place to start, so sure if you get a $5 beer, then $1 is a good tip, but if you get a $10 Jager Bomb, you’re stiffing the bar.
  • Tip on discounted or free items. If you are lucky enough to get a bartender to buy you a drink, you should tip on it as if you paid for it. It took the same amount of effort to make it whether you paid for it or not; furthermore, most bartenders have a very specific amount of drinks they can give away as ‘promos,’ and you got one! Show some love. Also, happy hour drinks, comped food and all other discounted items should be considered full price when tipping.

That’s it. Hope you liked it; bring on the comments.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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