Tips on Gaining Regular Customers for Your Bar

By Andrew Turnwall


Andrew Turnwall

July 21, 2017

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Incentive programs, customer data, and a classic hidden bartender trick encourage customers to be more than just one and done…

Your regular customers are some of the most important people who pass through the doors of your establishment. They visit more often, spend more as a result, bring new customers, and act as champions for your bar both online and in the local neighborhood. These are a few tried and true methods for keeping tabs on, taking care of, and attracting your best and most loyal customers.

The Little Black Book

We’ve mentioned before that bartending is something of a mysterious job. For all the science and exact measurements and data you pour into it, you can’t remove the noir quality of life behind the bar. One such mixological McGuffin is the bartender’s little black book.

Bartenders have long kept notes on not just favorite recipes but on customers as well. Physical descriptions names, favorite drinks, and facts about their lives are all types of entries that can make their way into the black book. This allows bartenders to strike up conversations, suggest new drinks, and generally make their best customers feel welcome and happy to come back again and again.

We talked to Jon Karel, owner and manager of Buffalo Proper, about his bartenders and their use of the little black book. “Most of my bartenders carry a little black book. We try not to use it so much for recipes, we rely on 150 years of cocktail history, so it’s more about being exceptional rather than innovative.”

When asked about how they attract and keep regulars in the bar, he mentions that one of their key strengths is low staff turnover. Every bartender, including Karel himself, works full-time behind the bar. Keeping his employees happy and working let’s them focus less on their next paycheck and more on being excellent bartenders. “One of our core beliefs is: if we’re here to service the community, we should service the community. If we can’t remember someone that’s in every week or someone that gives us a nice tip, we’re missing something.”


Leveling Up Through Data

Like most things nowadays, even the lore filled black book has made its way into the information age. Products like Upserve’s Guest Book, a digital black book that delivers customer data by analyzing point of sale data like payments, orders, reservations and the like. With it, bartenders can see thing like what their customers favorite orders are, when they are most likely to visit, how well they tip, and what they are likely to spend on each visit.

Beyond keeping track of individual customers programs like Upserve allow you to keep track of trends as well. Checking which of your promotions do well, when customers are likely to visit and what they are likely to order, allows you to craft your experience to promote the growth of new customers and a larger base of loyal regulars.

While Karel and his stable of bartenders do take advantage of services like OpenTable, they also have their own intra-employee network with which they can pass along notes on customers and preferences. “We try to pass along info about certain customers, and we like to encourage customers to have a relationship with multiple bartenders, so they don’t need to have ‘their guy’ if a certain bartender isn’t on that night.”

Karel also points out that it’s possible to go too far with data, and at the end of the day the most important thing is that the drinks taste good. “We want to know people, but we don’t want to know everything about them to the point it becomes creepy or invasive.”

The First Rule of Mug Club

While the bartender’s little black book and POS services like Upserve’s Breadcrumb are certainly extraordinarily useful in keeping tabs on and cultivating regulars, they definitely aren’t the only way to do it. When last we interviewed folks at Gene McCarthy’s about their trivia night, they also answered our questions about their Founder’s Mug Club.

The Founder’s Club at Gene McCarthy’s was a pay-in membership type program. In exchange for a fee, a limited number of customers that paid into the program (McCarthy’s has over 100 Founding Members) receive a discount on drinks every time they come in, served in their own etched glass beer mug labeled with their name. This creates incentive for customers to return to their bar, because they’re not only already invested, but they also have exclusive deals and, due to repeat business and their names literally being on the mug, staff that know them.

This is an especially great tool for new establishments. Hamm and Fattey’s Beer Company in Hamburg, New York uses the mug club to great effect, offering nearly a dozen benefits and selling out almost instantly upon their opening a few months ago. This provided them with a Day One customer base, and a booster shot of startup money to get the business going.

The regular customer is the champion of your bar. They spend their time with you repeatedly over any other establishment, they bring friends, and the advertise freely by talking you up on social media or by word of mouth. Making the extra effort to know who they are and what they like will keep them coming back for more, and it can be as simple as taking notes or checking in on a custom POS app. At the end of the day though the best thing you can do is focus on excellence, and making your bar the best it can be.


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