Why I Become Friends With My Regulars
Or, when does the customer/server rapport become too unprofessional?
I’ve worked in food service for seven out of my eight years working, and I’ve been serving for roughly four of those years. During my entire time in the working world, I’ve learned one very important thing: get to know who you’re working with. At first, I thought this just meant your coworkers. Throughout the years, I’ve realized that this also means getting to know the customers. Whether they come in every day or once a month, remembering those familiar faces is one of the most important parts of my job.
As someone who has a hard time remembering names, this was a challenge for me at first. During my hosting years, I would remember all of the regulars at the bar/restaurant I worked at, but I would never remember their names unless they left a bad taste in my mouth. Developing my working habits to remember names really started when I began working at my current job. It took me three years to be confident with my own memory, but I can officially tell you who orders what on what day without really even thinking about it.
This resulted in me becoming the fan favorite of the store, which still blows my mind if we’re being honest. I don’t think my skills as a server are that great, but I do admit that my customer skills are better than average. Because of this, I’ve been granted more opportunities in the workplace. I get to do all of the orientations for new employees, train people to serve, and do paperwork when the GM needs me to help her (and even paperwork is fun, sometimes).
My favorite part of my job is getting to talk to my customers. Nothing makes me feel better than getting to make someone’s day better through food and conversation! It’s a good feeling to know people are coming in to see me as well. I think it’s very important to build a relationship with the people you are serving every day, and even more so if they come back again and again.
But when does it cross the line? When is it “too friendly” or “unprofessional” to build that rapport with your customers?
The day I’m writing this, the first day of my work week, I thought to myself: Am I crossing the line with my regulars? I know more about a handful of their lives than I know about some of my friends’s lives. Some regulars have even invited me to their houses for parties and get togethers. I’ve never gone, of course. But I’ve strongly considered taking them up on offers.
On one hand, isn’t that what a regular is? A customer you know well enough to call them a friend? Or is that too forward? Should a regular be considered someone you’re only friendly to, but never real friends? I don’t know the answer.
When I first started serving, I didn’t know that I would become so amazed with my customers’s lives outside of the world that I reside in for 4–8 hours a day. Threeish years later, I’m being invited to Halloween parties and giving/being given career advice, being gifted audio books and discussing the best marijuana strains with people that I at first thought of as customers, people that pay my bills, but now think of as individuals that I would possibly want to see outside of work. Maybe even hang out with!
The first time I told a customer that I considered them a friend, it was in passing. They ended up tipping me almost triple what they usually tip that day. At first, I was shocked. Why would they tip me so much? It wasn’t like I was doing anything different. But then I thought about it and realized that in saying that I considered them to be more than just a customer, I had possibly crossed a line they themselves were too afraid to cross.
No one wants to be considered the weird person who knows everything about a waitress. On the same coin, I don’t want to be considered the waitress who knows too much about her customers. The challenge I find in serving doesn’t come from the actual job. It comes from my empathy for people’s lives, and the urge to be nosy at a moment’s notice. My nature is to want to know the lives of people I see often, to know what they do when they’re not in my restaurant (or around me in general, if we’re being honest). It gets me into trouble both in real life and at work; I can’t tell you how many times my managers of past and present have told me to just do my job, not hang around a table or the register to talk to customers.
But isn’t part of my job getting to know my customers? It’s a fine line, but one I have trouble not crossing every day.
Today, I told another regular that I considered them to be a friend to me. Their eyes lit up, and they told me that they felt the same, but didn’t want to make it “weird” every time they came in. I wanted to tell them that I knew too much about them to consider them to be anything less, but instead we looked at pictures of their cat. I don’t know if it’s just my personality or the way I do my job, but if a customer decides they are my friend, I consider them to be the same. If that’s crossing the line, well then I guess I cross that line everyday.
Thanks for reading everyone! I wrote this a few weeks ago, but I still feel like regulars are both important to have as a server, and a good way to get to know a lot of different kinds of people. If you’d like to keep up with my everyday life ar work, I tweet about it semi-often. You might even get some tweets about my favorite regulars!
(Also, I’m still learning Medium on the app, so I’ve got to credit Gabby down here for that amazing picture of myself from Skyline’s lil International Women’s Day Instastory!)