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August 20, 2012 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Becoming a "regular" at a bar or cafe: is that even a real thing?

Metafilter occasionally sees advice to socially disconnected people to become regular customers at cafes, bars, and restaurants and make themselves socially available that way.

To avoid living in my apartment, I spend a lot of time at Starbucks, which is the nearest cafe by a long shot and the only one within a reasonable drive from where I live. I know many regulars by face, but that's because they are the ones who use their laptops as boom boxes, or use the armchairs to sleep, or bring their children to sell candy, or proselytize. My Starbucks also hosts a lot of East Asian graduate students who come and hang out in groups of 8-10. I have never, ever had a conversation at Starbucks that didn't make me intensely uncomfortable. I used to go to Baltimore's One World Cafe on Tuesdays for their delicious half-price black bean burrito. I did it for months and months, smiled to the cashiers, and tipped as much as one can reasonably tip on a $6 purchase. Some servers openly loathed me, demanding that I hand over my driver's license until I paid up for the meal. I never did end up meeting anyone else there. Similarly, I also used to pay regular visits at a fantastic diner near there several times each month. I learned to recognize some of the servers, and that was about it.

I rarely drink (because I drive everywhere alone), and all my current local watering holes are loud and rowdy college bars. (Do. Not. Want.)

I've had interesting conversations before at a cafe in nearby Silver Spring, MD, which functioned as a kind of community center. It closed a couple of years ago. I've also enjoyed good conversation in cafes around Annapolis, MD, but my schedule doesn't often allow me to drive 40 miles each way for a cup of coffee.

  • Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?
  • Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?
  • Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?
  • Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?
Many thanks.
posted by Nomyte to Society & Culture (101 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a regular at a karaoke bar. It's a dive. My partner and I have been going there for about a year and a half.

I approach people there a lot. I talk about music or the weather or how much I like their shoes (whatever, really).

I think my karaoke habit costs me about $20-30 bucks a week.

I have made good friends there. Friends that I see outside of that venue.
posted by dchrssyr at 8:13 PM on August 20, 2012

I am currently a regular at only one place. And that's only because the servers have good memories. It's a restaurant of the cafe variety. It used to be open only for breakfast and lunch. For a period fo time ( about six months) I went every weekend. It cost roughly $15/week at that point.

No, I've never approached others there, though I have been spoken to by others. Never in a manner that would result in a lasting connection.

Years and years ago I was a regular at a lesbian bar in Chicago. Not only did it lead to long lasting friendships and some relationships, but it also led to a job. I am still friends and/or friendly with many of the women I met there but I no longer live in the same city and therefore those relationships are less intense these days.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:14 PM on August 20, 2012

Oh, I meant to say... Starbucks has never really struck me as the sort of place people are open to random conversations.

I know you don't want to drink and drive and I applaud that, but consider finding a bar type place that you do, in fact, like and consider having a beer or whatever when you first get there and then switch to soda/water. Lots of bars in my are have free wifi and make for a decent place to do a little work as long as you're not there too late. But hopefully by that time you've struck up a convo. Also - sitting at a bar/community table is the way to go.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:17 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Regulars go regularly. They tip, they know the staff, they know the patrons and vice versa. It starts as stupid little smiles, then becomes hellos, then remarks about something about them or you. The same people who are commuting or working out show up at predictable intervals.

It's like life. You've chosen a little island full of folks who wander in and out and who are mildly predictable. All of the aspects after that are up to you.

I am socially disconnected, generally, someone who is pretty hard to drag from his shell. You must be wiling to compromise on all those wonderful iron-clad things socially-disconnected people do in order to begin even the first, tho.

regular habit costs uncontemplatible

also, as much as possible whenever possible, please please please not Starbucks
posted by nevercalm at 8:18 PM on August 20, 2012

Starbucks is too faceless and chain-y, in my experience, to really become "a regular". Find a place where the owners work the register, and where they will talk to you. Go at least 2x a week. Share your thoughts as you order, be friendly, ask questions, make comments, give compliments. Et voila.

I have had at least one cafe at which I am a regular in every town I've ever lived in. YOU CAN DO IT! Also, it is the best.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:19 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

From a former cafe- worker.
Regulars do not come every week. They come once a day or more often.
They go to cafes where the owner or at least a full time staff member works the till- weekend staff don't care about the atmosphere/business/anything much enough to be seriously friendly.
Alternatively, they go somewhere with a niche scene- sufficiently so that people are quite motivated to speak to the other people who are there doing this slightly unusual activity.
posted by jojobobo at 8:27 PM on August 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

I am a regular at a bar and a club, and my gym. (I was kind of shocked when I brought another friend to sign up at the gym and the saleswoman, whom I had seen from a distance but never interacted with, not only recognized me but commented on my usual routine.)

It's easiest at bars, because people go to bars to meet people. The places I hang out at are probably 75% regulars on a Tuesday night - they're folks who work or live nearby, not tourists or students out to get shitfaced. I got to know a lot of people not necessarily by name but by face and general circumstances - there was the woman who worked at the vegan restaurant, and the tattoo artist, and the biker-looking dude who worked at a tech startup, etc. We'd sit next to each other at the bar and banter with the bartender (who became a good friend of mine) and comment at whatever was on the tv, and so on. It wasn't a source of regular friendships for me necessarily - even the bartender and I almost never managed to get it together to hang out elsewhere - but it was a place to go where I felt like I belonged, and it was great and necessary.

Coffee shops are harder, and chain coffee shops are the worst. They will put up with you monopolizing a table, but they'd make more money if the turnover were higher so they don't really want you to hang around and distract the staff.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:28 PM on August 20, 2012

Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?

I am a sort-of-regular at a few places. A bar, a few restaurants, a cafe. There are a few other places that I go almost often enough to be a regular, but not really; they recognize me but that's about it. It takes a little while, but a lot less than you might think, to become more or less a regular.

Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?

I always smile and nod, and sometimes that turns into conversation. I'm not really there for conversation (though it's nice); if that was my goal I'd be a lot more forward about talking to people.

Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?

I don't spend anything extra (except that I make sure to tip very, very, very well, since I'm often taking up space but not ordering a lot and I don't want to get looked on as a pain in the ass). I'm not going out more often; I'm just going to the same few places instead of spreading myself all around.

Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?

Yes, more at some places than others, and probably as much with staff as with fellow customers. Good bartenders and servers will introduce people to each other, which is way easier than doing it on your own.
posted by Forktine at 8:28 PM on August 20, 2012

Are you a regular somewhere?

Yes. I've been a "regular" at two different places over the last year or so, due to moving apartments a few months ago. I prefer to write somewhere in easy walking distance to my house, hence the switch.

What kind of place is it?

Current place - hybrid cafe, bar, and bike mechanic shop.

Former place - bistro/cafe/bar. Back then I was only going on Saturdays, so I'd usually roll in towards the end of brunch and hit the trifecta of all the things they did there.

I prefer to sleep in and hit my stride writing in the afternoon, so I like a place where I could get either coffee or a drink.

Both places were chosen due to their non-chain atmosphere and general deadness during the times of day I want to be there. I've seen crowds of rowdy bike messengers smoking outside my current spot on weekend nights, but I'm not writing there on weekend nights so we don't really cross paths.

On the other hand, the fact that I'm often the only customer in the store probably increases the "regular" factor. I've only been frequenting my current place for a couple weeks, yet the baristas all know my order and ask how the script is coming.

Both places had a central bar area, which is where I prefer to sit. This probably adds to the "regular" factor, because it gets me chatting when I want to be distracted. And again, I'm a recognizable face rather than that girl who slouches over her laptop over in the corner.

How long have you been going?

Current place - three weeks or a month, tops. But I'm there just about every day, for hours at a stretch, at a time when nobody else is there. This probably ups the recognition.

Former place - almost a year. It took a lot longer to get "regular" status there, but the staff was also more free-flowing with the freebies. After a while I never paid for a coffee there, would get comped glasses of wine on the regular, etc.

Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?

Not really. As above, I'm often the only person there, often sitting near where staff congregates, and often welcome the distraction of idle chatter.

Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?

Let's say $20 a week. I tend to fold the expense into my grocery budget. I'm sure I could spend less, but $20 a week is a small price to pay to actually be writing.

Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?

Not really. I'll say hi if I see them outside the cafe. We'll chat. But we're not besties or anything.
posted by Sara C. at 8:30 PM on August 20, 2012

I kind of accidentally became a regular at the Starbucks closest to my old office. I go in maybe 3 times a week, sometimes for coffee and sometimes to grab a quick lunch, often with coworkers. Most of the staff know me by name and will kind of aggressively engage in conversation. I would actually kind of prefer to be totally anonymous, but sometimes it's nice to get out of my world a bit.

I'm actually thinking of dropping by later this week to say goodbye, now that I'm moving out of state.

I probably spent $15-20 a week, on average. Totally non-notable tipping. Though the baristas who chat with me are all male, I'm pretty certain they're not hitting on me. Among other things, I wear a wedding ring.

I've never talked with random other customers there. Once I ran into one of the guys on the street and he startled me badly by saying my name really loudly. Not as if we hang out, though.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:30 PM on August 20, 2012

Sure! When I was a journalist in DC I used to get my mail at the Tune Inn,because ai went there every single day, sometimes twice a day, and I started using it as my "work" address. Now, I go to my local coffee place, every day, rain or shine. I like having people to check in with, who know what I like and have a treat for my pooch.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:31 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a regular at a local cafe, and I met one of my few new grown-up friends there. The older you get the harder it gets, of course, but sometimes you have to be ostentatious in your display of interests to figure out who's got similar ones. In my case having an infant and being a stay-at-home dad probably helped, but I don't see why any other obvious display of what you like to do when you're not haunting the cafe wouldn't work.

I was, in the past, a regular at two bars as well. Befriending the bartender, owner, or both is invaluable, but this doesn't usually happen without a large infusion of cash.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:31 PM on August 20, 2012

Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?
Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?
Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?
Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?

Yes, I'm somewhat of a regular at a bar in Tokyo, of all places. It's a DJ bar, with people spinning house/soul/r&b/hip hop music most nights, and I've been going about once a week for almost 4 years now. I have been moving back and forth between Tokyo during that time though, so there have been some multi-month gaps where I wasn't going because I was out of the country.

Never the less, it's a small bar and I know the staff well, so even after being gone for several months, I can pick up right where I left off when I come back. I talk to the staff of the bar, as well as random people who filter in and out, mostly about music, but also about work, or life in Tokyo, or anything really.

It is a bit pricey. I tend to go on Friday nights, will often stay there most of the night, and this can cost around 50-100$ a pop... their drinks are not cheap.

But, as long as I have the money, it's totally worth it. Lots of fun people to meet, they organize events outside of the bar from time to time, and I have made some real friends and had lots of fun social opportunities just by going to this bar.

So, it is totally a real thing, and it's great. I don't have a lot of other friends outside of work, and it can be hard to meet people in the big city, so having a place where I have instant connections and feel comfortable, and can easily meet new people is invaluable.
posted by tokaidanshi at 8:31 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

oh, and apologies for repeating the questions in the beginning, posted them there as a reference and forgot to delete them!
posted by tokaidanshi at 8:32 PM on August 20, 2012

The only place where I was a regular and met friends was a bar or two. I think this is because after a drink or four, it's easier to socialize.
I am a regular at several stores and cafes, but no one really socializes. I think at a lot of coffee shops people are there to do their own thing. There are some more alternative/indie types that are more social. I think you're better off finding those types of places if you're looking for social interaction.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:33 PM on August 20, 2012

I am a regular at a neighborhood bar. Mine has a Thursday night singer/songwriter forum "in the round." Every week there's a fairly large group of other regulars who know each other and interact, along with a smaller group of newbie strangers. The regulars are easy to talk to and very welcoming, mostly because we know that a larger group will help our musician friends keep their venue. I would look for something like this, maybe an open mic night at a locally owned coffee house?
posted by raisingsand at 8:34 PM on August 20, 2012

Response by poster: Now I feel intensely jealous of you lot. Around here there is really nothing that's not a fast food chain or a student bar. I wouldn't even call this a neighborhood.
posted by Nomyte at 8:38 PM on August 20, 2012

Come to think of it, I'm kind of a local at a breakfast place near me, even though we don't go as often as once a month any more (we used to go every week or two). We know the two head servers' names, the owner's name, and we know at least a little about their kids, their spouses or parents, their other jobs, etc. The owner even tried to help me get a job when we had a tight financial spot a couple of years ago. They know how we like our food and generally look out for us. I've never talked to other patrons there beyond answering questions about some of the more visually interesting dishes I ordered, but it does seem like the possibility is there.

I have a mind to become a local at a coffeehouse (with a particular atmosphere) and a restaurant here; I'm now convinced it's a good idea and I ought to.
posted by wintersweet at 8:43 PM on August 20, 2012

In NYC, I'm a regular at a coffee shop and a bar. The bar is across the street from my apartment, and I used to be there so often that I could borrow glassware for parties, leave my keys in the cash register for catsitters, stuff like that; I dated a hostess there on and off. It's the kind of place where people can just talk to whomever's next to them. One of the bartenders organized a neighborhood wine-tasting club years ago, and those people are still good friends of mine. At my peak, when they opened, I was there most nights and easily spending over $500 a week; I'm not there that often now, but I took all my friends there so much over the years that now they're regulars, so I'm still in there maybe once a week.

The coffee shop is a different scene, I know the adorable hipster kids who work there better than I do the other customers. But I used to work from home, and ate lunch there every day plus brunch on weekends, and I've met a lot of nice people there.
posted by nicwolff at 8:48 PM on August 20, 2012

I'm a regular in several places, and, yes, it's a real thing, and it doesn't take much, unless your'e going to a super popular place in a big city.

I'm talkative and friendly, but a poor initiator. I gravitate toward bars where people just naturally cross-converse, and chime in if I have anything amusing to add.

Easiest way to start out is at the sort of bar where grim 50 and 60 year olds hang out in the late afternoon, pre-happy hour. Believe me, they'll be glad to see new blood, and flattered that someone younger wants to talk to them. But you'll probably have to initiate.

If you're opposite sex from the majority of denizens, that raises confusing signal issues. They can be overcome....by choosing carefully - friendly neighborhood bar, not pickup joint - and carrying yourself appropriately - a bit louder and more wide-eyed to converse than to flirt.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:50 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a regular at my neighborhood coffeeshop (3 times a week on average) and the servers know my order, and I know them by sight (and would wave to them if I saw them out and about) but don't know their names. I chat with people in there, but just because people I know from the neighborhood and from work are always in there -- I don't sense that there's a lot of talking to strangers.
posted by escabeche at 8:55 PM on August 20, 2012

Currently, I'm only a regular at my gym. I say this because all the girls that work the counter recognize me and call me by name before I sign in and because a couple of the trainers have come over to introduce myself because they felt they should "introduce themselves to the regulars." I only ask for spots and make gym-related conversation, but that happens once a week or so, and people have come over to compliment me on my work ethic/weight loss/etc. and the guys I think of as "the regulars" give me the nod. I pay $35/month and that gives me access to every gym in the chain across the country except 2 of the super-duper nice ones in cities I seldom visit.

The wife and I also go to the nearby movie theater enough that staff are starting to recognize/remember us, but that's in the process. And on thinking about it, the used book store we pop into every week or two is starting to hold the kind of weird things we like for us, so I guess we're regulars there, or evolving into them.

In my teenage years, I was a local at the independent coffee shop in the college district that had kind of a funky vibe and where a disreputable gentleman like myself might feel welcome. I talked to people all the time, but there were de facto social codes like people sitting in the stools by the "bar" were open to chat and people sitting on the couches were not, and it was one of those places that was almost bar-like in its socialization potential (granted, this was before laptops left everyone at coffee shops staring at screens). I had a regular "group" and wound up going to college with a lot of them. And I know I was enough of a regular and a good enough tipper to be remembered because I popped back in years later and the owner still recognized me and could make my favorite drink. I dunno, $20-30, month? I've always been more of a nurser than a chugger when it comes to coffee and tea. I'm not in touch with any of that group anymore for life-related reasons, but at the time, they were my main crew.

I worked in a book store with a coffee shop attached for 3 years shortly after the end of that era and we definitely recognized and chatted with the regulars. I'd say daily or a couple times a week constitutes a regular for a cafe-type-thing. I didn't make any big business deals, but we talked enough that I knew their names, what they did, why they worked there, and generally the status of any projects they were working on.

When I lived in Seattle, some friends and I frequented a bar enough that staff knew us, our regular orders, and trusted us to behave enough that they'd let us hang around after chasing everyone out for lockup/cleaning because they knew we'd leave all the glasses on the bar and wipe down the table when we finally departed, and sometimes they'd hang out with us while they wound down and only asked us to leave when they were ready to go for the night. I had to move before we got further than that, unfortunately.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:56 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I should have mentioned that bar selection is key. Every nabe has the bar where people talk to each other. Everyone knows it. It will NOT take much research, just ask around. Or Yelp's pretty good at tracking this.

And don't go when busy. Paradoxically, near-empty bars far from peak hours are the friendliest and most likely to recognize your regular-hood.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:00 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's absolutely a real thing, but you have to be in a neighborhood-type neighborhood for it to work. By which I mean somewhere with a cafe that isn't Starbucks.

Meetup.com might have some regularly scheduled events in your area? I know people who do movie nights with Meetup.com folks and have fun.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:02 PM on August 20, 2012

someone said:
"Regulars do not come every week. They come once a day or more often"

If we're talking about bars, well, alcoholics come every day. But you don't need to be an alcoholic everyday case to be a regular.

Not at restaurants or cafes, either. Unless you're an extreme introvert (or choose super busy trendy spots), you'll feel at home anywhere you go once or twice per week. Believe me. I know these things.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:03 PM on August 20, 2012

I've unexpectedly become a regular at a restaurant I frequent once a week to every two weeks or so. The key to that for me was that it's a smallish mom-and-pop restaurant with servers that have worked there a long time and with very little turnover. I also go at a non-peak time (usually after the lunch rush and before the supper rush), so the waitstaff have time to be chatty. I'm pretty much an introvert homebody, so it's nice for me to have a bit of social interaction as part of my day.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 9:04 PM on August 20, 2012

I'm a regular at my neighbor's house on Sunday afternoons, especially during football season, which is coming up soon. It is super convenient, pretty cheap. I bring a 12 pack once every 2 or 3 weeks and food once in a while. We often half watch whatever sports on TV (golf, baseball, etc), while mostly talking to each other.
posted by eelgrassman at 9:09 PM on August 20, 2012

dude! Your problem is that you're trying to become a regular at Starbucks. I mean...it's a coffee shop, I guess, but not really a cafe. They kinda expect you to come in and get out pretty soon. Even their music is pretty bad.

I become a regular at the local coffee shop every time I move. Right now I'm becoming kind of a regular at this coffee shop which admittedly is 1/2 an hour away, but I love it there. I've been going for a few months, and I'm there approx. once a week, although for a while I was going every day for about 4 hours at a time.

OK, so when I was a regular at this other coffee shop (a small one popular with the local college kids), this old man who claimed he was a professor tried to befriend me and sat at my table and stuff. What drew him in was the fact that I was there every day with a stack of books writing a philosophy paper, and he was also there every day with a stack of papers doing God knows what. So yeah. I guess if you're going to be approaching people it'll be more of an academic "in." If you're trying to pick someone up (like that guy probably was), you'll be all "Oh, I also love Hegel" etc.

Oy! My habits probably cost me...oh, anywhere from $15 to $25 a week, I guess. Wow, that's expensive. Um, sometimes there are interesting "social opportunities," as you say, especially if you're at an "indie" coffee shop which is known for being a hangout for the local fringe-dwellers or artists. Sometimes you'll overhear about cool events, or some weird flash mob will come in, or they'll start filming there (happened), or something. I don't think I've formed any "lasting relationships," though.

Kinda makes me feel like a part of something, though. That's pretty cool.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:12 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?

Yes. It is an independent cafe that serves coffee, alcohol and food. I have been going there for three years.

Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?

I do approach others. Often times people are reading/playing a game/working on a craft and I will comment on that. The best opening is if someone is reading the local arts paper; I will ask if they read their horoscope or such-and-such article. They also keep sports on, and while I don't interrupt people watching soccer while they are watching soccer, I'll ask about the game if we are outside smoking or something.

Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?

[($2/cup of coffee x 3 days a week) + lunch and alcohol on Saturdays ($20)] x 4 = ~$100 a month? Probably a little more, because some weeks I'm there 5 or 6 times.

Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?

Yes. I've met several people that I now consider friends and I've dated three different guys I've met there. I've also been able to get to know several acquaintances better since they also frequent this same cafe. Most importantly, I've gotten to know a lot of people in the community in a friendly, casual way.
posted by peacrow at 9:16 PM on August 20, 2012

dude! Your problem is that you're trying to become a regular at Starbucks. I mean...it's a coffee shop, I guess, but not really a cafe


The Starbucks thing (coffee quality aside) shows a fundamental misconception of what neighborhoodliness even is. No worries; the advice in this post, and the thread in general, should help.

I'll shut up now.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:17 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband and I become regulars everywhere we go. This is because we are creatures of habit so we show up at the same place around the same time every week, and my husband is very friendly and outgoing, and we are an unusual racial mix so people always recognize us. It's definitely a real thing.

Definitely there are Starbucks with regulars. My parents' neighborhood has one. I can barely walk in there because my sister's high school friends work there and all these parents of kids from my elementary school hang out there all day long gossiping.
posted by town of cats at 9:22 PM on August 20, 2012

I've been a regular at bars, cafes and coffee shops, but to my surprise I'm now also a regular at a gas station/bait shop/c-store... one of many who make the place part of their daily routine. The guy behind the register makes decent coffee and runs the place like a salon. It's one of the few spots in my small town that carries the NYT and WSJ and isn't tourist-oriented. We all hang out and yack about the news, boats, fishing, politics, religion, animals, our gardens, etc. and kibitz the delivery guys' techniques. When the weekly order comes in, everyone who's around helps to stock the shelves. The regulars include farmers, investment guys, an architect, construction/trades folks, a veterinarian. One guy recruited a bunch of us to sponsor needy kids in Africa, and now we all compare notes on that. It's an important part of my life. I spend $3.50/day ($1 for coffee and $2.50 for my NYT) to partake.
posted by carmicha at 9:22 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The Starbucks thing (coffee quality aside) shows a fundamental misconception of what neighborhoodliness even is.

I live in College Park, MD. There are no independent coffee shops here. There are several Starbucks locations on campus and several more around campus. I've been going to my local Starbucks for 2.5 years. Before that I patronized another Starbucks. Drink Starbucks coffee!
posted by Nomyte at 9:23 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

This depends so much on your personality. I am a reserved person, but I have recently observed a friend quickly establishing regular status at a whole bunch of neighborhood places. I am not sure how consciously he's doing this, but he'll ask staff for their names if he's seen them a few times, and then name-drop to ones he later meets. He'll make constructive remarks (positive or negative) about menu items or coffee quality. He might hang around late when the staff are less busy and more willing to chat. If he brings friends he introduces them.
posted by bread-eater at 9:26 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound weird, but I'm a regular at a food cart. It's one that I always pass on the way home so I pick up food there at least 3 times a week. At first it was sort of awkward like "hey, It's me again..." but I would ask the guy working the cart a question/make small talk every time I stopped by, so now if I don't stop by for 3+ days, then I get to say "hey long time no see", so that's nice.
posted by dragonfruit at 9:34 PM on August 20, 2012

There's a sandwich shop I go to once or twice most weeks. Some of the guys there greet me by name.

This is helped because it's one of those places where you fill out a checklist for your order, and write your name down. It's also helped because I am easy to notice - I've been "that tall lady with the screamingly artificial hair color", and I just started upgrading it to "that tall lady with the screamingly artificial hair color and the wings tattooed along her arms".

When there's a girl working the counter I usually don't get greeted by name, it's just the guys, which leads me to suspect I may be getting noticed due to being hot or something.

There's a dude at the farmer's market I usually buy some awesome spicy cheese from. Week before last, I didn't make it, but I ran into him on the street a little after the market closed and he asked if I wanted to buy some of said cheese, as he hadn't sold out of it this week (as he often does). He knows me by name, probably in part because his credit card payment process involves writing stuff by hand instead of using Square. And of course the hair.

So I guess what I'm saying here is that these kinds of things are a bit easier if you look dramatically different from most people in an attractive way. Jazz up your look and things might become a little more social.
posted by egypturnash at 9:40 PM on August 20, 2012

I've been a regular, even a "super regular" at a few bars. I was really just a barfly and sometimes an unpaid barback.

I don't get out much recently but I'd say I'm still a regular at 4 bars where the owners/bartenders/other regulars know my name and at least say hello when I come in.

Some things regulars get:

Free drinks, don't underestimate this, I mean pretty much never paying when certain bartenders work and many more buybacks when bartenders I am less familiar with are working. I've had a bartender demand I stop tipping her even, in her words "I called you to come hang out and you keep trying to give me money". I've had bartenders reach into the tips to give me cab fare or buy me breakfast at 5am.

Bartenders/owners/other regulars will call when you are not at the bar. This is a blessing and a curse as they are drunks and will call at 4 am. You will not miss your favorite bartender's shifts and will maximize free drinks though.

I get to act like a big deal because everyone knows me. It is kinda fun sometimes, a few weeks back someone was trying to impress me saying they knew the owner. I said "Oh cool, he texted me earlier to say he would be out also, did he tell you what time he was coming? " and the person was like crestfallen. Haters gonna hate.

You get invited to people kid's birthday parties, old regular's 60th birthdays, random cookouts, sporting events you don't care about.

You become a mini-celebrity in that bar. A few weeks back they scheduled a liquor event for me with spokesmodel types. The spokesmodels both wanted pictures taken with me.

I've become really close friends with bartenders/other regulars and some owners. I've traveled thousands of miles to go to weddings. I've seen their kids grow, I've helped them take garbage out, bought them breakfast when they had a shitty shift, They are like legit friends.

Of course this has cost me untold thousands of dollars on drinks over the years. Drinking in bars is like any other hobby though.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:45 PM on August 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

I think it is easier to become a regular at a small place, or a family-owned place - the kind of place where you would chat with the owner because it's natural, not because you want to be a regular.

Are you a regular somewhere?
I'm a regular at (one of) my local Japanese restaurant(s). I've been going there for 2 years, but I'd say I was a regular after the first month. It is a small place with around 10 tables. I sit at the bar and chat with the owner when the crowd isn't big.

Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?
There is a TV with Japanese programming on, I'll randomly talk to people around me about the show if I can see that they are also watching it. Or the owner will engage several people eating by ourselves into a conversation.

Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?
About $60 per month? Where I live, food is very cheap.
I go there because I have to eat somewhere, and because they provide healthier meals than I cook myself. I go less than once per week.

Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?
Yes, the restaurant is very popular with Japanese expats in my area. I've been introduced to some Japanese communities through the people I've met eating there.
posted by xmts at 9:50 PM on August 20, 2012

This depends so much on your personality. I am a reserved person, but I have recently observed a friend quickly establishing regular status at a whole bunch of neighborhood places. I am not sure how consciously he's doing this, but he'll ask staff for their names if he's seen them a few times, and then name-drop to ones he later meets. He'll make constructive remarks (positive or negative) about menu items or coffee quality. He might hang around late when the staff are less busy and more willing to chat. If he brings friends he introduces them


Being a regular is as much an effort, a conscious activity as showing up every so often. I do this because I've moved around a lot and I like to feel "where everybody knows my name" in new places, so will make the effort in the corner kiosk or coffee shop or bar to get to know people by name and ask about them and make small talk.
posted by infini at 9:53 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to be a regular at a bar in my hometown, it was full of British ex-pats and a close friend is English so we went to watch soccer, listen to the jukebox and generally hang out. At a certain point I crossed a threshold where I hung out with people I met there outside of the bar, went to summer barbeques with the bartenders, became friends with the kids of the older regulars, celebrated birthdays and showed up for breakfast at 4:00 AM during World Cup season. By then I probably had gone one or twice a week for several years, and was well known enough that I could forget my wallet and they'd just run a tab knowing I'd be back and pay up the next time.

I moved away almost eight years ago, but I stopped by last Christmas just for kicks and was greeted like a conquering hero. It felt pretty great. I'm not a regular anywhere now and I miss it, not so much of a drinker now but I may have to seek out another spot.

On preview, what ad hominem said.
posted by cali at 9:55 PM on August 20, 2012

I've been going to my local Starbucks for 2.5 years.

Somewhat relevant. Also relevant: what is the turnover like at this place? The more turnover, the less likely it is that someone gets to become a regular, because there are fewer veterans to notice you or point you out.

That said, I work at a coffee/dessert shop and we have several regulars.

-B is a local nurse who comes in 5-6 times a week on average. Adequate tipper but not overly generous. She has been coming in for 4 years or so. Mostly she reads the paper when she comes in, but she makes an effort to learn and use everyone's name, and she chats with the staff and talks to us about our interests and our lives. She actually bought me a wedding present, and got a bunch of tiny souvenirs for everyone on her most recent vacation. She will occasionally start up a conversation with someone she notices who seems to be there as often as she is. This has led to dinner invitations at other people's houses, a few times at least. She probably spends $25/week.

-M lives in the neighborhood and doesn't talk much, but she's definitely a regular. I've seen her on the street a few times and we always say hi and exchange pleasantries. She comes in maybe twice a week and spends $20/week.

-L is a bodyguard who uses our shop as an office sometimes. He goes through bursts, sometimes he will come in every day for a month, then other times he will be gone for weeks at a time. Because he's a regular, he felt safe bringing by a famous client once without us fawning all over the place. When he's in often, he spends $20/week.

-J is an eccentric guy who walks all around town. He doesn't much talk when he comes in, except niceties about the weather, but everyone knows him and his order. We smile at each other when we see each other around town.

These regulars always get priority service, often don't get charged the full total for their items, and are generally welcomed extra when they come in.

I used to be a regular at a Mexican food joint. I went 5 days a week, spent maybe $25/week and tipped generously. I got a job because of a recommendation from someone there. I was a regular after about a month, which got me free drink refills and a chance to try all the new stuff on the menu as it came out, as well as some quality conversation with some really awesome people. I was a regular for just over a year, but then I changed jobs, so now I only go back occasionally. They still remember me and ask how I'm doing every time I go back.

In my experience, as a regular you get to know the staff much more quickly than you get to know the other customers. Once you're in the habit of making conversation with the staff, it's not hard to get involved in a conversation that the staff is having with another regular, and then boom. You're in with that person. And then you just branch out from there. You're going to have trouble with all this if the people who work at/frequent the places you like to go are not people you would want to hang out with otherwise.
posted by Night_owl at 9:58 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

And yes, that is how I managed to get a slice of social life that wasn't connected to work when in Finland - my hair stylist, my kiosk guy, the open terrace bar guys, all became friends who invited me to parties and to hang out with them. But as one of them told me, it was primarily because I was the one who made all the effort and was friendly, forthcoming and virtually irresistable (i.e. to converse with, because people don't converse randomly in Finland).

You can go for years to a bar and not become a 'regular' if you sit in a corner and stick your nose in the paper. Not in the social life kind of way.
posted by infini at 9:59 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where I live, which is a sort of weird place, I'm a regular in a couple places--a bar and a coffee shop. I moved here knowing no one, in what is a largeish city. I started going to a neighborhood bar regularly, and I became friends with the staff and owners, and it's now the center of my social life--I know everyone who works there, most of them pretty well, along with a lot of the other regulars. Plus the owners, who, along with a couple other bartenders and super-regulars, comprise a pretty tight outside-the-bar social circle at this point. As far as what the habit costs me, it's not a lot at this point--I drink free regularly, so I end up paying maybe 100-150/month, which is, value-wise, significantly less than I'm consuming.

I'm also a regular at the best neighborhood coffee shop (there aren't many here, though, so that's not saying a lot). Being a regular there took a little more time, but I know most of the staff now and a good number of regulars. It's a few dollars a day--less is free, because the people there are less my out-of-shop friends--and I go maybe 4-5 times a week, so let's say 20-25 bucks a week. I get the free coffee on occasion, but mostly when I've, say, done a small favor for one of the employees.

To me, becoming a regular takes two things. First, you have to go to a place where you can sit in a semi-communal setting. Either at the bar or the cafe, I sit at the bar. That way, I cant talk to the staff, which is the most important thing. Them knowing you is important to having the "regular" cache. Plus, sitting in a communal spot means you're sitting with other people who are there alone, or at least possibly looking to talk to other folks. I can't imagine successfully meeting people sitting alone at a table, or, for that matter, interacting with the staff just while ordering and paying.

Second, and relatedly, and as hard as this may be (for me it's hard, but less hard probably than for many), you have to initiate a lot of the contact, especially with the staff (which, again, seems to me crucial for getting the cache). The folks working at a cafe or bar talk to dozens or hundreds every day, and so they can't always take the time to make conversation, nor do they always have the energy. If you're around a lot, they likely remember you, but they might not start talking to you. So talk to them. It doesn't take much---just a hello, or asking how they're doing, what they're studying, what else they do, etc. It doesn't take much--the people who are good at these jobs are by and large friendly--but you can't always expect just smiling and being there to be enough to make friends, or make yourself something other than an ever-present, but unknown, regular.

Point being, it takes effort, but it's worth it, especially at a decent bar with regular staff and more or less present owners.
posted by ecab at 10:10 PM on August 20, 2012

Count me in as another regular at their local Starbucks. Not only is it a Starbucks, which should strike terror in all MeFis everywhere, it's a Starbucks kiosk in the QFC grocery store in a suburban strip mall. Why? Because it's physically the closest source of coffee for my coworkers and I in our industrial park in Totem Lake.

Currently, all of the baristas are all a twitter about an upcoming coworker's wedding, and I'm starting to recognize the little old ladies who get their lattes and watch tv in the lounge.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:11 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a regular at a few places - a couple of neighborhood bars, the Starbucks in my office building, and the bars we go to monthly for MeFi meetups. The longest relationship I've had with an establishment is about seven years with the bar at which we play pool. A few years ago, being a regular cost us a couple of hundred bucks a week (in a group of at least four), but it's not nearly as much now because we've grown out of the bar scene a bit and we get comped a lot of drinks since we've been going there so long.

Although most of the relationships I've fostered by going to this bar are very casual, I did meet a girl that ended up living with me and my boyfriend for about a year. We were dear friends and the only reason we're not that close anymore is she moved to Germany. I've met a lot of interesting people this way and feel as though I've made valuable connections and gained references for services or expertise that I might not otherwise have.

A lot of the time I see regulars jump into conversations with the bar staff and each other, even briefly, and I find myself doing this too. I also feel a bit safer in an environment where I know all the staff, a lot of the patrons, and what is acceptable behavior.
posted by youngergirl44 at 10:14 PM on August 20, 2012

I've been a regular at various coffee shops near workplaces; probably a 2 to 5 times a week kind of regularity, on chatting about the weather and the weekend terms with staff and not talking to other customers at all.

I've also been a regular at a few pub trivia nights. I've gotten to know the hosts and occasionally received extra hints. I've had casual conversations with folks on other teams, but never become close friends. I've been a regular at these for less than a year each, though, and I think if I were to stop moving so much, I could easily make friends that way.

As it happens I visited someone in Baltimore recently, near One World Cafe. Have you ever been to a bar called Rocket to Venus? It has a big square bar, which gets you closer to other patrons than table seating. The people there trended hipster, but bar staff I encountered were definitely friendly (and I am not a person who looks at all cool). I think it would probably be a perfect place to become a regular; and it serves food, so you wouldn't necessarily have to drink.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:25 PM on August 20, 2012

Response by poster: Have you ever been to a bar called Rocket to Venus?

Yes, and it's awesome! But I don't live in Baltimore anymore.
posted by Nomyte at 10:29 PM on August 20, 2012

Another factor: you say you've been going to this Starbucks for 2.5 years. Do you mean stopping in every morning at the same time, ordering the same thing, seeing the same employees, etc?

Routine accelerates the sense of being a regular a lot. If you're going erratically and don't have any particular coffee routine, you might not come off as a regular to the staff. Especially if you're often there when it's crowded.

Night_owl makes a good point about turnover. Starbucks or not, the important thing is that the same people are working there for long enough to recognize who the regulars are.

I'm a freelancer, and I spent a few months working in a soulless part of Midtown that is fairly glutted with chain coffee shops. My bosses all liked Starbucks coffee, and once a week or so I'd go to the Starbucks nearest the office and order one of those Box O' Joe things. That's sort of a weird order for the part time n00bs working at that particular Starbucks, so the manager would always handle me in those situations. After about the third time, we started to recognize each other, and I became a "regular", in the sense that I was "that woman who comes in at around 8:30 once a week or so and orders a Box O' Joe and an iced latte".

This causes me to think that your Starbucks has shitty turnover, or that you're coming in at such random times and ordering a really nondescript drink, and there's no real reason for anyone to notice you've been coming in steadily over a couple years.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 PM on August 20, 2012

-non-chain places with low staff turnover for the times you go there
-go often
-go at the same time and on the same days, to encounter the same workers and patrons
-order the same thing

I've been a regular at coffeeshops (and smallish cafes and bars/pubs and restaurants) in each of the last several towns/small cities where I've lived.

They have all been non-Starbucks places; I don't know how this would work with a Starbucks but it depends on how much continuity there is in staffing (you want low turnover) and clientele (you want a place with regulars).

Yes, I've gotten jobs and other social opportunities as a result of being a regular in places.

Don't know how much it costs; there are a variety of places. (Say for a coffeeshop it's a $2 coffee, 4 times a week?).

You can start to become a known regular at a place within a couple of weeks. It does not take long. Depending on the nature of the establishment, it might take only two or three visits, might take longer.

Consistency is the key. Go the same time/day - for example, go three Wednesday nights in a row. Or go for coffee at the same time of day, two or three days a week. (It's best if you can do this at a non-rush time.) Order the same drink/dish. Servers especially in coffeeshops know you by your drink.

Make eye contact when ordering; not in a weird way but just so that you're not eg on your cellphone while ordering. When the cashier asks you how you're doing today, you say a sentence rather than just saying "fine". You can say "doing great - how are you?" or you can say "great, I'm loving this sun today" or you can say "okay but it's a gross day out there" or whatever. Then you show your recognition of proper social boundaries by moving along through the transaction, saying thanks, sitting down. When you leave, clean up your mess and make friendly eye contact or a little wave or "thanks" as you're going (if the place is smallish).

As you make this routine, you'll develop a sense of the cast of characters in the place are. Once you reach a point of mutual recognition you can give a friendly eyebrow raise of "hey there familiar face." You'll observe them, they'll observe you - especially if you're both going with friends sometimes, you will get a sense of whether they are someone you might like to be friends with. (Overwhelmingly, most often you'll see that they are nice enough, but you are happy to keep it at the friendly recognition stage.) Convey through your behavior that you respect the role of the coffeeshop in their lives - eg if they are coming there to work, you are not going to interrupt them. This takes a while. Eventually there will be a natural opening where you can say something that could open a conversation, but it's always important to leave them an easy and graceful out.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:33 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was a semi-regular at a very 'Cheers'-like local bar (it was a couple blocks from my apartment) and then later an employee. We had lots and lots of regulars, of the 'come in everyday' variety, and the 'oh, they're the Friday night back center table' variety. There's also the 'oh lord, that guy again' type of regular, but I assume that's not the kind of regular you'd like to be.

Talk to the staff when they're not super busy. Be friendly (never hit on the staff) and tip decently. You don't have to make brilliant conversation, just casual, brief chit-chat to start is fine. It shows you're not a creeper. Don't be a creeper.

If the staff knows you, it's easier to make connections with other regulars. At the bar I worked at, there was kind of an unspoken rule that one side of the bar area was where regulars usually sat. Good tipping, hardcore regulars would get discounted drinks with some frequency.

Regulars very VERY often became good friends outside the bar. There were even a couple of marriages.

It definitely helps if the place has some sort of activity you can do with others. Pool, darts, trivia nights, karaoke, game nights, etc. Starbucks probably isn't the best place for this. Most people I see when I go in for a coffee have their eyes glued to their laptops. The staff changes a lot. Other customers just order and go. The tables are tiny and the chairs not that comfortable. You want a place where you can offer to share your table if it's busy. Those places get loyal regulars.
posted by lovecrafty at 10:46 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, as a regular you get to know the staff much more quickly than you get to know the other customers. Once you're in the habit of making conversation with the staff, it's not hard to get involved in a conversation that the staff is having with another regular, and then boom. You're in with that person.

This is an excellent point.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:58 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Now I feel intensely jealous of you lot. Around here there is really nothing that's not a fast food chain or a student bar. I wouldn't even call this a neighborhood.

Serious question - can you move? Because it sounds like the main problem is that your neighborhood is fratty and bland. I'm only a little familiar with the DC area, but maybe Silver Spring would have more to offer. (Or Bethesda, though it's pricer, of course.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:05 PM on August 20, 2012

(Also, if you lived somewhere within walking distance to bars that weren't college-y drinkathons, then the driving thing wouldn't be an issue.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:07 PM on August 20, 2012

I used to be a regular in several bars before getting married. Things I suspect helped me fit in: I am always, always friendly to wait staff. I've never worked as one, but I can't imagine it's a lot of fun to be treated like shit, so I don't do that. If things are busy I try to adjust expectations and not get irritated at slow service. I tip well as a matter of course anyway, but being generous early will pay dividends later. Mostly, I like people and wait staff always have fun stories to tell; don't play entitled asshole or think of them as servants gets you 90% of the way there.
posted by maxwelton at 11:10 PM on August 20, 2012

I think the key is finding a place that fits you, where you feel comfortable. It should be somewhere you want to go regularly anyhow! Look for the kind of business where the frontline workers --- the clerks or bartenders or baristas or waiters --- are invested in the success of the business, or in the larger community, or in something besides balancing the register and turning the tables.

It takes time for regular status to build up. Going there once a week for a month probably won't do it. Going there once a week for three months might, especially if you're pleasant and outgoing but not overbearing. Always remember that the staff are there to work; be respectful of their time and their subtle boundaries. Remember that other customers are there primarily to [eat/drink/whatever], not to get to know you.

Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?
Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?
Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?
Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?

Wherever I've lived, I've been a regular somewhere. Here are few examples:
- I got several of my jobs in retail or food service because I was a regular customer of the business. The owners knew me, believed me to be trustworthy and pleasant, and in one case, they hired me on the spot.

- A few towns (and 10+ years) ago, I was a regular at my local ye-olde fake pub. I would go in once or twice a week, have a drink or two (so, say $10 plus tips for an evening?) and talk with my friends. If I had more than two, usually my bartender would comp one; that didn't cost me any less because I would tip him roughly the cost of the comped drink.

I mostly spent time in conversation with friends I already had, but if I was alone at the bar, it was easy to slip into conversation with other regulars. As a woman alone in a bar, it was handy to have a friendly bartender (who knew me well enough to know I wasn't interested in being picked up) ready to intervene subtly when men got a little aggressively flirtatious; though I'm completely capable of fending off advances, it can take the shine off an evening.

The same bartender would start to mix my drink as soon as I stepped in the door; often I would arrive at the table just as he did with my drink in hand. It was a small gesture that made me feel very welcomed and special.

- I'm a regular at my now-local pub; I play on a trivia team. On a really raucous night, I might have TWO WHOLE CIDERS, which means I spend $4-8 plus a big fat tip (for our server, who runs up and down stairs all night long). If I drink soda, it's usually comped, but I still tip a big fat tip. I kinda side-stepped my way into the team: the captain called one day hoping my husband could fill in. When my husband wasn't available, he asked me out of politeness. I performed well, so he asked me again.. and again... and again.

My teammates are built-in conversationalists, and have become good friends, too! But on nights when I'm there early and alone, I find it's really easy to chat with the other strangers scattered around, since we're all there for the same thing. And there's some camaraderie between the established teams and with the trivia masters, so there's always someone to talk to before or after the game. If I were single, I could rake in quite a few dates from trivia players.

- I was a regular at my local coffeehouse/bookstore for many years. I would go in to get coffee or tea, sometimes have breakfast or lunch or dessert there, and to study. I came in at off-hours when things were slow and was careful to be respectful of their limited space; if the place got even half-full, I would usually pack up my books and leave. Often when I was on the edge of leaving, the barista would come over and chat with me about my work, encouraging me to stick around.

I assume that I was considered a good customer: once when I admired a mix CD, the barista (who was definitely not interested in me romantically) burned me a copy for next time. He later invited me to interview for a housemate position opening up in his house when I mentioned I needed to move (though I ended up moving in with someone else; see below).

And for me, here's the big one:

4. I was (am) a regular at my local independent supercool videostore. I would stop in twice or thrice a week to rent movies or shows, spending maybe $2-3 each time. Being known there was great not only because they could (and would!) make such specific, personalized recommendations of movies and shows, but because it gave me a place where I could engage in spirited conversation with knowledgeable and outgoing cinephiles. The clerks loved to talk about movies --- or about their favorite local bars or pizza places or about local music or about new events around town --- and often other customers would chime in.

There was one clerk in particular I especially loved talking to; after chatting with him for a few years about zombie movies and Shakespeare and Richard Burton, I asked him if he'd chat with me about his favorite play over coffee. He said yes.

We've been married three years.
posted by Elsa at 11:51 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Now I feel intensely jealous of you lot. Around here there is really nothing that's not a fast food chain or a student bar. I wouldn't even call this a neighborhood.

What about not-restaurant places? Is there a gallery or museum? A pool hall? A farmers' market? A bookstore? A library? Anything?

I became a regular at the local art museum when I was taking a particular art history class (I had to go in every few to check out the new exhibitions) and I kept up the habit of popping in every week or two to buy postcards or have lunch in the cafe and just see what was new. My student ID got me in for free, but I ended up buying the lowest level of membership --- $50 a year --- so I could attend after-hours members-only parties and get the monthly calendar of events. The staff got to know me by sight and I had many good conversations --- about art, but also about the town or about our daily lives.

If you have a local library, they almost certainly have events: brown bag lunches or book clubs or author visits or something. If not, maybe there's a book club in a local bookstore, or at that student bar you mention. Some book clubs are task-oriented and studious, some are rowdy excuses to get together and drink wine or coffee. See if you can find one that fits you.
posted by Elsa at 12:01 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If being a regular means being recognized by the staff and other regulars then this happens often for me. Once I find a food or drink that I like I have a tendency to order it all the time. I think that helps. This happens at big chain restaurants and small cafes. Embarrassingly, about 3 years ago I developed a taste for 7-11 Taquitos and once a week for 2 months I'd fill up my gas tank at the 7-11 and grab a Taquito. I find them revolting now, but, up to this day some of the cashiers there will still say, "No Taquito?"

At one point I was really into writing reviews on Yelp for restaurants and stores I had been to but then I started having the restaurant/store owners and managers (who I had never previously met) approach me and say things like, "Thank you so much for writing that glowing review!" and "Were you the one that wrote about our cheese on Yelp?" etc. I'm assuming they recognized me from my profile picture. That just got awkward after a while because I wasn't always writing the most positive things so I had to stop Yelping.

I'm a regular at many a Starbucks too. I've been going to the location closest to my house 1-3 times a week (about $5/visit) at random times during the day for the past year. A majority of the baristas know my drink and about 5 of them know me by name and we engage in some small talk.
This is the only place I've actually been approached by other regulars for conversation (I'm really shy so I rarely do the approaching). The few times I've initiated I usually test out the waters by like 'accidentally' dropping my keys near them and saying, "oops, sorry!" and from their response you can generally tell if they're open to talking or not.
I've had a handful of interesting discussions, a job interview, and a date but no real lasting relationships other than regular small talk or a nod of acknowledgement every time I see someone I know. But I'm sure it can happen.
posted by simplethings at 12:03 AM on August 21, 2012

I live in College Park, MD.

That's the problem.(I used to live there.) It doesn't have any cozy holes where people meet up and hang out.

I would try something like kramers books in D.C. Or try searching for places in Silver Spring, etc. Say, indie coffee shops, perhaps ones that host a book reading or music.

Also consider joining a hobbyists club, life drawing or painting group, karate class, role playing game group, etc.

I'm a regular at the nice coffee shop where I live now. But that didn't happen back in College Park.ideally

edit: Your profile mentions animation and such. Find a life drawing group.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:18 AM on August 21, 2012

Now I feel intensely jealous of you lot. Around here there is really nothing that's not a fast food chain or a student bar. I wouldn't even call this a neighborhood.

Yeah, don't you live in College Park? I think that is the source of your problems right there.

I haven't been a regular at a bar in a long time, but I used to have a local bar a couple of blocks away where I would go to have a drink and read or just enjoy some downtime for a study break in the evening before heading back home.

I could get back into that routine where I currently live, but I just haven't done so. But it would certainly be possible.
posted by deanc at 1:27 AM on August 21, 2012

Your first step towards cultivating the life that you wants starts with "live where you play." That way, when you come home after a long day/week at work, you're right in the neighborhood where you want to go out, no commuting/effort involved. That's how you discover and cultivate local hangouts.
posted by deanc at 1:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?
Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?

I've been a regular at several different places over the years. One of the more unusual ways that I started interacting with the men at one particular bar was over The Price is Right. I used to work in a really sketchy area, and the nearest place that sold food was a hole-in-the-wall bar, so I used to go there for lunch alone almost every day. I took the newspaper with me and would have a beer and a sandwich or something like that. Other than the three employees, I was usually the only female there amid a sea of Chrysler factory workers. The TVs over the bar was always tuned into TPiR while I was there and I'd occasionally look up from my paper when the crowd got really vocal over a stupid bid by a contestant. After a while the guys would just start shouting around the room about how they would've bid, and which showcase they would've passed on and they gradually drew me into their debates. After a few months most of them called out "hi" to me as I entered every day, even if I didn't speak to them during the rest of lunch. But if I felt like chatting I was comfortable enough just to pipe up from my table and talk to one or more of the guys sitting nearby ("How about all this snow?" or "I saw a cop car cruising by outside, what's the best side street to take back to Mt. Elliott [since I'd have beer on my breath]?"). Sometimes one of the guys would ask to borrow the sports section of my newspaper or would ask "Did you read about XXX?" and conversation would evolve from there.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:45 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

* Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?

I've been a regular at the Belgian beer bar Burp Castle in NYC for over a year. For most of that time I was going literally every Monday. I've also been a regular at a couple of cocktail bars, but not so much anymore (they're expensive!)

* Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?

Burp Castle is kind of a special joint, because it's very small and has a no-loud-talking policy, enforced by shushing. It's really great for being a single person drinking alone at the bar and getting yourself involved in conversations around you. I started become a regular just because I made good friends with the bartenders. I'd meet other people there, some of whom were also regulars. I actually got calling cards printed up to give out to people I met there, because I met so many interesting people.

* Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?

I can drink a LOT of beer, so it would set me back between $20-40 a week. HOWEVER because I became such good friends with the bartender, she never charged me for the full amount that I drank. And when I was freaking out because I was moving, she basically charged me nothing at all. I also ended up getting some heavy discounts/free drinks at the cocktail bars I used to frequent.

* Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?

Tons. I made a friend who HELPED ME MOVE. Does it get better than that?

I do recognize though that this is a Very Special Bar that's really really good for having conversations and getting to know strangers. But you could find one! I do feel like you're more likely to make friends at a bar than a coffee place, just because there is something about sitting alone at a bar that can lead to conversations (which has happened to me in plenty of bars I wasn't a regular at.) I think drinking a cup of coffee or the like leads to more of a 'leave me alone' vibe.
posted by whitneyarner at 1:58 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you a regular somewhere? What kind of place is it? How long have you been going?
Yes, but it's in part because I work there. However, before I started working there part time, I had already befriended several of the staff.

Do you approach others there? What do you say to them?
Right now? "Hi! How can I help you?" lol. Before, I might ask if how they're doing, or what they're reading.

Can you estimate how much your regular habit costs you weekly or monthly?
Maybe 5 or 6 dollars? I normally get really simple drinks.

Have you formed lasting relationships or found social opportunities as a consequence of your time spent there?
I hope so! I love my coworkers and my regulars.
posted by spunweb at 2:24 AM on August 21, 2012

I live in College Park, MD.

This is going to sound strange, but have you been to the Ikea there on the weekends? They serve a cheap breakfast before the place officially opens and whenever I've been there early there been a group of people who seem to know each other.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 2:27 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I live in College Park, MD.

Uh, are you KIDDING ME? There is a Busboys and Poets like two miles from College Park, a quintessential DC independent coffee shop/bookstore with 3 locations. Get your ass over there! Also, Franklin's, an amazing little microbrewery and general store. Looks like there's an Ethiopian coffee place down the street too if being all worldly is more your thing.

College Park proper is kind of a black hole for independent business because the majority of students there are simpleton frat kids who'd be happy to eat at the student union Chick Fil A and drink out of plastic cups in shitty sports bars for the rest of their life. But venture five minutes south to Hyattsville and there is all sorts of cool shit. Be even more adventurous and head a whole SEVEN minutes south to Mt. Rainer where this is more cool stuff.
posted by windbox at 4:43 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Becoming a regular at a bar is more conducive to socializing because, well, it's a bar. Alcohol is a social lubricant. And people go there at the end of the work day to relax. I don't know anyone who goes to Starbucks to relax.

One or two beers is all you need. With a little food and proper spacing over 60-90 minutes, driving should be OK. Your ability, of course, may vary.
posted by yclipse at 4:54 AM on August 21, 2012

When I worked at Waffle House back when dinosaurs walked the earth, we had plenty of regulars. As in DAILY people I looked forward to seeing. (This was third or second shift, to be honest.)

It's a thing.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:01 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Data point.
My family owned cafe type places. One regular couple became very good friends of my parents, to the extent of going on holidays/dinners etc. together.
When I worked there I made several friends with customers who I would share a smoke with or catch up with at an event/concert, although not usually go there with them.
As a customer I have been on "show me your grandkids photos" levels of friendship with proprietors and fellow customers, but never a 'let's get together away from this shared milieu" relationship.
I do think there is a Cheers style regulars relationship available, but it isn't available to everyone/everywhere. You might need to try a few different places. I read somewhere recently (was it mefi?) that to form a new friendship requires chance meetings and unplanned time in close proximity, which kind of doesn't fit with normal cafe/bar attendance unless you get stuck in a blizzard or similar.
posted by bystander at 5:14 AM on August 21, 2012

I second the IKEA idea. There are people who go there just to eat breakfast.
posted by candyland at 5:20 AM on August 21, 2012

A few years ago, I had a long-term relationship (5 years) break up. As part of my process for getting over it, I met up with an old co-worker, who took me to this one bar. Reader, it changed my life. The people I met there are the sweetest ever, and are now some of my dearest. I have an eco-system of wonderful pals who I met only through the bar, and it's led to many great creative projects and work opportunities. There's even more icing on the cake... is that after listening to me waffle for two year ("I thought you were a bit of a mess/bragger."), and declining my offers to buy him drinks, the manager and I finally had a whiskey together after his shift ended. Fast forward to now, we've moved to the other side of the planet together and are very happy. How's that?

I've also had great experiences through cafes and a few other bars, but that one is special. When visit home in 6 months it'll be the first stop I make!
posted by teststrip at 5:42 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Reading these answers made me realize that even thought I don't go there to hang out, I am a regular at my neighborhood hardware store and butcher/grocer. I know some of the names of the staff and some know mine, but we all recognize each other by sight. I have a 'guy' at the hardware store who hooks me up with discounts, and whom I would trust with any home repair-related question. The price of this: buying lots of random stuff after buying a house and painting the shit out of it. I was at the hardware store several times a day for a while. As a woman in a hardware store, I also got a lot of fatherly/grandfatherly advice from other shoppers, which was actually pretty awesome - and now I recognize some of those guys when I'm out and about.

The ladies at the fancy neighborhood butcher/grocer all know my usual shopping list and were some of the first to notice that I was pregnant (though perhaps that was related to increased consumption of turkey sandwiches). There's often a line to order, and it's a super cramped space, so you get to talking with the other people who are waiting, and you get to know your neighbors better. You also get the latest neighborhood/city council gossip there. It's all repeat business, so you see the same people again and again. If this place ever closes there will be a neighborhood riot. I haven't formed lasting social relationships outside of these stores yet, but it does give me a warm fuzzy feeling to go shop there. And who knows what will develop over the course of my 30 year mortgage.

In comparison, I am not a regular at the neighborhood branch library, even though I go several times a week. Nobody talks there or even makes eye contact.
posted by Maarika at 5:44 AM on August 21, 2012

Being a regular customer doesn't automatically create a connection with workers at a cafe or other customers. You may have a better chance of creating personal connections at some place that is not a huge franchise filled with wage slaves. In the same way you probably don't want to become a regular at a sports bar if you have no interest in sports. Find some place that has people that you could relate to. Which means you will have to do some self introspection about who you are.

The best I've got is being a regular customer on the local bus. $2 each way or less with a pass. I've had good drivers that took the time to get to know all of the regulars by name and were easy to talk to. I've also got to know other regulars while waiting for the bus at the stop. We all share a like for efficient public transportation and because they live in the neighborhood are somewhat creative and leftish. Common traits are a good starting point.
posted by JJ86 at 5:50 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Starbucks definitely has regulars, so it's not like you were an idiot for trying there or something. I have a friend who was working at Starbucks who now works for [large tech company you've heard of], having found the job via a customer. (So, in particular, had talked to this guy enough for him to know the basic outline of her CV.)

An amusing anecdote about having been somewhere often enough to be recognised: When I was in elementary school, my grandma was ill, so we were going to England fairly regularly, where 'we' was my mom, my brother and I. When it looked like my grandma was going to die imminently (which happened once or twice before she actually died), my mother went on her own, as dying usually doesn't coincide with school breaks. On one of these trips, the immigration officer at O'Hare asked if she'd forgotten me and my brother somewhere. How on earth he recognised my mom on her own given however many zillions of people go through O'Hare, I don't know. A British woman with two young American kids probably was fairly uncommon on that flight (kids on that flight are fairly rare and almost always with two parents), but still. I suppose it might be the first or last flight of his shift or something.
posted by hoyland at 5:57 AM on August 21, 2012

It's possible to be a Starbucks regular, but it depends on the Starbucks. There's one right across the street from my office and I used to be in there three times a week (I'm trying to stay out of there now to save money) and most of the baristas know my order. I only know the names of the ones who've been there forever, but even the newer ones learn your order pretty quickly if you're in there a few times a week and tip every time.

The unique situation about this particular Starbucks is that it's in a hotel, so they have two types of customers: Travelers (who generally don't tip) and the regulars who work in the area, with whom they have a relationship. The locals are where their tips come from, so they make sure you feel like a 'regular' pretty quickly. I have been going there long enough to have regular conversations with the staff about what's up in their lives and mine, but I don't tend to strike up conversations with other customers unless a) it's about coffee or b) I already know them from work.
posted by carolinecrane at 6:17 AM on August 21, 2012

Around here there is really nothing that's not a fast food chain or a student bar. I wouldn't even call this a neighborhood.

I have been a regular at many places. I am currently a regular at a [grad] student bar. The key to becoming a regular there was going in the afternoon. There was one semester where I was there at 4pm every Monday to have one beer with a friend of mine after class. We sat at the bar and were friendly with the bartender, and now he and I chat regularly. It also helps that he apparently lives near me and I've run into him on the street walking his dog, but I doubt he would have recognized me when that happened if he hadn't already known who I was.

Go when it's empty, sit near the staff, tip them well, and chat with them. This has gotten me friendly conversations, a few free drinks, and crazy fast and friendly service no matter how packed the place is.
posted by dizziest at 6:35 AM on August 21, 2012

Response by poster: > Uh, are you KIDDING ME? There is a Busboys and Poets like two miles from College Park, a quintessential DC independent coffee shop/bookstore with 3 locations. Get your ass over there! Also, Franklin's, an amazing little microbrewery and general store. Looks like there's an Ethiopian coffee place down the street too if being all worldly is more your thing.

Trust me, I've lived in this area since 2008 and I know these places exist. I can only visit them on evenings and weekends (because I have a job), and at that point they become regular restaurants. I have dinner at Franklin's periodically, and I used to visit the Latino open mic night at Busboys before it went on hiatus. Shagga is a restaurant. A good restaurant, but not a cafe.

They are emphatically not the kind of place where you can come in and grab a coffee, hang out, and chat up the regulars.
posted by Nomyte at 6:37 AM on August 21, 2012

I love the feeling of being a regular. Personalized service, friendly conversation and even the occasional freebie. I'm a regular at one place now, a Mexican restaurant that's been open for about 2 years.

My advice for finding your place:
- Avoid chains. I've had great service at starbucks. I was even a 'regular' at one location in back in college. But smaller places just seem to work better for me.
- Befriend the owners. Smart business owners know the value of a regular. Find a bar or café where the owners are around on a daily basis and take an active role.
- Sit at the bar. This lets you meet the bartender and lends itself to easy conversation with other customers. If you’re eating, the bar also often offers the most attentive service.
- Tip well. Never under 20%. No matter what. Just like us, great servers and bartenders have bad days.
posted by Muppetattack at 6:58 AM on August 21, 2012

In college, I was a regular at Waffle House. My friends and I would walk in and our waitress, Sandy, would get our drinks without even asking what we wanted. Half the time she had our orders up before we sat down because we always got the same things. When we graduated and left the area, we stopped by to say goodbye and got hugs from Sandy and the cooks. They were like family, and we must have gone there at least 3 times a week.

I have also been a regular at multiple bars, a meat & three place, a chicken place, and now, my husband and I are regulars at a movie theater. It's a small, locally owned place and they know us by sight now. The staff will even let us know when movies that they think we would like are coming out soon.

The common denominator is that I tip *very* well and I'm always polite. It does take time to develop the "regular" status, and I do think you can do it almost anywhere. Heck, I had "regular" status at the Publix grocery store once upon a time. The manager even gave me a hug when he found out I was moving away.
posted by teleri025 at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2012

I worked at an independent coffee shop during my early 20's from approximately 2002-2006. There were TONS of regulars. This is what I can tell you:
  • You need to go to an independently owned place.
  • You need to first befriend the employees. It helps if there is seating at the bar (coffee or booze)
  • You need to be there at least 5 days a week. It helps if its at the same time (say 6:00 everyday)
  • Once you become friends with the employees, you'll naturally become introduced to the other regulars.
At my cafe, the thing that helped was that it was in one of the few parts of town where there was some amount of "indie culture." There was a starbucks right around the corner, but the people who were "in the know" came to our shop. Our regulars were so "regular" that they often knew the details of how the business operated (new employee: "uh, where do we keep the extra sugar packets?" Regular customer: "They're in the back, on the third shelf from the right".)

Regular customers received preferential treatment / perks, and many of them came to the weddings of employees, were invited to christmas parties, gave graduation presents to college-student baristas and so on. We even had one customer, who was a French expat, who lent the keys to his condo in Paris to several employees when they went on backpacking vacations to Europe.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 7:14 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

@Nomyte: I wouldn't be so down on College Park. But I live nearby in Mt Rainier and i do agree that the Hyattsville Busboys is a little more restaurant-ish and less spontaneous than some of the others in DC. Franklin's has a bar, as does Busboys.

Having lived in the DC area for the past 10 years, i can definetly say that northern PG is really one of them most laid back and warm places I've lived. Definetly do spend time there,but do remember that those things in Hyattsville are a regional, not a local draw. So some smaller venues in the area are great. In Mt Rainier, i have met so many of my neighbors at Sweet and Naturla Vegan Cafe, the Glut Grocery Store, and other places. And just going to a lot of venues, you see the same people all the time (even if they are places like Community Forklift and so on!). I would avoid the parts of COllege Park that are students only...
posted by waylaid at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2012

My mom is a regular at the Starbucks nearest her house in NYC, I would say (for years and years; I'm not sure how many offhand). But that doesn't entail sitting there for hours and making lots of friends with everyone. It's more like she makes a lot of nice small talk with the baristas and they recognize her and occasionally they will give her something for free.

A friend of mine was a regular at the Starbucks in Jackson Heights, Queens, for probably about 4 or 5 years before he moved away and he actually would wind up meeting people while sitting there (including the roommate of another friend of mine, it turned out). But he is an exceptionally outgoing person and is all about the networking. I think that he would sit there and read/write and try to start conversations with people who were doing similar activities.

For me, when I am a regular, it's more like the bartender or barista or bookseller or whoever recognizes me and I try to tip nicely. I have never made any kind of relationship from attending a bar/coffee shop with any regularity. I find that the people who work there are there to work, and the people who are there with a cup of coffee/beer/their friends don't necessarily want to talk to strangers. Maybe sad, but true.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:53 AM on August 21, 2012

I've been in my city long enough, that I've been a regular at a variety of places.

The first was a coffee shop/bar hybrid. I used to go in every Monday, and order the same drink (Manhattan) from the same bartender. Took a couple of months to be considered a "regular" here, because they really didn't have regulars. Eventually the knitting group I ran started meeting there several times a month. I was usually there every Monday, at the bar, same drink, and then a couple of other times per month. The staff has completely turned over here, so this one, I'm no longer known at. The bartender moved out of state, but he and I still chat.

The next place is a late-night style restaurant/bar (I live near a college campus.) I was a regular along with my then-partner and another couple that we'd go out after roller derby practices with, for at least a year and a half. The "regular" part there came from being a bit older/easier to deal with than the other crowd, and ordering higher shelf drinks, and getting to know the servers. We're still recognized when we go in, and my ex-partner definitely has a "usual" in terms of food order.

The next one was a bar. Again, consistency. My girlfriends and I went there every Wednesday, and were noticed because we were the youngest patrons at that time of day, and the only ones who were female. Plus, one of my friends lives across the street, and her neighbors are also often there. We go there less since the managing bartender passed away and the staff turned over a bit, which in turn changed the crowd. But we're still recognized by some of the other regulars, and the bar staff.

The most recent one is a bar where I now get free cover for my regular status. This one, the bartenders are friends of friends, I know a lot of the other regulars now, and the owner is an acquaintance as well. It probably took about 2 months to *feel* like a regular and that was with nearly daily visits for a while (it was summer, and we were having 1 drink at happy hour pretty consistently.)

I think the key, as many others have mentioned is in consistency: of order, time of visit, etc. You go the same time, you're generally going to see the same staff and they'll remember you. Chatting with the staff is always easier for me than with the other patrons, although usually one leads to the other, especially if you're sitting at the bar, and the bartender knows multiple people there. Being a good tipper is also key, and is often even more appreciated if you're showing up at odd hours or in the less desirable shifts and tipping well (Monday happy hour for example). And sometimes being a good tipper can yield free drinks, but it should not be expected.

How much does it cost? That would be different at all of those places, due to their different price points, whether they have food or not, etc. I'd say probably $30-80 a week. BUT, I go out a lot anyway, and am willing to give up the variety of locale for this, and it's money I'd be spending anyway. I wouldn't suggest spending the money just to become a regular.

As far as lasting social things, that last bar is really the only one that's happened to me in. And a lot of that has had to do with the fact that this bar has a lot of regulars, some of whom already knew each other prior to this place opening, so I've fit in a niche there.

I think coffee shops are really hard to become regulars in because there's only so much coffee you can drink, you aren't in a bar situation setup wise, where someone is coming in to check on you regularly, and sometimes, it can feel really conspicuous to "camp" if you aren't continually ordering, which does add up both in terms of $$ and calories.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be so down on College Park.

I would, and I think that Nomyte is wasting his time trying to make it "work" in College Park.

There are certain places that will pay off socially only if you are a student or have some immediate social outlet that doesn't depend on the town itself. College Park is one of those places. You're not a full time student at UMD, and you don't have a built-in social life that you can construct via your classmates. So leave. Move to DC to a neighborhood near some bars and cafes that you can turn into your local hangouts.
posted by deanc at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2012

- If you go to a bar, SIT AT THE BAR. Chat up the bartender. Other people sitting at the bar will be having conversations with the bartender. Join those conversations. Make eye contact when some stupid drunk face does something stupid and roll your eyes in commiseration with the bartender/regulars. If there are TVs that people are watching, comment on what's being shown.
- Tip well. Really well.
- Unfortunately, smoking helps -- I don't recommend starting if you're a non-smoker... But if you do smoke and especially if people have to go outside because it's not allowed indoors, timing your smoke breaks with others, asking for or sharing your light, that sort of thing, is a good way to get to know regulars and/or staff.
- Ask the person next to you at the bar to watch your drink/hold your seat/whatever while you go to the restroom. When you return, say thanks. Any little thing like that is an "in" to start a conversation.
- Go on slow days (Monday-Wednesday if we're talking bars). You are much more likely to be able to strike up a conversation then than when it's full of dudebros trying to get the bartender's attention so they can order a round of shots.
- You have to be the one to break the ice. It's as simple as doing the "Hi, how's it going?" thing and when they respond "ok, how are you?" don't just say "fine, thanks." Say "oh man, I'm about ready to strangle my coworkers today but otherwise doing just fine." *big smile* Give them something to respond to, some kind of hook to start a conversation. (But also have that sense to know when the staff are busy or not interested and don't push it. Let it go, try again next time.)

I'm a regular at a few bars, mostly places that have karaoke because that's my thing. It's to the point where I now hang out with the staff and regulars at other places, we're friends on Facebook, we have each other's phone numbers, etc. I'm taking a month off of going out for the sake of my health and finances, and I completely expect to start getting texts in a week or two along the lines of "where the hell have you been?" or at least a "we missed you!" and big hugs once I'm back. Last week was my last night out at my regular bar and it was all my friends working. At last call they kicked everyone out except me and the other regulars, locked the door, and we got to stay behind and sing and drink some more for at least another hour.

It sounds like part of the problem is where you live. If you're in school and that's why you live there, tough it out until you can move. If there's nothing keeping you there, start making plans to move.

As for Starbucks, ages ago when I was a barista at a suburban Starbucks, we definitely had regulars that we all got to know and like. Some of us would hang out there even when we weren't working. This was in suburban Houston, land of bland chains and no indie cafes and very car-oriented. But I bet that the culture from one Starbucks to another can be very different depending on the staff and the people that go there. It might be possible to still find a cool Starbucks, I don't know.
posted by misskaz at 8:29 AM on August 21, 2012

Response by poster: > That's the problem.(I used to live there.) It doesn't have any cozy holes where people meet up and hang out.

> Serious question - can you move? Because it sounds like the main problem is that your neighborhood is fratty and bland.

> I think that Nomyte is wasting his time trying to make it "work" in College Park.

> If you're in school and that's why you live there, tough it out until you can move. If there's nothing keeping you there, start making plans to move.

I work in a part of campus that is not readily accessible by Metro or university shuttle. I am strongly considering staying here for grad school. My salary is reasonable, but I wouldn't have much disposable income left if I moved into the city.
posted by Nomyte at 8:45 AM on August 21, 2012

I work in a part of campus that is not readily accessible by Metro or university shuttle. I am strongly considering staying here for grad school. My salary is reasonable, but I wouldn't have much disposable income left if I moved into the city.

My suggestion would be to accept the financial sacrifices involved in order to improve your quality of life and/or to go someplace else for graduate school, knowing what you know now about how the location can affect your personal happiness and your social life.
posted by deanc at 9:17 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nomyte, I think you're dismissing Busboys and Franklin's before you really get yourself firmly ensconced at either place. In my experience, becoming a regular has as much to do with developing familiarity and rapport with the waitstaff. If you're only going in once in a while, they may not remember you from visit to visit. You need to go more often.

Also: Using a laptop when you're there is distancing and people will be less likely to talk with you if you're doing that, so if you can, just take a book or a magazine.

One other thing: There is a tiny Starbucks on Belcrest Road in Hyattsville. It has maybe 8 seats inside. When I was repairing a house in Hyattsville, I spent a lot of time there using the WiFi. It took about 4 days of visiting for a few hours each before I was a 'regular' and all the staff both knew me, but they knew my drink and had it ready for me when I got to the counter. So that might be a good place to invest some time--it's so small that the staff can't miss you.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2012

I think being a regular is overrated. I've had the barista and bartender jobs at small joints, I'm outgoing, but I never felt like the regulars were my friends, they were just regulars. I remember some of the more pleasant ones with fondness, because they made some sucky jobs suck a little bit less, but that's it. We'd kick freebies to the regulars now and then, but only when the boss wouldn't notice or care. I never observed people establishing friendships with other regulars at the coffeeshop or bar. (And then there are the regulars who expect freebies. Yo, this is not your mom's kitchen, you do not get to come behind the counter and look for a fresh-baked pastry.) People chat, sure, but ...

I've been a regular at some places, too. In defense of Starbucks - I worked in a small office in a big office building, and I have to say the Starbucks employees were often the highlight of my day. Warm, friendly, remembered my regular order and had it ready for me, knew what I did professionally, etc. I knew what they were studying and some of their hobbies. Still - not really friends.

On the other hand, I know of a pair of friends who became best friends because they were at the same coffeebar all the time -- but that was several hours a day, every day per week if I understand correctly. Another friend met his wife when she was a barista at a place he frequented. So it happens.

The other place that was good to be a regular at was the city zoo. Though I was there multiple times per week for a while -- convenient place to go sit and read during my off hours -- I am not even sure that I was a for-real regular, because the hard-core regulars passed on secret zoo news to me when making chit-chat. For example, when the lions made a break for it. That did not make the evening news.
posted by stowaway at 10:18 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some servers openly loathed me, demanding that I hand over my driver's license until I paid up for the meal.

This is weird--like, inappropriate behavior, complain to management, never go back again kind of weird. I don't understand why you'd keep patronizing that restaurant, much less try to befriend the staff. I think you're trying way too hard, and it may be off-putting.

As I've experienced it, there are a couple different ways to be a "regular" somewhere.

When I was a barista at a suburban Starbucks, we had regulars--mostly workers from a nearby office park who came on a near-daily basis, either in the morning, early afternoon, or on their way home. They were friendly with the staff, we knew their names. This dynamic developed over time. It wasn't that the regulars set out to be regulars at the Starbucks, it was that they needed a place to get coffee, started coming to our store, and liked it enough to come back. We were friendly to them, they were friendly to us. It just sort of happened organically. If they stopped by during a slow period, they'd chat with us a bit longer than usual. We didn't comp all their drinks all the time, but if it came up that someone's birthday was that day, we'd give him a free drink, that kind of thing. It wasn't friendship, but it was friendly.

We also had one or two... I'm not sure how to describe them: they were regular customers, but they were also supremely irritating. We baristas were, of course, friendly and accommodating, chatting with customers who seemed to want to chat, etc. These irritating regulars took that to mean something bigger and more personal than just good customer service and general friendliness. They expected free stuff and lots of our time, regardless of how busy the store was. They couldn't take a hint and got huffy if we were straightforward (i.e., "You have to leave now, the store is closed."). They seemed to be relying on our store to provide friendship and community that they lacked in other parts of their lives. It was really awkward.

I think that the type of community you're looking for, where you'll get to know the staff/baristas/bartenders and also make friends with other patrons, is rare (and awesome). If that's what you're looking for, I'd suggest you join a club/group/organization of some kind. If you just want a comfortable place to relax, and consider the community aspect a nice bonus, look for a place where you like the food/drinks, the environment, and the behavior of staff toward total strangers; become a regular (as in, go there regularly, be friendly and tip nicely, but don't come on too strong)--if you end up making friends with staff or patrons, that's fantastic, but that'll only happen organically. You can't force it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:31 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I should amend my statement. I think being a regular at a food-service establishment is overrated.

Being a regular at activity group meetings has netted me real friends and good acquaintanceships.
posted by stowaway at 10:31 AM on August 21, 2012

My mother is a genius at this and can become a "regular" with surprising ease at pretty much any coffee shop (or business) she decides to go to. She moves a lot so her regular haunt changes about once a year and these are usually independent coffee shops as she is in Australia and they are plentiful there, but there is no reason why these shouldn't work in a friendlier Starbucks. As I am socially inept I have made a big thing of studying her natural skills over the years and things I have learned are this.

Go often, she goes at least 3 times a week for a coffee and go when the store isn't busy, she usually goes early in the morning as it suits her routine, also wait staff are less tired and jaded at that time.

Say Hi to the staff sort of along the lines of "Hi, man the weathers nice today, it's put me in the mood for a latte oooh and one of those cookies." Not just a simple mumbled "I'll have a latte and a cookie."

She asks friendly, safe, questions of the staff that aren't related to the business. "Love your top where did you get it?" and remembers any details about them that come out such as they have kids or are going away and asks them about those things. Not in a long chatty way, but in a quick can be answered while waiting for a coffee manner, she drags in anyone nearby into the conversation with glances and smiles.

She smiles A LOT and doesn't hide in a book or computer while in the shop, she may glance at a newspaper if one is there.

She is so popular at several coffee shops that when she had a heart attack earlier this year I had staff tracking me down on Facebook to find out why she hadn't come in and if she was alright at TWO different coffee shops and got a free cake and coffee on her first visit back and one of them after she got out of hospital.

I have used her "tricks" to get on friendly chatty terms in the local post office and bank as are also handy places to have someone you are on chatting terms with, honestly you can try to do this anywhere not just bars and coffee shops, but anyplace you are interacting with people for a few minutes.

Small talk is the key, and it is a skill some of us are not naturals like my mother and have to practice, practice, practice I am 44 and have only just started to get the hang of it. The main thing to realize is you probably won't be best friends with these people but a bit of nice friendly social interaction can make your and their days nicer.
posted by wwax at 10:56 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looking someone in the eye and saying a thank you with a smile has brightened up many a tired droopy face of someone accustomed to being ignored or given orders to all day. Costs nothing, Returns priceless.
posted by infini at 11:29 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to be a regular at a bar. It was a clubby sort of place that had "mod nights" every Friday. I went on Fridays with a group of friends. The staff didn't have a high turnover rate, so they eventually came to recognize me. They knew my drink order. They'd occasionally let me in without paying cover (though, I usually got there early enough that the cover charge wasn't in effect yet, because they also had discounted drinks early in the evening).

The thing is: I didn't actually get to know anyone other than the group of friends I already went with. The staff recognized me and knew my order, but they didn't know my name and I didn't know theirs. We didn't speak outside of our customer-client interactions. I didn't really meet any of the other regulars. This may be partly because I am an introvert, though.
posted by asnider at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2012

I used to wait tables and we had SO MANY REGULARS it was insane. It was a breakfast/lunch restaurant, open from 7am to 3pm (8-4 on Sundays). There were older married couples who would eat both breakfast and lunch there certain days. Some people came every single day. My favorite regulars were two elderly best friends, a white lady and a black dude. They would sit at the bar and eat oatmeal and I would wish they were my grandparents. Every single server loved them because they were easy, sweet, and tipped well. Some of the other regulars were regular ol' a-holes, and knowing they would come back ALL THE TIME was grating, especially because they were terrible tippers. But that is neither here nor there.

So: if you want to be a regular--be one. Go consistently and frequently. Be outgoing. Sit at the bar and make conversation. Even if people aren't talking to you, if they're not having a private moment or something you should talk to them. And above all--tip well. Nothing will make a server happier to see you than knowing you tip well and the more a server likes you the better off you'll be! And as I learned, it doesn't have to be a bar, but having an actual bar for sitting at is pretty much a must.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:32 PM on August 21, 2012

Yes, the mister and I used to be regulars at a restaurant that, surprisingly, that was part of a chain. We were in there once a week, sometimes twice. We were really friendly with the manager and several of the waitresses. As in, we knew a lot about their private lives even though we didn't share all that much. We'd read while we ate, they'd ask us what we were reading this week and we'd all talk about what movies we had seen recently, etc.

Sadly, the food went downhill, prices went up, regulars stopped eating there, everyone stopped eating there and most of the regular staff moved on because they saw the writing on the wall. The restaurant is now closed.
posted by deborah at 2:24 PM on August 21, 2012

dropped in to nth the Waffle House concept. i was a regular there for years. i don't know that they have Waffle Houses in MD, but is there a cheap diner of some sort?
posted by woodvine at 3:01 PM on August 21, 2012

These irritating regulars took that to mean something bigger and more personal than just good customer service and general friendliness.

Oh, good point. From the service side, it's worth pointing out that "a regular" is not necessarily someone you're delighted to see.

I've had some regulars (in retail shops, in restaurants, in a sandwich shop, in a coffeehouse, in a video store) who became good friends. Some regulars, I might invite to a party or out for coffee but not to more intimate events. Some regulars were pleasant to chat with at work but I would exchange only the briefest of greetings or nods if I ran into them outside of work.

Some regulars, I wouldn't even recognize outside of work. Some regulars, I don't recognize until they come up and tell me who they are, then start talking to me as if I were still working in a service capacity for them even though we're both at some other place right now. (Please don't jokingly suggest I fetch your drink or recommend your movie or admire your dress unless I am on the clock at my [restaurant/video store/boutique] at the moment.)

Some regulars, I've actively avoided when I see them outside of work. Some regulars, I cringe to see enter the building. Some regulars flirt aggressively, monopolize the staff's time and attention, or otherwise presume that they are beloved and elevated in a way that makes them unpleasant to be around.

One regular followed me home from work once. One regular became so persistent in his attentions that I had to ask him to stop patronizing our store;, when he persistently contacted me at the store and elsewhere, I asked the police to remove him.

In short: Being "a regular" --- being someone who is recognized and whose usual order or preferences the staff knows --- does not on its own confer special privileges. You can't force being a recognized regular any more than you can force someone to be friends with you. And even if you become a recognized regular, that doesn't mean you're a beloved one.

You might find this discussion of the advantages and duties of a pub regular interesting to read. it's specific to British pubs, but still still has some relevance to other cultures and other places of business.
posted by Elsa at 3:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

That article is great, and much of it does apply to bars I've been a regular in (with the exception of round-buying and the discussion of what typical drinks are.)
posted by restless_nomad at 4:22 PM on August 21, 2012

I went back to my old college town and the only place I was recognized was in my old coffee shop and the bar next door (they have a great burger menu, people from my lab hit the place for lunch a lot). So yeah without trying too hard you can become a regular.

What worked for me was pretty simple - just throw something in the tip jar, every time you visit, and they stated remembering you. Helps if you have a fairly regular order (I always got fair trade coffee, or the mushroom and Swiss burger with a side of olives).
posted by caution live frogs at 5:32 PM on August 21, 2012

Yes, I am a regular at all kinds of places... even a little dinky nail shop where the owner and I excitedly wave through the window whenever I pass by on the sidewalk. Never been in, brightens my day a lot though.
A lot of good advice in this thread so I will just post one thing that helps me. When I start feeling that weird awkward feeling of " Oh, I just don't fit in , I should leave , I am a weirdo" etc. that I think we all feel sometimes-
I just imagine I am in Callahans Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson and usually it makes connecting with someone easier.
posted by slothhog at 11:36 PM on August 21, 2012

My suggestion would be to accept the financial sacrifices involved in order to improve your quality of life and/or to go someplace else for graduate school, knowing what you know now about how the location can affect your personal happiness and your social life.

As someone who recently went through seven years of graduate school in a fancy little suburb, this advice is right on the money. It's only been a few months since I moved, but at least for me, the social benefits so far have significantly outweighed the annoyance and associated expenses of becoming a commuter.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:22 PM on August 22, 2012

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