While accommodating regular customers expecting to sit at their favourite seat or table can pose problems for operators, if managed well, it can help firms when trade is “volatile”, according to licensees from across the sector.
Owner of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, Brendan Padfield advised regulars can be “worth their weight” in gold amid “volatile” trading conditions.
Do customers have favourite seats in your pub?
Yes - it causes problems31%
Yes - it doesn't cause any problems66%
He said: “Regulars, by their very nature, keep coming back and when business is volatile, they are worth their weight in gold.
“That is why we go the country mile to do our best to accommodate table preferences if we possibly can.”
“Some love the art in a particular room. For example, we have one of our rooms painted in a vibrant St Giles blue colour, it has low ceilings and beams and some really wacky art - it seems to hit the spot for so many.
“Other customers also just like round shaped tables, some want to be by a log burner or at the centre of things to people watch.
Ambiance and atmosphere
“Eating great food and delivering great service is sometimes not enough, ambience, look and atmosphere also matter hugely. Customers, and most certainly regulars, deserve the whole shebang”, he added.
Though Padfield also explained this can cause problems should a larger table be requested, as these tend to be in short supply, but that with good management and organisation the situation can be rectified.
He continued: “If the customer requests a large table, for example 5 to 7 guests, but not till say 7.45pm, sometimes we can lose the turn on that table if we have to keep it free for their arrival.
“This is where having a skilled general manager, and adept table planner, comes in handy.
“Having tables of two that easily aggregate to a table of 4, 6 or 8 to provide table size flexibility also helps.”
Operators on social media also shared their thoughts on regulars having favourite spots, with some stating customers occasionally “stand around” and make others “feel uncomfortable” waiting for a seat or table to become available.
However, others said they “loved it” and found regulars to be understanding if their favourite space was occupied.
Friends at the bar
Owner of GunngHo cocktail bar in Brighton, East Sussex, which is number 44 on the Top 50 Cocktail Bars list, Julien Barnett, added businesses have adapted their approach to regulars, or “friends at the bar”, post-pandemic.
Additionally, Barnett advised being “down to earth and honest” with people expecting certain seats or tables was essential to keep the relationship with regulars “strong”.
He said: “Table bookings for pubs and bars are a lot more in demand since Covid and people are habitual to do that now.
“For regulars, that has made it more difficult to accommodate them as walk ins.
“A few of our ‘friends at the bar’ got annoyed once they started getting turned away because we were fully booked but they understand now they just need to book or call ahead [and are now accustomed to this].”
Despite any issues, Barnett concurred having regulars can offer many benefits to pubs and accommodating them with their favourite seat where possible was “useful”.
He continued: “People like to feel special or maybe that table marked a specific event. We have had a lot of people who have had first dates at Gungho so it's always nice on their anniversary to give their original table.”