Friday, September 12, 2014

How To Become a Regular.

Breaking format--

How to become a regular 

Before delving into the “how,” it is important to establish the “why.” Why would you want to become a regular somewhere? Your answer may be solely on the “free stuff” and perks spectrum. That can be a benefit that comes from this sort of relationship with an establishment. That’s certainly a choice. I personally approach it from the more romantic notion found in the TV theme song; “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” You want to have a little taste of home away from home. Who doesn’t want a friendly face that might be legitimately happy to see you? In my book, that friendly camaraderie is worth more than the possibility of a top shelf drink when you paid for well or a basket of onion rings on the house.

Now, how does one get to that point where bartenders, waiters, staff, and managers distinguish you from the myriad faces they see every day and every week? It’s not an overnight deal; it’s a process. Like any relationship, it takes work.

There are three basic steps you can take to establish yourself and hopefully be anointed with the title of “Regular.”

Half of life is just showing up. -Hunter S. Thompson

1. Be there.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? You have to go to these establishments.  You have to go to these establishments a lot.  The busier the place, the more you have to go. I have been going to the same Fantastic Sam’s (don’t judge) to get my hair cut for ten years. My woman remembers me and I only see her for twenty minutes once a month. This middle-aged Armenian woman has been in my life longer than my wife has. She’s seen the hairline recede like a glacier and has offered no comment…unlike my wife. She probably has roughly fifteen or so clients a day and over the course of a month, that’s hundreds of dudes’ hair; yet, she remembers me. It took a long time to get to that point, but when she gives me that half-scowl and silent nod of acknowledgement when I walk in, I know she knows me—really knows me. I like to think that she takes a little extra care with my hair, making my $14 haircut look like it cost nearly $20.

For some perspective, compare the face time with a stylist with that of a bartender at a popular bar. That bartender sees hundreds of people a night for only the amount of time it takes to shout out a drink order and for them to toss back that drink and some change. That’s an extreme deficit of face time. You are nothing but a blur. That bartender is not going to remember you if you only go in once a month or probably even once a week. You have to make yourself a fixture.

It’s not what we do once in awhile that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently. -Tony Robbins

2. Be consistent.

Consistency is key—two keys actually. First, consistency of time in your patronage; you can’t just go to the same place over and over again all willy nilly. Most places have staff running on different schedules. By taking a scattershot approach to your attendance, you diminish your possible returns. It doesn’t matter if you went to that coffee bar four times in one week if it wasn’t the same staff seeing your caffeine starved face each time. You might as well have gone only once and saved some dough or spread that effort over four different establishments—there’s nothing wrong with casting a wide net.  Walk into that bar every Friday at 10pm. Sit down at the counter at the diner at 8:45am every Sunday. Be there for the dinner special Taco Tuesday every…Tuesday. Once you’ve gotten a toe-hold, then you can start to vary your schedule. That busboy smiling and uttering a quick “Good-to-see-you” in front of that waiter you’ve never seen before is as good as a marker from Sky Masterson.  

Second, consistency in what you ask for is important. You want to build up to being able to say “the usual,” because if you can do that you have arrived. This can sound really boring, being locked into the same thing over and over. You will make it through this first-world problem, I promise. Slight variants are okay, even encouraged, as long as you aren’t asking the establishment to break policy. A slight variant or a bit of flourish makes your request more memorable and that feeds the goal. Your face, at that time, ordering that same thing, might just start to stick. You, yes, you can be that lunch guy that asks for horseradish on your burger every Wednesday.

And three, be nice. -Dalton, the greatest bouncer in the world.  

3. Be nice.

It’s the simplest idea in the world and sometimes it is the hardest to realize: be nice. When you walk into an establishment, be on your very best behavior. ‘Get more flies with honey,’ you know that whole deal that moms and the PSAs at the end of 80’s cartoon have said since time immemorial. Personally, I find most people to be awful.  It is hard to be pleasant to awful people. Now, imagine dealing with people if you are in the service industry. It’s a potential parade of awfulness all the live-long day. Don’t be part of that sad parade. Smile, engage in pleasantries, and try to remember names--but don’t be a creeper about it—you’re still a just customer, not their buddy.  Let me stress—don’t be a creeper.

If you have a complaint, present it not as the end of the situation but as the beginning of the steps to fix it. Remember that “please” is a very powerful word. If a place has a strict “no substitutions” policy, it’s a far better idea to NOT ask for a substitution, but if you really want to, go ahead and ask (remember the power of “please”) and if they say no, don’t push.  Forget the idea that you as the customer are always right. No one actually believes this. An establishment might placate you because it’s “good business,” but being difficult is definitely not a way to win friends. I’m not saying eat dirt or put up with poor treatment--because why would you want to be a regular at such a place?  I’m saying you, the individual, are responsible for being a gracious guest. And a good clue that you might have made it into the ‘regular’ category; they actually will do your substitution.     

Also, it should go without saying: don’t forget to tip.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Save Cindy's sign!

Kickstarter campaign

Check out the original review from years ago and pictures from my recent visit.

Edited to Add
The sign was saved but there have been some problems with communication between Kickstarter, the owners and the people donated. Hopefully it will all work out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Kettle - Manhattan Beach

It has been a long time since I've been out and about before the sun. A trip to the airport to drop off #1Dinerwife Antoinette at 5 am put me on the far westside before sunrise. Originally, I thought I'd grab breakfast at Pann's but then discovered that they don't open until 7. Then I thought about Chips, but they don't open until 6. A quick search later I found The Kettle in Manhattan Beach.


24 hour restaurants are a special breed. They are rare and have a unique gravitational pull during the night. Before fast food restaurants realized that drunks and stoners gotta eat, a 24 restaurant was really the only game in town.

Now at 5 am, when I came in, those "golden hours" of altered state eating are coming to an end. The bar crowd has stumbled away and the noble swing shift workers have wearily headed home, but it's a bit early even for the early risers. Who is out to eat at 5 am? 

The World's Best Husband, that's who! Oh and a middle-aged couple who were eating hamburgers and three teenagers who were dressed for a day at the beach. I suppose they were prepping for a full day at the beach--sun up to sunset. 

My waitress looked haggard, but I couldn't figure out if her shift was nearly ended or if she had just rolled out of bed. After needing more time with the menu, she disappeared for quite a bit. I then noticed her eating at the far end of the restaurant. Her shift was nearly done and she had no patience left.  

The Kettle's interior is woodsy, like a hunting lodge. For example, these European-style woodcuts of animals adorn all the booths.  

I think that's an interesting choice seeing as it's on the beach. "Oh man, I'm sick of this beach. I want to escape to the forest!" Boom--go to the Kettle.

The menu is extensive--covering just about everything you can imagine for an all-purpose restaurant like this. It has a full page dedicated to their wine and beer selection. The breakfasts have a few interesting items. The chocolate chip ricotta pancakes for instance, as well as the bacon fried rice (made with coconut milk), but one item stood out to me--the OEUFS PAIN PERDU. I couldn't even pronounce it. When my waitress returned from scarfing down her dinner/breakfast, I had to point to it on the menu. 

It's two eggs, bacon, and breakfast potatoes served with french toast stuffed with an orange marmalade cream cheese. What they don't tell you on the menu is that it's also served with a GIGANTIC bushel of parsley. Gigantic. 

It was a good breakfast. The french toast was verrryyyy fancy. It had no crusts! The bacon was perfect and my eggs were as close to over-medium as I usually can get anywhere I go (over-medium is really hard guys, but that's how I like them). The only negative was that the breakfast potatoes were underdone. 

Despite my lack-luster service and the kind of gross coffee (I got the first pour from a fresh pot and it was still not something I wanted to taste again), I enjoyed this place. The Kettle seems to be a safe bet, definitely when the moon is high and probably even when the sun is up. 
Food: Good.
Service: Decent - considering.
Price: 12-16 for breakfast.
Pie: Only cobbler.

The Kettle

1138 Highland Ave 
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Patio Cafe - Sportsmen's Lodge Hotel - Studio City

#1Dinerwife and I were married a few years ago at the Sportsmen's Lodge so it will always be a special place for us. The hotel recently went through a pretty substantial makeover and I was interested in checking it out. The lobby and grounds were a nice blend of 'old Hollywood' charm while the rooms were pretty standard. The remodel has kept a lot of the charm while also riffing on some mid-century colors and themes. A bit too many fake animal heads hung everywhere for my taste--sorry, no pictures of those.

But this isn't a review of the hotel....

The Patio Cafe coffee shop also received a complete makeover. Previously it had been almost "country quaint" with red gingham design motifs. Now we are treated to some vibrant oranges playing off the stark white of the floors and tables. Portraits of classic Hollywood stars, like a film reel, wind their way around the cafe.  

We walked in for lunch on a Sunday morning and were greeted and seated quickly. Our waiter, a nice older gentleman was by to take our drink orders within moments and then back again swiftly to take our order. Unfortunately, this would be the last time he'd be so prompt. Getting refills on our waters and my coffee proved to be difficult.

The menu for the Patio Cafe isn't large. It covers some basic breakfast fare, some sandwiches and burgers with the few requisite salads and wraps for good measure. Prices are a little higher than you'd expect, but food always is at a hotel. You're treated like a captive audience. They are counting on that you will be either too lazy or tired to travel for food. In the case of the Sportsmen's Lodge, there's probably a dozen restaurants of different type within walking distance. Our favorite is Twain's right across the street. 

One interesting thing is found on the dinner menu. They have their "TV Dinners" which are all dishes named after tv shows. For example, the "Gilligan's Island" is fish and chips. The interesting bit is that they are all served with peas and carrots and a tiny dessert--just like the foil-wrapped tv dinners of old. I don't know if they actually DO serve them in metal trays... but by god, I hope so. 

After a quick glance at the menu, I fixated on the the french toast--challah bread with sautéed apples and bourbon maple-pecan sauce. It was delicious. Probably one of the best french toasts I have had in a long time.

#1Dinerwife ordered The Lone Ranger-- basically a souped-up breakfast burrito. The menu promised scrambled eggs, chorizo, black beans, salsa fresca, and cotija cheese. It delivered eggs, chorizo and...potatoes. Basically a really disappointing breakfast burrito then. We would have said something to the waiter, but like I mentioned earlier... hard to get him back to us. The potatoes were also underdone, so no bueno

The Patio Cafe certainly looks fresher and more exciting than previously. The food was a mixed bag. I don't expect anyone to make a trip to the Sportsmen's Lodge FOR the Patio Cafe, but in a pinch it will work for you. Y'know.... if you're too lazy to walk across the street.

Food: Mixed bag, but probably edging over to good.
Service: Friendly but not that attentive.
Price: $12-15 for most dishes.

Pie: Only cupcakes and bundt cakes.

12825 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 769-4700

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dinerwood on the Road: Ellen's Pancake House, Buellton, CA

Quaint little roadside eatery.

Delicious biscuits and well-scrambled eggs. Hashbrowns were okay.

Tasty thin Danish pancakes. 

Add your own ham!

Food: Good
Service: Good
Price: Decent

Ellen's Pancake House
Dining Hours:
Monday 6 a.m.–2 p.m.,
Tuesday–Sunday 6 a.m.–8 p.m