Insider trading from one of Melbourne’s top chefs reveals you don’t need to be a celebrity, a baller, food critic or a “F.O.O.,” (friend of the owner) to get showered in VIP treatment at upscale restaurants.
Of course, restaurants pull out all the stops for a “reg.” If you go often enough and you’re a decent human, it’s just smart to keep you coming back.
But what intrigued us was the untapped potential in restaurant’s other main target groups that don’t require you to be tied down to the one establishment. Which means way more ‘on the house’ perks from a lot more places.
Staff keep an eye out for:
- A promising “reg.”
- Serious foodies (or those pretending to be).
- All-round legends who are just really fun for staff to deal with.
We’ve listed some points below on how to nail it from our chef on the inside. They wish to go unnamed, but we can tell you they’ve worked in some of Melbourne’s finest establishments. (Coda, *cough*) I didn’t say, Coda, I coughed.
Do’s and Don’ts
Show your face: “The most important thing is just to go regularly.”
If the place is new, the sooner you get in, the better. If it’s packed, go in early or late because you’ll get more air time with the staff. If it’s your first time, emphasise how excited you are to dine there, and if you’re returning, mention your favourite dishes or drink suggestions that the waiters (use their names) sorted you out with last time.
Book, and keep it: “If you make a booking, treat it as concrete.”
Call if you’re running late and give fair notice to cancel. Ditching your table might be great for walk-ins, but will piss off staff -especially if you’re in a mid-to-large group.
And it’s a great way to get blacklisted in some restaurants because without knowing it, you bring your dining reputation along with you.
The back end of OpenTable and SevenRooms can track your dining visits, cancellations, preferences, birthday’s, allergies, dietaries, and even your favourite vinos. If in doubt, use your mate’s number, (the one who only goes to that one pub) for online booking.
Brush up: “Anyone who comes in with a decent amount of knowledge, or is just curious about the wine list, stands out straight away.’
It’s no secret that hospitality staff drink a lot. If you know your shit, any good bartender would love to have a serious chat with you.
But remember, you want to be seen as a foodie, not a dick head. Ask questions, be curious, and engage the waiters as much as possible in a way that feels fun for them. But don’t brag, or name-drop. Here are a few pointers for brushing up on your vocab.
Attention to detail: “Get to know the manager or the owner and take an interest in their vision/food story and see why they opened that restaurant in particular.”
Try to show a bit of interest in the composition of their signature dishes, and do a quick Google to research the chef’s background before you arrive.
Generally, there has been significant time spent on deciding on everything from the fit-out down to the tiniest spoon.
Milk the staff: “Sitting at the bar and chatting with the bar staff is underrated.”
The bar is prime real estate for getting VIP treatment because you have consistent exposure to the bartender, (you can sneakily buy them a drink) and make a solid impression in a short amount of time.
Also, most of the staff will drop by the bar at some point to grab drinks or take a breather.
Try to catch your waiters name and repeat it in your chat. Not too many times that it’s creepy but just enough to show you’re engaged.
How you order is better than going for the most expensive items, as you can afford them a better tip. Joke or enquire about an obscure ingredient listed on a menu, or ask them to help you decide between a few dishes, what on the menu you absolutely can’t afford to miss, or better yet, what does no one order but they think everyone should? Do not ask them if something is “good.”
Pass on a tip and thank them for looking after you. Yes, I said tip. It will never be unappreciated (except in Japan, don’t tip in Japan!).
Fit in: “Yes. We judge you.”
Restaurants put forward a specific image, and do reserve seating for better-looking diners. So don’t give them any excuse to doubt you. Dress for the setting you find yourself in.
Don’t be a Dick: “If you don’t make it fun for us, we don’t make it fun for you.”
If the staff are slammed, you won’t win points complaining. There’s probably plenty of other tables doing it. If shit is seriously going wrong, speak up, but often you’ll be a standout, and potentially rewarded, if you’re the most chilled out of a whingy bunch.
If you seem entitled off the bat, you’ll come off as more trouble than you’re worth. The staff know that it’s often the ones demanding VIP status who don’t want to pay the full amount of their bill, make their life hell and don’t tip.
Rave: “You can never be over complemented.”
Send a follow-up email citing your awesome experience, or even make a call. Reviews on socials are heavily monitored so why not chuck a few five-stars and meaningful comments in their direction. Generally, restaurants have small teams that operate for long hours which disconnect them from the outside world. In a nutshell, the teams get pretty close. Everyone knows everyone and word gets around. If you become that guy for a positive reason, it will spread.
Consistency is key. If you take this behaviour around with you and start noticing your booking is getting ‘squeezed in,’ some free entres end up coming your way, you get a visit from the chef, or a digestif on the house – it’s definitely working.