business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

One of the core things that I often have written about here on MNB is the importance of making customers feel like regulars. It is, I've argued, a powerful tool for creating loyalty, because there are few things more comforting and appealing to a customer or patron than being treated that way.

My favorite example of how this works has been Morgan, the bartender at Etta's in Seattle. I've told the story - both here and in both of my books - about how he remembered me after just one visit to Etta's, and has treated me like someone who comes in every day as opposed to someone who comes in only during occasional visits to Seattle. He knows what I like to drink and eat and sit, and I always feel like Norm in "Cheers" - Etta's has become a compulsory stop for me (and to many readers who have read about Morgan here).

I must admit that I've always been a little disappointed that I don't have that kind of connection to any bartenders in Portland, Oregon, where I spend a lot more time. I'm sure that there are lots of wonderful bartenders there, but for some reason, I've never really found a place and person there that can measure up to Morgan.

Until the other day.

I wrote here during the summer about how I'd discovered a new place - Bar Rione, a wine bar that opened in the Pearl neighborhood by the owners of Piazza Italia, a restaurant next door. I went there several times during my summer adjunctivity in Portland, and liked it a lot. It was fun, and the wine and food were excellent.

A few days ago I was back in Portland on business and I had a free evening, and so I stopped into Bar Rione. I sat down at the bar and Lucy, the bartender, looked at me and said, "Rosé, Kevin?" Yes, please, I responded. "Suppli?" she asked, referring to the risotto balls I'd had on other occasions. I nodded … delighting in the fact that Luci had remembered my name and my previous orders.

I felt like a regular. (And because it is in another city, I don't feel like I'm cheating on Morgan.)

Now, it ends up that Lucy has been cited as one of the nation's five best bartenders by "Food & Wine" magazine, so she knows what she's doing. But as great as she is at making drinks, I'd argue that she is just as proficient at making loyal customers.

That ability is what retailers ought to be looking for in the people they put on the front lines. Sure, it is harder in a supermarket than it is at a bar, but it needs to be a goal … one of the ways in which retailers create for themselves differential advantages that can stand up against online and bricks-and-mortar competition.

It can be, I think, an Eye-Opener.
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