Brought to you by BeerMenus

How to get more regulars at your bar, restaurant, or brewery

Last updated July 07, 2023 · By Dylan Blake

Gerard Leary has built a loyal group of regulars at two very different concepts in two very different parts of NYC.

In one corner there's One Mile House, an awesome (but now closed) bar/restaurant with a ton of top-level taps in bustling downtown Manhattan. On the other hand is his current venture, a small neighborhood spot in Sunnyside, Queens called Sweet Avenue.

The location and clientele of the two couldn't be more different, but he built a loyal following at each. What's his secret for finding and keeping these folks coming in?

For Gerard it's mostly about you and your space: you need to foster a community, meaning you need an ecosystem where customers feel welcome and comfortable.

Here are some of the strategies he uses to keep his finely-tuned ecosystem balanced and thriving at Sweet Avenue:

  • Your staff plays a huge role. The bare minimum of just "not being an asshole" doesn't cut it. Staff needs to be engaging, learn customers' names, offer tasters, do a buyback or two, etc.
  • Get customers talking to other guests or with staff: Gerard and his people go out of their way to help folks make connections. E.g. are two people drinking the same beer? Introduce them, set them up to talk about it. Does someone seem new to craft beer or craft liquors? Create a connection with them by being an educator.
  • Your selection can go a long way to help with comfort. Have a balanced list so everybody can be happy there. 50% of your taps being IPAs is not going to work here.
  • Encourage customers to bring stuff in to share with other customers and with staff. Sure, if they bring in beers they're not drinking your beer. But it's adding another brick to that feeling of community. And they'll be drinking your beers at some point during the visit.
  • At this point there are meetups happening at Gerard's bar that he doesn't even organize, and he joins as a participant. Recently a regular proposed a "cherry night," and a group of regulars each brought in a cherry-related beer. They tasted one another's beers, talked about them, and hung out for hours. These people didn't know one another before meeting at Gerard's bar. Now they're hanging out together. And you know they'll be coming back. All the time.
  • All that's great for creating a regulars out of someone who's already there. But how do you get new folks through the door? Gerard loves appointment events for this. E.g. people come for Tuesday night music trivia, they feel welcome and comfortable, then they return later.

Check out the interview for more from Gerard about cultivating regulars: