I’ve wanted to be a regular somewhere for most of my life. Regularity implies permanence. Regularity means a chance to sit and watch as the tiny world of a restaurant spins by before you.
As a child I used to tuck myself into my mother’s side every Thursday night as we sat on the couch waiting for the theme song of “Cheers.” The piano player would bang out those first few bars, those pen and ink illustrations of 19th century lushes would start shifting on the screen, and we’d sing:
“Sometimes you wanna go … where everybody knows your name! / And you’re always vegi-cane!”
Okay, so I didn’t really understand the lyrics to the Cheers theme song. I certainly didn’t imagine that I would finally find a place to toast in Salem, Ore., after some sad attempts at being a regular around the country.
Twenty years after Cheers, I was living in Washington, D.C. and working my first real job, finally in a position to go out with any regularity. My soon-to-be husband and I started going to this upstart rice and beans joint called “Mexican Breakfast” for brunch every Sunday. In the beginning, it was as bare bones as a restaurant can get and still charge money: plates, rice, beans, huevos rancheros that we ordered at the counter and took to our seats.
It cost $8.27 for two people.
But as we went back week after week, the place started to change. First, they got real silverware. Then, one day, we found laminated menus at our table. Before long, they had installed a widescreen television and a bar. The last day we went to Mexican Breakfast, we lined up at the cashier to order our food and our regular cook said: “Take a seat, we’ll take your order.”
Our same breakfast cost $22.89. The place closed two weeks later.
Lesson 1: Sometimes being a regular means cataloging everything that is going wrong. Or, don’t ever hitch your regular’s wagon to the wrong horse.
We have done well by Word of Mouth Neighborhood Bistro in Salem. Owners Steve and Becky Mucha have a horse that is racing around the track – and has been since they opened last winter.
Indeed, they have done everything in the book to establish WOM as a hit: small space, a real, neighborhood location (screw Applebee’s!), great food, and a regularly shifting roster of smoking hot female servers (seriously, where do they find these women?).
Indeed, it would seem some days that all of Salem has decided to be regulars at Word of Mouth. If we see even one finely coiffed head in the waiting space on the front porch, we drive right on by.
We drive by regularly.
Lesson 2: Go to on Tuesday. At 2:30 p.m. Sit at the bar. Give yourself just a little time, outside of the lunch and brunch mealtime rushes and you will have what I have found to be the real pleasure of being a regular.
It’s not just the quick coffee refills, or a server who can anticipate your order, or the little extra homemade strawberry jam on the side of your plate.
My true joy has been found in being the least demanding customer in the room. The more they know you, the more you feel less like a diner and more like a regular – the kind of person who can sit for, say, three hours on a Monday afternoon, or, ahem, even leave your husband there for a few while you shop downtown.
Lesson 3: Repeat.
Just please don’t fight me for my bar seat, second-from-the-left, at Word of Mouth.
In fact, now that I think of it, Word of Mouth is completely overrated. Its service stinks, its servers are fug, and the place must really suck big time because you can always find a table there. The crème brûlée French toast tastes like pan-fried burnt egg.
And no one there knows your name.