What I think is really funny, though, is how little time it really takes to be a Regular. In my experience, it goes something like this:
On your first visit, you are nobody.
On your second visit, they may remember your face, but they probably won’t chance being wrong.
By your third visit, provided it is within a reasonable span of time (third time in that month, for instance,) they suddenly smile at you, address you by name, or else show some sign of recognition and good will.
Of course, even this varies. Sometimes your first visit was memorable enough that you’re a recognizable face by your second visit. I experimented with this once at a Big Boy I used to frequent in high school. I’d go there on Friday nights with a couple of friends, and we’d hang out and drink coffee for a few hours. We used to leave little doodles on the backs of our paper place mats, and leave them for the waitress. The result was pretty consistent: leave a doodle for a waitress, and when she sees you next week she’ll know who you are.
Results also vary based on the frequency of your visits. For a few weeks, I was addicted to the local Falafel restaurant. I’d drop in every week or two to try out a different item off their menu. But, even though the workers at the restaurant are always the same, because I drop in on varying days, and because I never come within a week’s time (and usually longer,) it’s taken them longer to remember me. Judging from my punch card, I’ve dropped in for a meal nine times over the past three months. Today, the guy who takes my order made a valiant guess at my name, and somehow came up with my mom’s name instead. They both begin with the same letter, so it wasn’t too far off, but still not quite there. However, this does not prevent me from claiming my status as a Regular at their restaurant. Why? Because after my third visit none of the three or four workers at the Falafel place had to ask me if I wanted my falafel in a pita anymore, and after my forth or fifth they started asking me about my reading. (This was particularly gratifying the first time, because when I went back to pick up my pita sandwich, one of the older guys I’d never talked to asked me what book I was reading “this time.” The last time I was in, a different Falafel guy, under the impression that I had brought no reading material at all, asked me what I had done with my book. As it turned out, I had shoved it into my coat pocket, where it was hidden safely out of sight.)
In short, I enjoy my experiences as a Regular. Before I went to Germany, I had a regular Big Boy waitress. When I came back, I struck up a happy connection with the barristas at my school cafe. The waitresses at the Coney Island asked to see my brother’s wedding pictures, and the coffee people at Moonwink’s were excited to hear I’d gotten into the college I wanted. And there is something quiet and reassuring about the Falafel people knowing that I like pita bread, and that I read a lot. It might not seem like much, but it is the crucial bridge connecting me to all the other people I’ll never meet. There is a small safe feeling that comes from knowing that, to the outside world, you are not entirely anonymous.