Full disclosure: this one requires kind of a lot of effort. You have to actually frequent the same location over and over again, on the same days, so you see the same people. You have to initiate charming and memorable conversation with the staff, drawing from your vast well of learned impressive-osity. But if you do this right, it can have really "outsized returns" in the form of free food. Also, you will probably feel really cool.
“But Chris, how do I choose somewhere to frequent?” is the obvious next question. Being able to walk into a restaurant or bar where everyone recognizes you and knows your name can either be impressive or embarrassing (or just like Cheers! - Angelo). Here are some questionably helpful guidelines! I’ve also included some San Franciscan examples, to subtly show off my good taste in food.
Authentic “ethnic” cuisine. The owners might never learn your name but will smile enthusiastically every time they see you. Also, when you take your “non-ethnic” friends, they’ll be super impressed with your worldliness. Bonus points if you speak the language. Ex) House of Pancakes. It’s not a breakfast restaurant.
Moderately-priced, slightly upscale American appropriations of “ethnic” cuisine. Not expensive enough to make people think you’re a frivolous spender, but just classy enough to care about things like locally sourced ingredients and unusual flavor combinations. Ex) Bougie Mexican, like Nopalito and Padrecito.
Coffee shops that are not Starbucks, Peet’s, or Coffee Bean.
Bars that serve quality alcohol. I have no expertise in actually recognizing quality alcohol, but I have a lot of expertise in internalizing snarky comments that my coworkers make about mediocre whiskey and watery beer. Ex) Tradition.
Quality dessert locations. This is the category that my location-where-I-am-a-local is in. I recognize how awkward that sentence was, and have no desire to try fixing it. Ex) The Ice Cream Bar. I get free waffle cone pieces and a pretty steady discount on their wildly expensive floats.
Applebee’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, Cheesecake Factory, Hometown Buffet, or any other American Chain Restaurant Abomination (ACRA). I realize this may eliminate a vast majority of the US from participating.
Starbucks, Peet’s, or Coffee Bean.
Large multi-national fast food chains. I feel like they’re kind of enjoying a nostalgic resurgence - who doesn’t crave McDonald’s fries? Fun fact: the reason they are so delicious is that when McDonald’s switched to using vegetable oil, they added flavoring to make the fries taste like they were still being cooked in beef tallow.
This tip is especially effective to impress out-of-town guests, because it really makes you look like you’ve become a native of whatever city you’re living in. It’s way impressive to seem like a real New Yorker or San Franciscan or Chicagoan or Bostonian or Bakersfieldian or Ottowan.