The Bay Area's best spots for frequent diners

By Trevor Felch

You know all about the points and rewards programs that hotels, airlines, and credit cards love to hustle, but what about local restaurants and bars? In a competitive market like the Bay Area, it’s tough to turn guests into regulars, so a few clever establishments have created some enticing membership programs or frequent guest discounts to keep people coming back again—and again. Amidst all of the great restaurants and bars in and around San Francisco, here are seven loyalty programs that are worth your, ahem, investment.

Whether it's the lure of having your own coat of arms, of studying the many types of gin made around the world, or of taking a trip to the Netherlands, induction into the Polk Street Irregulars at the gin-centric Tenderloin bar Whitechapel is a coveted pursuit by Bay Area imbibers. There are five levels of membership ranging from the basic education and short test in Level One (Commoner), to a nameplate on the wall and a trip to a local gin distillery in Level Three (Earl/Countess), to Level Five’s crowning achievement of your own noble title named after a gin botanical, your own coat of arms hung at Whitechapel, and a trip to a gin distillery in the Netherlands or England (Duke/Duchess). If you’re really into gin, this membership is definitely your ticket into the spirit’s aristocracy.
Neighborhood: Tenderloin MAP

The Riddler

The Riddler
Judging by the constantly packed tiny bar and handful of tables at Hayes Valley’s Champagne specialist over a year after opening, San Francisco just can’t get enough bubbles. The Riddler experience really is a bubbly one—from the vintage Paris décor complete with Jacqueline Bisset portrait from “Casino Royale” to the tater tot waffles to the sparkling wine itself. So it’s no surprise the bar started The 100 Club where, after drinking 100 bottles of Champagne (hopefully not by yourself), guests receive lifetime priority reservations and a bomber jacket with their name embroidered in gold. No one has yet reached the 100 mark, but soon the club will have its inaugural bubble-loving members.
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley MAP

Bi-Rite Market and Creamery
Do we really need to send more people to Bi-Rite? There is always a line for the house-made ice cream at the Mission and NoPa scoop kiosks, and there is also always some shopping basket dodging required en route to the associated deli and prepared foods section in the markets. But, here’s the cherry on top, if you will—get a punch card at the deli and at the ice cream kiosk, and purchasing 10 sandwiches will get you a free one, while buying 10 ice creams gets you a free ice cream. Note that the punch cards are different, so sandwiches do go with sandwiches, and ice cream with ice cream. For those of you who get the salted caramel ice cream and the pork banh mi 10 times a month (you know who you are), this program could turn out to be a nice money saver without changing your shopping habits at all.
Neighborhood: Mission MAP

Charlie Palmer Steak (photo: Bob McLennahan)

Charlie Palmer Steak Napa
No, you don’t have to be in an ‘80s John Hughes film to join Charlie Palmer’s Breakfast Club. The morning meal gets the spotlight at his restaurant in the newly opened Archer Hotel, where members and their guests are treated to a $12 breakfast that includes a main course, juice, and unlimited coffee and tea, in the restaurant November to March, and on the stunning rooftop, Sky & Vine, April to October. In classic wine country tradition, breakfast evolves into lunch on the tenth visit for “members,” with a complimentary prix fixe meal worth $35. Instead of joining a wine club in the valley, why not be a member of a Breakfast Club that gets you insider benefits at one of Downtown Napa’s top restaurants—and doesn't require expensive shipping costs? Sign up is as easy as visiting the club’s login page.
Neighborhood: Napa MAP

Smuggler’s Cove
San Francisco’s most elite membership group isn’t a Nob Hill private club or a Marina yacht club—it’s definitely the Rumbustion Society at Hayes Valley’s renowned temple to everything rum related, Smuggler’s Cove. But unlike many exclusive societies, there’s real work required to make it to the esteemed Level III here, aka “Master of the Cove.” Founder Martin Cate set out to educate San Francisco drinkers about the deep history of rum and to show an appreciation for the people and culture of the Caribbean Islands. Prospective members go through three levels to fully join the society. The first, “Disciple of the Cove,” involves reading, tasting (bartenders stamp cards to track your progress), and a quiz. For Level II, aspiring “Guardians of the Cove” track their rum explorations online and must sample 80 more rums, and are rewarded with various prizes and invitations, as well as their name on one of the walls of the bar. Finally, the last stage involves sampling 200 more rums and a trip to a rum distillery with Cate himself. Consider this your rum PhD.
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley MAP

Coffee Cultures
One of San Francisco’s most under-the-radar coffee spots rewards frequent guests with a free coffee after every 10 purchased—you get “stars” attached to your phone number, e-mail address, credit card. Sure, the city is full of outstanding third wave coffee shops, but why not choose the stellar shop (both the original in FiDi and its sibling in SoMa) that uses beans from the acclaimed Counter Culture Coffee and thanks you for your loyalty? The café's many regulars take advantage of the program because all those mid-morning cappuccinos and afternoon espressos add up fast. Bonus: With your free latte, you can order pastries at FiDi or bagels at the SoMa branch. They won’t be free, but obviously taste better when the coffee is on the house. To top it of, you’ll get extra benefits via email, like a code for a dollar off a special one-week-only soft serve flavor.
Neighborhood: FiDi MAP

Pacific Catch
The Bay Area’s ever-popular small chain of “West Coast fish house” restaurants dangles the treat of a complimentary dessert upon registration into its Loyals Club Rewards Program. But as great as the macadamia nut brownie sundae might be, the real “catch” of this program is all about the fish and seafood. That includes many seafaring starters, and for every $200 spent, members receive a free entree. That’s like giving the table a taco platter or Thai coconut shrimp on the house for every time you dine with a group of four. And that’s not bad at all, especially if you’re as big a fan of their tempura ahi sashimi as we are.
Neighborhood: Inner Sunset MAP

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