My friends have told me that if I have a special ability with food and wine, it is not a gifted palate nor an especially deft hand in the kitchen; rather it is the treatment I receive in restaurants despite the fact I am basically destitute financially and not particularly good looking or well connected. Essentially, I receive the treatment restaurants give their regular customers, and that is achievable from your first visit to any good restaurant (a good place being one with a vision and a mission beyond making money.) This is a series about the behaviors I see as natural that some do not.
Use your name, and theirs. Every time I call a restaurant, I say, "hi [whatever they just said their name was], it's Augie. I was hoping we could arrange a table for..." I don’t do this trying to trick them into thinking I am someone they know (in today's world of computer reservation tracking it would never work). The familiarity I am trying to establish serves two purposes: one, if I have been to the restaurant before they immediately search me in the database, and, two, if I haven't it shows a familiarity with the process that reservationists appreciate. Plus it's just polite and friendly, and who doesn't want those qualities attributed to their interactions?
Once at the place, assuming there is a conversational tone in the room, introduce yourself to your bartenders and servers at the beginning of service, and use their names when addressing them. It will take many visits to actually become familiar, but if the place is good enough to draw you back multiple times you have already started the work that would otherwise begin around visit five. If not, you have at least created a congenial atmosphere that will add to the experience.
The benefits of this practice are boundless. In a crowded room, you are familiar enough with the staff to garner attention by using their names. On quiet nights, things become far more conversational and you will never eat alone if you have friends at a good place. Best of all, as the staff changes and people move on to new ventures, which inevitably happens, you will know people at different places. New York restaurant staff seem to work rounds at restaurants at similar approaches, if a bartender goes missing from a Batali place look at a Collichio place, so if you like John at place A and he moves to place B it is likely you will enjoy place B as much because it is the similarity that made him attractive to place B and place B attractive to him.