Against Waiting in Lines for Food

Poorly typed on iPhone by Matt Rhodes

Ladies and gentlemen:

I have stood in line for a tasty morsel for the last time. All over San Francisco, I see overrated treats commanding ridiculous wait times. Blue Bottle coffee takes Dali-esque melting hours to acquire. The quality of our various ice creams seems to be determined solely by number of minutes brave fanboys are willing to wait in frigid summer temperatures for the sensual satisfaction of highly fattening sugar hitting their dystopian tongues. Why wouldn’t we pay $8 a pint after waiting for 45 minutes? It just makes sense.

Drive or stroll by any eatery that earns more than four stars on Yelp and you’ll find dozens of chilly hipsters conversing madly on the corner, eagerly waiting for their chance to ingest overhyped gastronomic bliss. Never has the blatant conformity of San Franciscan non-conformity looked so bittersweet, like the curvaceous delight of salted caramel at Bi-Rite Ice Creamery, which you can’t have in less than 30 minutes, any time of day.

A great business would be a business that sells stuff to people waiting in lines in San Francisco.

The service here is so slow. The ice cream must therefore be extra delicious and worthy of a Facebook check-in!

The very existence of a line connotes quality. But I grew up in an America where faster was better, where business success was a simple meritocracy built on pure speed. McDonalds and its faux meats in greasy drawers represented the pinnacle of culinary efficiency, the standard toward which all copycats strived.

In our righteous and rebellious effort to fight the evil trend of fast food, we of the slow movement have gone too far.

Over the years, we have built gorgeous machines to speed up the process of ingesting caffeine, but now the lethargic baristas of Blue Bottle have convinced us that slower is better, that pouring hot water through too few cups is somehow a necessary precursor to tastier coffee. I think it’s time we called it what it is: Slow and stupid from a business standpoint.

Four Barrel down in the Mission has it figured out a little better, with two separate lines and more than one barista. But here still the appetite for slow outweighs the ability to deliver the goods, equaling long lines. Not to mention your chance of being urinated upon in line is greater than 65 percent.

The problem: When too many yuppie geniuses stand on line, they think about all the world’s problems and how they could be solved. We’re like the great coffeehouse intellectuals of a bygone era, except those bright lads and lasses in Vienna and Paris actually drank coffee and therefore generated clear and energetic thoughts and ideas, while we fritter away our Sundays wondering how sweet life would be if we just had our latte and vegan doughnut now.

We childless professionals shouldn’t make every weekend like a self-imposed trip to Disneyland. That’s a different phase in life that we shan’t avoid, so why fast forward toward our future inevitable hell? We should be engorged on the quality of our simple lives, or demand or create new ways to do it faster. We have limited time before our own impending progeny overtake and destroy our souls.

Then we can bring our strollers into long lines at crowded farmers’ markets and small coffee shops to muck things up even worse for the foodie elite.

I want good brunch, and I want it now. But because I live in San Francisco I just can’t have it. This is a great problem for our supposedly free markets. We in San Francisco need to quit looking for and investing in the next Steve Jobs; we need the next Ray Kroc.

Ironically, Chipotle was the brainchild of a disgruntled San Francisco chef who felt we could bring fresh, tasty Mexican fare to the masses, faster. Now, Chipotle represents all that is wrong in America, a stark reminder that there are so few outlets of mid-tier culinary quality that even clueless myrmidons in the strip malls of America are forced to wait for access to delicious grub.

Maybe there’s a reason the economy is in the crapper. Maybe we’ve created a culture of conformity that anoints as our champions too few brands and thus strips us of our ability to spend money at the appropriate velocity.

Maybe I just need to spend less time in line thinking of derivative, insipid ideas for my blog, which you can always read now.

Nevertheless, let’s make this upcoming weekend in San Francisco special, The Weekend of No Lines. Many of you will be in line for too few bathrooms and too-pricey beers at the Outside Lands music festival, but the rest of us should power through a boycott. Let’s all just buy some groceries and enjoy nice quiet meals at home with our loved ones.

I’ll see you in a mind-boggling line at Whole Foods.

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137 thoughts on “Against Waiting in Lines for Food

  1. Classic. You should see my Yelp post of Blue Bottle coffee last year. After waiting 20 minutes for my coffee and fruit salad which consisted of 2 fruits, I then shelled out almost $10 and had a full grown beard when I left. I could have went to Lee’s where it would have been $4 and 3 minutes.

    Another thing I noticed downtown is the craze for” Mixt Greens” . If there’s a recession, you would never know it from the 30 minute line of people willing to shell over $14- $18 for a salad and a drink.

  2. Agree. Except I totally waited in line for more than an hour to eat at Dottie’s the last time I was in San Francisco. It was worth every minute. 😉

    1. Come wait in line in my ‘hood at Just for You next time. Then you can wait in line at Piccino for coffee and Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous for ice cream, all on one block! Three lines, one block–can’t beat it.

  3. I think you have a point: All the world’s problems can be tied to standing in line for food…

    Yet supply and demand economics blames us, the consumer. Right? Apparently there just aren’t enough overpriced restaurants and underpaid barristas in the nation…

    Fun post!

    🙂

  4. “We childless professionals shouldn’t make every weekend like a self-imposed trip to Disneyland…We have limited time before our own impending progeny overtake and destroy our souls.” – Haha! Well said!! 🙂

    Loved this post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  5. It’s oh so true. However, I have no regrets of the time I spent an hour in line when Sprinkles first opened on the Upper East Side!

  6. I kept thinking of Porto’s, a pretty popular eatery down here in So-Cal, and the lines there are really something else. The place itself is designed to accommodate long lines of people, usually split in two large sections, with two huge zig-zag line belt paths on each section.. ugh, long lines.

    Awesome post and congratulations!

    Edwin

  7. Love it! Also, I’m going to San Francisco for the first time in a few weeks, so now I’ll know to go out well before I’m hungry, so thanks for the tip.

    That said, places with long lines are always intriguing, because you figure they must be good. We have a ramen place here that has a half-block lineup no matter when you go. And when I went to Portland, I did wait for 45 minutes in the blazing sun for a grape-flavoured doughnut. The wait almost made it better because it built up anticipation.

  8. There’s a yogurt shop by my house that people wait in a line out the door for. I figured it had to be AMAZING so I tried it and I didn’t think it was that great. I don’t get all the hype. I won’t be standing in that line again.

    1. From my experience, yogurt shops just suck. They are overpriced, overrun with The Young and The Brainless and.. frozen yogurt just isn’t ice cream. B&J chocolate fudge brownie ALL the way.

      Aun Aqui

  9. Excellent post! I just moved away from the LA area, and reading this, all I could think of were food trucks– at what point did we decide that it actually sounds like a GOOD idea to stand in line for 45minutes for a “vegan korean burrito” from a TRUCK? I don’t know, I’ve done it, and you know what? Kim chee in a burrito.. Not totally worth it.

  10. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud after reading such a post before. I like my hipster food as much as everyone else, but I also shouldn’t have to feel guilty about being conformist and waiting in line at a goddamn fast food restaurant.

  11. “A great business would be a business that sells stuff to people waiting in lines in San Francisco.”

    Brilliant. Or atleast, a business like Amy’s.. (the pita chip lady from NY?) While the food is cooking, chips are dispersed freely. It’s like an on-the-corner-Mexican-fix. I think she sold hot dogs though.. no idea.

    Regardless, I don’t mind waiting for food ALITTLE bit – if it’s at a sit-in restaraunt and I’m with someone I enjoy talking to. Good opportunity to catch up without covering your mouth because your food is spilling out.

    I enjoyed this post! Admittedly, there were more than afew words I couldn’t quite understand and that I should look up on Dictionary dot com.. but you’re funny, witty, obviously intelligent, and I appreciated your observation.

    Aun Aqui

    ps, a vegan doughnut, sounds delightful.

  12. I think I worked for that Chipotle dude a million years ago and you are right, he is disgruntled..or was. I’ve stood in line for food in Russia and had no problem doing so but standing in line in the USA is so stupid I refuse to do it. SF used to have a million great places to go to and walk right in, sit down and eat a great meal. Does this not exist anymore? I won’t even go into the lines at food trucks…

  13. I almost never wait for food because it’s the one thing in life that upsets me most. The only time I remember waiting in line to order local eats was at Superdogs in Chicago. The lines weren’t really that long due to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade hype on the other side of town, and the food was awesome! Traffic was another story. I should blog about that day sometime.

  14. Awesome! I never thought this would be a problem in San Francisco but when I saw your picture, I was convinced otherwise! Whooosh, that’s insane! You usually have lines like this in New York (pizza place, Whole foods, Trader Joes, Restaurants) but it usually takes less than 5 mins due to the amount of servers/baristas. When they are not there, the restaurant must be REALLY REALLY good to justify this long wait. I never did it, too many options here.
    But your brunch description did evoke a memory, as I was in Boston recently and had to wait over an hour for a table of three… Mhmm, maybe it’s like this: The smaller the city, the more you wait? I cannot explain it otherwise…

  15. “A great business would be a business that sells stuff to people waiting in lines in San Francisco.” Brilliant!

    I appreciate your observations, humor and tone here. Great stuff.

    On a personal note, I live in a MUCH smaller town and a few years back when I visited LA I suddenly understood why there was so much crime in urban areas — all the on-line waiting.

    I can’t hang. I decided during that trip (while waiting in line for an HOUR to get a Subway sandwich) that the big cities were not for me. I need a faster pace — both in line and in traffic.

    Great post. I see why it was FP.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Crystal

  16. Sometimes as a tourist if you are in unfamiliar territory you tend to look for the lines as an indication of “it must be good there is a line.” I’ve been fooled by that logic more than a few times. Great post.

  17. I don’t think that a long line necessarily denotes slow service. I work at a food service and we have pretty long lines sometimes, but that’s because we only have two workers. Two fast workers, but not enough for a faster service. Sometimes the number of workers does it too. I’ve often wondered why kids who can barely see their toes would wait so long in line for the ice cream we sell. It amazes me. Good post!

  18. There are 3 Chipotles, each a block from where I live. No matter which one you go to, at any time there is a huge line. San Francisco sounds just like NYC, right down to the hipster infiltration.

  19. This brought a smile to my face in Texas with our not so long lines, but slow speaking and slow moving cashiers, servers and the like.

  20. I would not wait in line for either coffee or dessert, but I once waited in line outside a ramen house. The taste was worth the wait, and the price was very reasonable. I would go again.
    Generally, waiting in line for food makes me think of soup kitchens. It is a sad aspect of our culture that some people wait for free food to keep them alive while others wait for overpriced treats they don’t need.
    Eating at home is preferable, I agree, but that ramen sure was good!

  21. Only line I ever had to wait in for food here in small town America was for Carter the Hot Dog Guy at Ball State … and his amazing dogs were worth the wait and not at a steep price like you’re describing 😉 Only reason most of us were willing to wait in line outside so often was because those superstuffed dogs were the best hangover cure ever.

  22. I couldn’t agree more! I especially hate it when people wait in lines to get inside a night club. At least you’re getting delicious (hopefully) food after waiting in line for a restaurant. You can make the same drink and listen to the same bad music at home as you can get inside the club after waiting in line. The best food line in Chicago is at Lou Mitchell’s at 565 W. Jackson. It’s a breakfast spot that offers line waiters warm, fresh doughnuts and candy FOR FREE as they wait for a seat inside. Afterall, this family run business has been around since 1923 for a reason.

  23. Great post. I have to agree I am not a patient person when it comes to waiting in line for food, especially if I am hungggrrryy. I recently did this at a restaurant in San Diego and to be truthfully honest the food really was just so so. Congrats on being FP!

  24. These thoughts float through my head everytime I pass Georgetown Cupcakes on M Street in DC. I have never seen it less than a block long. NEVER. Come on people, Sprinkles is a few minutes walk away and there is never a line of more than 5 people [and their cupcakes are way better] #justsaying

  25. I really enjoyed this, though probably because I don’t live in San Fran or have to experience your frustration, it felt a bit long. Excellent points, though, most of the way,

  26. From a business point of view – I whole-heartedly agree… if I see a queue snaking around the block… well, I am just going to keep walking… lol. Then again, it does attract a lot of attention… maybe people think the place is extraordinarily good because of the line…lol.

  27. There’s a spot in DC’s Adam’s Morgan called Pasta Mia! There’s always a line whenever they’re open. Driving by there once, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself, thinking of the Soup Nazi from a Seinfeld episode.

    I finally made it inside Pasta Mia!’s to find that the food wasn’t spectacular. In fact, the pasta tasted like something I could fix myself. Looking around the place, it was obvious that the reason for the line outside was because the restaurant was too small to accommodate a normal crowd. (The head of the line starts inside the restaurant below the diners on the second level. It’s pretty awkward eating while people at the head of the line look up at your table, smiling and waiting for the diners to finish their meals so they can make it to the next level.)

    But long lines outside of food establishments do often connote quality, when in, Pasta Mia!’s case, it denotes the establishment’s lack of space to accommodate all those folks at one time. And Pasta Mia! knew those facts enough to turn the folks outside waiting into a form of PR. I’ll never look at long lines the same again.

    Thanks for an entertaining post!

  28. I feel exactly the same way – and we were just visiting SF this past weekend and I put my foot down about waiting for food. No Blue Bottle coffee for me. Especially with two kids who are already nearing the brink of meltdown. I want food and I want it now.

    1. “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer in San Francisco.”–mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain. The weather here sucks in the summer. You have to experience it to believe it. I’ve been here 12 years and I still don’t believe it sometimes.

  29. Fun post! I have waited in line for food for more 6 hours. Post-comunism depression where shops were empty and in order to get sugar or oil you had to wait and wait and wait – sometimes even for a whole day. We would do shifts with my friends and family in line waiting.
    So when it is artificially created because some businesses want to keep the hype and fuss…well that is kind of sad.

  30. I live in Chicago…but my husband is from SF. A week ago we visited…and my iPhone led me to Blue Bottle for my morning coffee. I was completely shocked. I waited in line for 30 minutes…and then clearly did NOT know what I was doing as I tried to order a “medium coffee” and the chick at the register responded to me in something of another language! In the end…my breakfast toast was better than my coffee…even worth another trip really. But I don’t think I’ll go back until I figure out the appropriate way to order a “medium coffee” without being scoffed at!

  31. What really drives me nuts is when people wait in super long lines for free stuff. I remember back in May, my local Haagan Daas was giving away free vanilla cones. You should have seen the line of people commanding two blocks! The ice cream store was near Columbia University, but the line was made up by mostly older adults–people likely well employed and able to afford a freaking ice cream cone. It’s ridiculous what some people are willing to do for free stuff.

  32. I don’t do queues, never have and never will…unless theres some pending disaster approaching and I have to wait in line for the chopper out of there with the rest of the mooks.

  33. What is the difference between the wait for an overpriced latte’ “served” by a barista with attitude … and the 1960’s Soviet Union breadlines?

  34. You definitely had me chuckling. I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself in gargantuan lines (usually involving shopping sales) and been struck with the insanity of it all. I actually feel empowered when I forfeit my place in line and leave the premises empty-handed. Crazy, isn’t it?

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  35. Amen. I’ll take good food, fast, from a place where they are actually nice to me when I get up to the counter over a hip, line down the street place anytime of the week!

  36. BTW, is the Blue Bottle coffee worth the wait?

    I will say that we waited over an hour one morning to get into Rick & Ann’s in Berkeley with two starving children and it was worth every miserable second of whining we had to endure to eat their red flannel hash. I still dream about that meal.

  37. That’s why I love finding the cute, small eateries that no one seems to know about. the food is usual better and no lines!

  38. I made a similar mistake in NYC – waiting in line at Magnolia Bakery, only to get a stale cupcake, waiting in line at “invitation-only” club parties, only to have to fight my way to the bar and be ignored by the bartender. For the remaining years, I made it a point to never wait in line, and I still got a lot of good stuff. Good for you.

  39. I can not think of a line for food that I do not like except Trader Joes. It is probably the snobbiest food line ever, but then again it probably has a good bottom line.

  40. I once waited in line with my husband and four children for over two hours, in the middle of a scorching July afternoon, so we could have our rolls thrown at us, and have fried okra served to us on a paper towel on our table. How crazy is THAT? Lambert’s in Missouri. Great blog.

  41. Loved your post – So funny, this is a problem that’s starting in Sydney (Australia) too – you see lines of people waiting at the latest “it” foodie location, I can’t think of much worse in a city that is absolutely spoilt for choice in terms of culinary quality.

  42. I do soooo totally agree with you! In Japan too, waiting is considered half the fun.
    I never get it. Why not trying the restaurant next door or around the corner and come back later the week or month? *same with movies, gosh*
    I hate waiting OUTSIDE in the line. Give me a wine or a cocktail and a chair and I’ll wait an hour if needed INSIDE!

    Thanks for the post!

  43. Congratulations for making it in the freshly pressed and for an insightful post. I agree with your points. Long lines are disgusting but at some point we consider it as a sign that the restaurant might be offering something worth the wait. But just the same I still agree the speed and customer responsiveness should always be considered above quality.

  44. I love this post! I love food. Good food. I have kids Lines are untenable. I cook at home now. 🙂 Love your writing style- Congrats on FP!

  45. This shows that you are not sufficiently hip enough to understand the quality that comes with waiting. Back in 2010, Starbucks customers were apparently complaining that the wait time was too short.

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    Amid customer complaints that the Seattle-based coffee chain has reduced the fine art of coffee making to a mechanized process with all the romance of an assembly line, Starbucks baristas are being told to stop making multiple drinks at the same time and focus instead on no more than two drinks at a time—starting a second one while finishing the first, according to company documents reviewed recently by The Wall Street Journal.

    Mind you, I haven’t heard how well this new approach is doing, but then I wouldn’t, would I? If there are more than two people in line ahead of me, I go somewhere else for my coffee. Oddly enough, I also tend to get better coffee, and pay a fraction of the price, too.

    But then, I’m an old hippy (of the real hippies — not the political activists), and waiting in line was never one of our strong points.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. (Did you have to wait in line?)

  46. solution: eat out less. I love food, and I love the ritual surrounding it, but I’ve never gotten the cult of the genius loci that seems to enthrall so many. overpriced, over hyped, overcrowded, under proportioned – all markers of modern “good restaurants.” friends of mine took me to a joint where a small sandwich and a milkshake ran me for $20 – ridiculous! everyone there was on their phones, taking pictures and tweeting that they were there – too busy networkbragging to experience anything. next time I’ll be going to a normal supermarket and buying some things to make for my friends instead – whole lot cheaper, tastier, and healthier… time formerly spent in lines will be spent learning to cook better!

  47. Fabulous and so true. And not just in San Fran. Now living in Wellington, New Zealand, I’m amazed at how long I’m willing to wait for something as simple as a taco (but honestly, considering the complete dearth of Mexican food here, I’d probably sell a limb for a good taco.).

  48. Hahah! Great post! I can’t stand waiting in lines too! Thanks for sharing! I’m still trying to get the hang of blogging. If you have time, please check it out and let me know what you think! Thanks for sharing again! 🙂

  49. Fortunately in India, the situation isn’t that terrible yet. I do have to wait like animals for the diners to complete their meals so that I can replace them as soon as they leave their seats, but that’s the scenario found in only a hand few restaurants that have earned some fame, both respective and irrespective of the qaulity of food they provide. Eateries and fast food centres are so much in number here all over the metropolitan cities that the large number of Indian food lovers are often distributed quite well among all the public eateries.

    But yes I do have to wait in lines for other purposes like in banks, universities, ATMs, trial rooms, billing counters of malls, etc. for a nerve wrecking period of time very often.

  50. Great post, which has made me laugh a little! I’m British, so I cannot compare an experience to those you have had at the particular food branches you have noted. However, being in a different country doesn’t entail no lines. We have lines, alright. But whenever I’m in a line, I’ll find my frustration increasing and I’ll utter the words ‘get more staff’ or ‘McDonalds in America wouldn’t have this’ (that’s the only experience I have of VERY fast food on my family holiday, ha!) but perhaps the very fast food we have adapted into our expectations are spoiling us? But then again, I personally wouldn’t wait in line for a coffee/tea anyway. That’s what thermo flasks are for! Congratulations on being freshly pressed, glad I found your post! Have a good day!

  51. the waiting line is so frustating, if it’s not for some very special occasion, I would never be in any waiting line. sometimes it’s better to have delivery service, it won’t take too long, right?
    love this post : )

  52. Actually, I have just started shopping for some grocery items that do not go bad through Walmart.com. It is worth it, because it is through my credit card so I get cash back that way. My 6 year old and I are excitedly in a way waiting for 24 rolls of good brand toilet paper to be delivered to our door.

  53. They had “stuff white people like” on NPR a month or two ago, and one of the things they had on there was waiting in line for breakfast/brunch.

    I love breakfast, but I never go out because you can never go anyplace without waiting in line unless you get there when the damn place opens. It is sad. All I want is some french toast. 😦

  54. Thanks for this! Waiting on line for food is something my forebearers worked very very hard not to have to do. I see people lining up at luchtime in NY to overpay for mediocre food just cos the outlet is new.

  55. Kopi Joss is coffee with black charcoal material. So is very nice. And Kopi Klotok is coffee with coffee arabica and chocolate. so is really very good. hehe

  56. Tim Hortons is rare for we Californians; when I’m back home in Ohio, I grab that via a good old-fashioned drive-thru. All the idiots still wait in line for Krispy Kreme.

  57. I’ve only been to SF once, and I didn’t experience this in particular, so I had no idea. I did notice the phenomenon when I lived in LA, though… I never understood what was so special about Pink’s. It’s a hot dog stand, people. Come on. But I’m pretty sure that was more about being seen at Pink’s than it was about actually eating the food there. I don’t get it myself, but then I’ve never been too fussed about food. 😀

  58. Waiting in (or if in NYC, waiting ON line) line..okay if one has a book and maybe a little portable foldup stool. And if it’s not raining. Otherwise, uh-uh. Thanks for your eloquent dissent from line-waiting for grub.

  59. LA is a strange strange place. I was born and raised in Vermont and spent close to a decade in Arizona. I spent one night in LA during a lay over in which I got a hotel room for my son and his dad and I in the spring of 2008. That trip was the first time that I had ever seen The Hollywood sign too.

  60. You had me smiling and nodding along as I read your post. I really love how you express your dislike for waiting in lines so humorously! It makes me want to go to San Fran just to see what all the fuss is about, and see if I can find as much fun in it as you. 😀

  61. Hilarious post. I grew up in Cali (Fresno), but have great memories of trips to SF. In Dallas now and we just got In-N-Out locations opening up all over DFW. About 8, I think. I’ve told my friends how great the burgers are, but haven’t been to one here yet because the wait is upwards of 2 HOURS in the drive-through line. Texans love themselves some In-N-Out. We’re enjoying the burgers as we choke on the emissions coming out of those cars idling in the drive-thrus. LOL.

  62. This reminds me why I – when I worked in an office – I always brown-bagged it and when my fabulous hubbie and I go out for a date night, we always go for an early dinner, movie, and then late dessert. This way we can go to two of our favorite restaurants rather than one (some place we love for their dinner and others for their sweets).

    If you get to any restaurant by 5:00p or earlier, there is rarely a wait. Plus, the wait staff just got in, they haven’t been stiffed by a previous customer, and there isn’t a ton of food on the grill in front of yours waiting to be cooked. Bottom line: for the best dining experience, service, and food … dine early.

    And even if it’s our favorite restaurant, if the wait is more than 15 minutes … we go somewhere else. We get so few date nights, we don’t want to sit around in a waiting room all night. 🙂

  63. I made that mistake with having high expectations with magnolia bakery in nyc, busy and long line ups i impulsively spent more than i should of…with alright cupcakes.

  64. I am totally for quick service. Hey it may be corporate but for the most part you get your coffee fast at Starbucks and to your liking.

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