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Food Court: To Wait or Not To Wait?

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Dec 11, 2014
Food Court: To Wait or Not To Wait?

Welcome to Food Court, a Sporkful series where members of our team face off on eating’s biggest questions -- and you’re the judge.

On trial today: endless food lines. It's an especially appropriate topic, since our newest podcast episode features Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut -- a food craze that spawned famously long lines.

Is waiting for your meal the ultimate appetite stoker, or the enemy of all that is good and just in the Eatscape? Sporkful staffers Elite Truong and Talia Ralph argue the case.

Talia: I know that the stance I’m about to take is controversial, but here it goes: I think waiting in line for good food is worth it. Do you?

Elite: It really depends on the wait time, but think it's rarely worth it. Waiting in line for popular restaurants and dishes really amps up your expectation for the experience, and unfortunately the food rarely delivers. Think about Sunday brunches -- you wait two hours to sit like sardines, and that affects how the food tastes (at least for me).

Talia: I see your point, but I’ve always been fascinated by the whole concept of lining up for food. It piques a base human curiosity in me. Here’s my reasoning, and it’s very straightforward: a long line can’t be wrong. People may be silly, but they’re also incredibly smart. It’s the same reason Yelp and Urbanspoon exist: we trust the crowd. If so many people think a place is so great, I NEED to know for myself. Don't you get at least a little curious when you see hoards of people huddling under umbrellas for a bowl of ramen?

Elite: Actually, I avoid those places! The ramen burger line at Smorgasburg two summers ago is a good example of this. I can’t help but think that these kinds food crazes have too much hype. It’s not really about the food anymore -- but more about getting to say that you waited in line for two hours in the early morning to get a Cronut or a bagel. (Caveat: if any single food item could get me out of bed and in line, it would be a bagel from Black Seed in lower Manhattan.) How can any food live up to that kind of suffering?


Talia: I mean, there IS scientific proof that delayed gratification is good for you. Just want to put that out there. Plus, you get to discover great places while you’re waiting. When I was camped out for a seat at Death and Co., I found one of my now-all-time-favorite dive bars. When you’re scrounging for a snack or drink to whet your appetite, you can stumble upon unexpected treasures that make your experience even better.

Elite: I do like that idea. When I ventured out to Mu Ramen last year to stand in line for a bowl of ramen recommended by the New York Times, I discovered so many lovely things in Long Island City, Queens, a neighborhood I rarely go to otherwise. I like the idea of going to new places for food, but I think the danger of waiting in line for hyped-up restaurants is that you can start to trust popular opinion more and potentially miss other amazing dishes and experiences at restaurants that aren’t snazzy and new.

Talia: Some of my favorite restaurants in all of New York City are notorious for their lines: Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for instance, often runs a two-and-a-half hour wait for dinner. Clinton Street Baking Co. on Manhattan's Lower East Side is one of the only places I ever elect to order pancakes. They’re that good, but the brunch wait is brutal. I still smile thinking about the wait for Queens Comfort in Astoria, Queens: I’m pretty sure their host is a professional comedian. Isn’t there anywhere you love that makes you want wait for it?

Elite: I love ABC Kitchen in Union Square! I can’t think of a meal I’ve had there that I haven’t completely earned by waiting in line. I love their take on modern American comfort food -- it's one of the few exceptions I make for waiting in line. Being a natural opportunist, I usually put my name down for brunch and then wander down the street during the wait to see if I can find anything better. But let me ask you this: How long is too long to wait?

Talia: I think more than an hour is pushing it, though I’ve done it before (but not happily). Even my food-related patience has its limits.

Eaters, what do you think? Is delayed gustatory gratification better or worse than a timely meal?

Elite Truong is a support manager and snack maker at Eater.com. In her free time, she’s teaching herself code, looking for amazing dumplings, and reading all the cookbooks.

Talia Ralph is a freelance writer pursuing her Master's in Food Systems at NYU. She also hosts a radio show about pizza. Follow her on Twitter @TaliaBethRalph.

Photo by Dan Nguyen and Flickr CC / LittleDaan

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