How Long Would You Wait in Line at a Restaurant?

Rose's Luxury Restaurant in Washington DC
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How long is too long to stand in line to eat at a restaurant?
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Back when cupcakes were insanely popular, it wasn’t unheard of to see a waiting line wrapped around the building just for the opportunity to buy a designer cupcake at a trendy bakery. Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas, is notorious for their waiting line, which regularly requires a diligent 4-hour wait for those at the back of the line. Obviously, we determined at some point that it was not only okay, but somehow admirable, to wait in a really long line for something with no comprehensible value. The burning question, then, is why do we choose to wait in line at a restaurant?

Food isn’t the only commodity we’re willing to stand long hours in line for, of course. Crazed shoppers everywhere line up at department stores for coveted holiday deals on Black Friday every year, sometimes even trampling each other on the way in the door. In this scenario, though, good deal is what they’re after and a tangible price can be placed on the item. A $1000 TV that’s been discounted to $600 is an obvious savings. People are willing to stand in a 4-hour line for a $400 savings. I can understand that. What I have a harder time understanding is why we agree to wait for so many hours for food.

Waiting in line at Franklin's BBQ in Austin, Texas
Waiting in line at Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas (Photo by Wally Gobetz)

Recently, Nick & I took a trip to Washington, DC, and while we were there, we had dinner with our friends David & Corey (check out their Charleston Food Crawl experience). It was David’s suggestion that we go to Rose’s Luxury, a restaurant in Capitol Hill that has been drawing a line of eager diners since long before Bon Appetit labeled it Best New Restaurant in America 2014. Every night, the line to get in to Rose’s Luxury extends down the street and around the corner. People line up as early as 2pm to put their name on the list for dinner, which starts at 5pm and ends at 10pm.

Usually, I wouldn’t be game for standing in that long of a line, just to eat dinner, especially since Washington, DC, is no slouch when it comes to fine dining options. We could have gone to a dozen other top restaurants and been seated immediately upon arrival. However, David volunteered to wait in the line in order to give us the opportunity to see what Bon Appetit had labeled the best food in America. Who was I to turn down that kind of offer?

The line at Rose's Luxury, a nightly occurrence
The line at Rose’s Luxury, a nightly occurrence (Photo by Mike Licht)

And so at 2pm, David took his place as second in line for a coveted table at Rose’s Luxury. After a not-so-bad 2.5 hour wait on what was a fairly nice fall day, David secured us seats for 8pm.

There’s obvioulsy something incredible about Rose’s Luxury that warrants the wait. What is it about Franklin’s BBQ that motivates people to sit in the hot Texas sun for half a day for a serving of brisket that won’t last more than 5 minutes before being devoured? What was it about the cronut that convinced New Yorkers to brave sub-zero temperatures in a long line for the opportunity to buy just two cronuts (per customer)? Is this a social phenomenon that can actually be explained?

I have to admit that the cronut and that plate of barbecue do look pretty tempting. I would probably stand in line at least for a little while for either. At least a little of the wait can be justified by the food itself.

I’m sure you’re wondering how Rose’s Luxury ended up being and whether we actually thought it was worth the wait. To tell the truth, we had a very nice dinner at Rose’s Luxury. We ordered seven dishes, plus one family-style brisket platter and shared them all alongside a couple bottles of wine from their short list. Not so shocking, everything was quite good.

The loaf of warm potato bread for the table, served with salted butter and bacon bits, was a huge hit. The bread was airy and light, slightly moist and incredibly good. We all agreed that the pork sausage and lychee salad was outstanding. I would absolutely eat that again. The brisket platter was only okay. They aren’t going to win any BBQ awards in the near future. The beef was cooked perfectly and well seasoned. The charred carrots were surprisingly good. The flavors were bold and inventive. I enjoyed every bite.

The only gripe I have to make about Bon Appetit’s glowing review is where it says that Rose’s is in the business of making people happy. When we questioned the quality of one of the bottles of wine we’d ordered, clearly stating that none of us liked it, we were merely notified that the sommelier tried it and thought it was fine. To be in the business of making people happy, it’s probably not the right response to tell the customer its fine when they clearly aren’t enjoying it.

After we’d finished eating and sat back to finish our wine and digest what we’d just eaten, we started discussing whether the food was so good that it warranted standing in line for. David had graciously accepted the tedious task for the rest of us, and he readily admitted that he didn’t mind the wait. So only one out of four people’s time had been usurped by the wait. Did that make it any more palatable?

In New York, people waiting for the cronut said they were happy to wait because the pastry was so good that it was worth the wait. They also said that standing in line together with other cronut fanatics was fun because of the camaraderie. In Austin, people waiting in line at Franklin BBQ turn the wait into a tailgate party of sorts, complete with snacks and beers, and they pass the time partying with like-minded foodies. What’s not to like about that?

A sweet (eggplant) ending to our dinner at Rose's Luxury
A sweet (eggplant) ending to our dinner at Rose’s Luxury

And so, while none of us thought that any one dish at Rose’s Luxury, nor the dining experience as a whole, was really worth the 2.5-hour wait, we agreed that it wasn’t necessarily about the food. The exclusivity created by the line is what keeps people coming back night after night. After all, any restaurant that is good enough to be called Best New Restaurant in America surely has earned the right to be, or at least appear to be, so exclusive that it requires a long wait to get in.

Without restaurants (or products or sales) like these that pique our desire to obtain something so exclusive, would there be any experience that would make us feel special? In the end, what it really comes down to is that waiting in long lines makes us somehow feel special and unique. It isn’t so much about the food itself, but being one of only 80 people who were allowed to dine at Rose’s Luxury on that particular evening made us feel special for a few hours, and for that we were thankful to David for paying the price of 2.5 hours of his time.

How Long Would You Wait in Line at a Restaurant?

31 thoughts on “How Long Would You Wait in Line at a Restaurant?

  1. Laetitia says:

    I’ve done both the line for the cronut and the line at Roses’ Luxury. I wouldn’t wait again for a cronut, though I’m glad I did it once, and I’ll go back to DAB for regular pastries… I’ll definitely wait again for Roses’ though… but there are tricks, like dining with just one other person, or going on a Monday… I do really really really they would take even limited reservations for older folks, or those with disabilities that may not be able to wait in line like we are…
    And at least Dominique Ansel lets you pre-order cronuts to pick up without waiting in line.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Hi Laetitia. Thanks for your comment! It’s great to hear the perspective of someone who’s stood in these lines before. I failed to mention that we went to Rose’s on a Saturday night, since we were only in town on the weekend. It is easier to get in on weekdays. Rose’s also takes reservations for parties of 6-8.

  2. Natasha Amar says:

    This is such an interesting read. So would you say that the waiting-in-line is part of the experience that leads the long queue (sort of like a circle) in a way? I find this happens a lot with new restaurants in Dubai (where I’m based), when the Cheesecake Factory opened its first branch in Dubai, the wait was as long as 4 hours! And more and more people kept going to find out what all the fuss was about. And I can tell you, there are far better restaurants in the city where you would be seated upon arrival.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Absolutely, Natasha! Especially since this restaurant has had a long line for years now. It’s not a fleeting thing. The line itself is perpetuating the line. How long can it be sustained? It’s funny to think people would wait in line so long for a Cheesecake Factory. It’s all about the buzz!

  3. Prianka | Map Halves says:

    I can’t imagine waiting in a line like this – no matter how amazing the food. I guess my take is that there will be equally amazing food at some other place where I don’t have to wait. That being said, I understand the event like quality of it and I can see it being fun hanging out with my friends with the end result being an awesome meal.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      I tend to lean your way on this topic, Prianka, when there are a dozen other places to go that I know would be just as good. It’s when the line is for something really exclusive that you can’t get anywhere else that I would definitely be willing to wait, for the opportunity to have something I can’t get somewhere else.

  4. Marta says:

    I totally get the sense of exclusivity when you finally earn your meal after waiting for hours but, personally, would never wait so long. I don’t know this specific restaurant but, in general, I feel sometimes they want these lines to form just to crate a buzz and make feel people special once finally ‘admitted inside’ but I prefer to feel special not having made to wait 🙂 Of course it’s all personal preferences and it it made your evening even more special, that this is the most important thing!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Marta, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s partly the restaurant wanting to create the buzz that perpetuates the situation, otherwise, why not just give out reservations? People see the line and want to have whatever is in there that they are being made to wait for. It’s all psychological.

  5. Christina says:

    To be honest I wouldn´t stand in line to wait for food, even if it is the best food in the world. If I am hungry I have to get my meals as fast as possible (not a huge fan of fast food chains, but I guess you know, what I mean :D).
    Otherwise I tend to get pretty grumpy. 😀

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Completely understand the Hangry perspective, Christina! I would have to get a snack before I started the waiting! At Rose’s Luxury, at least you’re actually waiting in line to get a reservation, not to actually eat.

  6. Svet Dimitrov says:

    That was just so palatable to read!

    I am a profound foodie and I would probably wait even much longer IF I have some folks to chirp with. Throw some beers and the dripping of saliva can start! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Svet

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Thanks Svet! I do think that being a foodie has a lot to do with it. We’re just willing to wait longer for food. I would probably wait a lot longer than that too, just because I’m curious and I love food.

  7. Ana O says:

    This was an interesting read. I would definitely not stand in line for hours to get a table at a restaurant. It does not make me feel special or unique, it makes me feel silly for wasting my time (with apologies to those who do stand in line). My reasoning is, if you set up a business and you ultimately want my money, make it easy for me to give it to you.
    I remember when In-n-Out first opened in Dallas. It was pure madness with long lines and the police directing traffic! I waited until it subsided to try the burgers. They’re nice but they’re just burgers. I’m glad I waited a few days.

  8. Traveling Rockhopper says:

    Seriously? wow, that’s crazy!
    I guess, I’m just a person who prefers to cook than going to restaurant and wait, maybe it’s just because I don’t eat meat…

    • Laura Lynch says:

      That’s an interesting thought. Does being a non-meat eater have an impact on wanting to wait in line for food? Well, I guess with the cupcakes and cronuts, that’s not the case.

  9. Sarah Ebner says:

    I’m not sure how long I would wait – though obviously I’d love it if someone else was happy to do so! I’m not a great person at queueing, though I obviously do so (it’s basically compulsory in the UK!) and I hate people who queue jump. I think you’re right that the wait is about exclusivity, and also anticipation – the thought that if you queue for something, then it must be worth it. Perhaps it then becomes self-fulfilling….

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Sarah, I do think that’s what it’s all about, and it becomes self-fulfilling no matter if it wasn’t worth it, because you’ll always try to tell yourself it was to justify the waiting.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I’ve waited in line for an hour or so to get into a really good restaurant. 2.5 hours, not so sure I’d do it. But that said, it looks like your time in line was well rewarded.

  11. Himanshu says:

    Very interesting. Good to know it happenes outside India Also. In india we have many such restaurent where we keep waiting for long hours. Incredible!

  12. Elaine J. Masters says:

    Nope. Won’t wait in line for food! It’s hard enough standing in line for coffee at Starbucks. I’d make an exception if I were with friends like you have and there’s a food crawl underway. More fun. Nice write up.

  13. Mary says:

    I have waited in long lines before but usually that was for pizza. I am from CT where they have THE best pizza place in the country and there is a line almost all the time like the ones in your pics. I don;t think i’d wait in a line like that for bbq though:)

    • Laura Lynch says:

      I suppose we all have our things we’re willing to wait for. I’d definitely wait for a really good pizza, but I’d also wait for BBQ. Yum.

  14. Monica says:

    The longest I have ever waited to get to a restaurant was about 45 minutes – and even this was too long for me.
    2,5 hours! Such a waste of time… but… I guess you got really hungry by the time you sat down 🙂

  15. Karilyn says:

    Ok.. I have to admit I have waited in some LONG lines.. sometimes for total hipster places in SF, but my most embarrassing was for Krispy Kreme in Japan! we happened to be in town when the first one was opening and after almost a decade in India I was dying for one. Hours later (and many free donuts later) we got in to buy our own. It was decadent after all that way 😉

  16. Francesca @onegrloneworld says:

    There are so many restaurants that are hyped up and require a long wait – I think it’s due to the “foodie” movement, if you will 😛 At least you pulled through and you ordered a lot so you could get a good idea of whether or not you found it worth the wait.

    Too bad you had the little issue with the waiter though! I hate when people give that type of response after a complaint. Glad you didn’t let it ruin your experience!

  17. Meg Jerrard says:

    WOW, not so sure I would be able to justify waiting in line for that long for a seat, though it comes down to what different people prioritize, for instance I wait in lines for an hour just to get on one disney line so I can hardly judge those who line up for 2 hours for a dinner reservation. But I agree – I think half the time it’s all about the exclusivity that the line creates, and it makes you feel like you’ve achieved something special by just being privileged enough to have the experience 🙂

  18. elaine massey says:

    Wow this food looks good, but I wouldn’t have waited in a long line for it. I do have a bad back so I don’t wait in line for anything, but understand why you would have in this case. I don’t wait in line at Disney or anywhere, but I know people who actually find it fun to be in line. I guess you can say you did it and you enjoyed most of the experience.

  19. Kathy Zoeller says:

    Hi Laura are you by any chance the author of The Bakers Cafe Cookbook in Katonah, NY? Trying to find a copy. Thanks

    Kathy

    • Linda Wrinn says:

      I have that Cookbook. Published in 1993. Patty Keane just posted a photo of the chocolate zucchini cake she made and itgot a bunch of us talking about the old recipes. Remember the Kentucky Butter Cake? The Morning Glory Muffins? PM me. Happy to share info.

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