Reason For Not Eating Out #32: The Wait

“And the food took forever!” a woman said to her friend while riding the elevator of my building.

“I know!” he exclaimed. “And then it was, like, cold!”

Forgetting the coldness factor for now, and admitting first-off that dinner parties, supper clubs and all sorts of communal cooking activities can create just the same lags in time for food, when you’re cooking for yourself, the dreaded wait is over.

There’s a helplessness in the restaurant diner that recalls our days in the high chair. You can’t walk into the kitchen, see what’s happening; you can’t taste anything before it’s set before you. You can gesture and whine, but you can’t do anything to feed yourself without the segway of an authority figure, mom or waiter — and you can’t leave without their sanction, either. That’s a comfort and luxury in most cases, the “service” of any service industry. But I think we can all relate to that couple’s frustration about a too-long wait. (How did that bad joke go? They’re called waiters, because you have to wait for them!) At least you know what time the movie starts when you go to the theater. And sometimes, we just want to eat.

Then there’s waiting to get a table, or standing in a long line for take-out. I told Feisty Foodie Yvo that she’d given me my next Reason of the Month when she Tweeted that she was getting lunch one day and, “banh mi cart is crazy long line, save me!” It’s not just the most popular food carts, either. During lunchtime nearly everywhere in Manhattan, prepared food shops fill up with a rush of people grabbing their meal pretty quickly, and standing in line to pay for it for several minutes, pretty grumpy about it for the most part. There can be something social about this type of activity, though, especially when you’re really passionate about getting the best eats on the block. In Taiwan (an incredibly food-crazed culture), kids would line up by the dozens behind the best dumpling stands, or fried chicken carts, and sort of see and be seen. Indeed, the public line-standing scheme may go beyond just being persnickety about how good the particular food is. And if it’s deemed worth the wait, then so be it. But in the meantime, Yvo’s Tweet didn’t sound too happy.

In a rare eating-out misadventure of mine, I waited almost two hours to be seated at a table. It was, of course, at a newly opened restaurant in the city with a hazard of buzz and hype, and my group had a friend who was a line cook there. This association didn’t get us anywhere in the hostess’s books, however; the wait was forty-five minutes at first, then another half-hour, and another… and there were plenty of parties like us willing to wait these waits. I was in entirely the wrong mood for food by the time it finally graced the table. I was hammered from drinking the wait away with fancy cocktails at the bar. Had I not been, I would have been far worse off: angry.

On the other hand, it is quite healthy both physically and emotionally to cook on one’s own schedule. There is a different type of waiting involved with cooking. It’s hands-on action, or it’s smelling, watching or listening to something roast or simmer away. It’s watching the pot boil. It’s engaging. And if you think about it that way, it’s really not waiting at all.

7 Responses

  1. Annie
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    This is probably more of a lunchtime thing, but sometimes you wait in a huge line to get food only to find that a table isn’t available. I don’t think it’s exactly kosher to pre-claim tables with coats, but I’ll admit that I’ve done it just to avoid holding a sandwich and having nowhere to eat it.

    Thanks for Reason #32!

  2. Morta Di Fame
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    very true…have you covered this one: its one thing to wait but what about when you feel just gross from whatever you ate! don’t you notice that sometimes you can cook for yourself with what would seem like stuff that would be heavy like butter, etc. but when you eat the same dishes out you feel really grossly full? or even worse, you have to rush home because, well you know. i think its because they don’t really care about what they put it, or they sometimes use sub-par ingredients or just keep refrying in the same nasty oil. and another reason – i am on a roll – GMOs. restaurants cut costs and what better way than buy GMO filled food! ICK! you have no idea what you are getting! okay i hope you haven’t covered those yet. great blog!

  3. kim
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    I can never see myself waiting over an hour for brunch (like this popular place in LES). I just don’t have the patience and the time. Also, I really haven’t come across a meal that would make me wait. Unless the ingredients are really fresh and organic and besides the special kitchen equipments, I feel that if the cook can make it, so can I (not that I’m a good cook by the way) 🙂

  4. Yvo
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    Totally feel you on this. Last week for a birthday lunch, took an hour or more for our food to come in an empty restaurant. No explanation or apology from the waiter, nothing. We were all hungry and the food wasn’t even that good – at least if I was cooking in my kitchen, I could fix up a little snack to munch on 😉 I really don’t like waiting and try to do as little of it as possible (I’m a brat). Happy half-birthday! and thanks for the shout 🙂

  5. Brian Fairbanks
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    Alvy Singer: [addressing the camera] There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

  6. Naomid
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    The thing I miss about eating, is the socialization of hanging together for hours, waiting and then eating, but not a on a regular basis. It can be pretty isolating at work too, if you don’t make the extra effort.

  7. [email protected]
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    Customers at my restaurant typically wait an hour-and-a-half for brunch on the weekends. Nine dollars gets you a standard diner-y breakfast, and be ready to drop $16 for eggs Benny. Who subjects themselves to this practice? People who habitually seek out misery? But, as in your case, drinks at the bar first make everyone’s life more bearable.

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