Why I Won’t Wait More Than 15 Minutes To Eat

Department of complaints.
Oct. 26 2011 5:24 AM

Foodie Death Sentence

There's no way I'm waiting two hours to eat at a trendy restaurant.

Waiting in line.
Long restaurant waits are not unusual in New York City

Photograph by Michael Blann/Thinkstock.

On sunny Saturdays I run along the water in Brooklyn. As I approach the Brooklyn Bridge, I see the line for Grimaldi’s Pizzeria snaking around a full block, at least 50 people deep at high noon. Little kids fidget in anticipation, and teenagers look hot and surly as they wait on the inching queue for what is allegedly the best pizza in the borough. Every time I see these poor suckers standing around, I think the same thing: There is no food in the entire world for which I would wait on that kind of line.

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

As a rule, I will not wait more than 15 minutes for any kind of meal, no matter how transcendent. It’s not that I can’t acknowledge good food. The one time I ate at Gramercy Tavern, I could tell that it was better than the $8 takeout Thai dinners I was subsisting on back then. But since I’m a nontaster—someone with a remarkably unrefined palate—it didn’t seem better by such a huge margin to justify the expense or the frippery.

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On a more basic level, I fundamentally don’t care about food. I’m sure there are nontasters who get specific cravings for turkey sandwiches or strawberries. But when I’m hungry, all I want is to replenish my blood sugar, and I don’t give a fig how that happens. In college, my friends used to call me “the goat” because I would eat whatever trash was lying around—including chicken bones, really old pizza, and their scraps. In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers fantasizes about a pill he could take once a day that would meet his nutritional requirements. Dear Dave, if you’re reading this, please manufacture such a pill because I would order a lifetime supply.

So what’s the problem? Why don’t I just go to cheapo takeout joints and eat Luna bars? Because I’d like to see my friends from time to time, and with our work schedules being what they are, most of that socializing takes place at popular restaurants—none of which seem to take reservations anymore. I don’t blame these establishments—if you’re a hot spot, you can serve more customers when you’re not reserving tables, and it always looks good to have a line—but for someone like me it’s a disaster. If you’re trying to eat dinner anytime after 6 p.m., you better be prepared to wait an hour or more, by which time I am cranky and ready to start gnawing on the bar stools. Many eloquent rants have already been written about the tyranny of brunching, so I won’t rehash them here. However I will say that attempting to eat brunch anywhere near my Brooklyn apartment while abiding by the 15-minute rule is nigh impossible. The last time I attempted to hunt down some eggs at 1 p.m. on a Sunday I was told that there was a four-hour wait for the next table. Two things about that: First, four hours after 1 p.m. is no longer brunch. That’s geriatric dinner. Second, for the hostess to tell us there was a four-hour wait means that someone agreed to put their name down for a three-hour-and-45-minute wait. That’s the kind of restaurant devotion I’m dealing with here.

Historically there have been a few possible approaches that I’ve taken to avoid the blood-sugar plummet and concomitant ire. The first is to take snacks with me wherever I go. This is somewhat infantilizing (it’s hard not to feel like a toddler when you have a Ziploc bag of Cheerios on your person) and takes a lot of forethought. If I’m making impromptu dinner plans, there’s often not time for me to snack beforehand.

Another strategy is to convince people to eat dinner with you really early, Florida-style. There’s never a wait then, even if you’re going to the most popular new places. I have a few friends who can be persuaded to chow down before 7, but I’m related to most of them (nontasting and crankiness run in my family).

You can also try to be all relaxed and European about it and have a few glasses of wine while waiting for your dinner. This is the most sophisticated and reasonable option, but it doesn’t usually work out very well for me. In addition to not caring about food, I’m not much of a drinker (I know, I sound really fun at parties). So if I have more than a glass of wine on an empty stomach, I will be loopy by the time I am actually seated at dinner, and potentially passed out by the time the check comes. This approach is fun for the first 90 minutes but less so by the end of the night.

A few Fridays ago, a couple of friends of ours wanted to go out to dinner with my husband and me. They wanted to go to RedFarm, a new, super-hot Chinese place near my office and their apartment. They wanted to eat at 7:30. RedFarm does not take reservations. This struck fear into my little goat heart: I imagined standing at the crowded bar until at least 9, getting increasingly drunk and hungry, and ending the evening in a heap at the bottom of a sticky taxicab. Our accommodating friends were aware of my food philistinism and suggested a compromise so brilliant and simple I can’t believe we didn’t think of this before. We decided that we would meet at RedFarm at 7:30, but that we would have reservations someplace else in the vicinity at 8 so that we wouldn’t have to wait forever to eat dinner. The second option wasn’t as yummy or trendy as RedFarm but was acceptable to all parties.

When we rolled up to RedFarm at 7:30, they told us, predictably, that the next available four top was open at 10 p.m. Instead of dying a little inside, I was able to stroll leisurely to a perfectly acceptable second option that allowed me to get some sustenance before the churlishness set in. I don’t expect all our friends to make the same kind of bargain—some people really want to wait for the best food, and intellectually I can accept that. But in those situations I’ll just have to eat Cheerios.

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