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The Waiting Game: SF's Longest Lines Speak Out

Tartine, people can't get enough of it

Driving by Tartine, gazing at the inevitable line of people patiently lined up for their morning bun, I often wonder if people in San Francisco might actually revel in the whole waiting game. Whether we're on the sidewalk outside Mama's on a Sunday, biding our time in the Bi-Rite Creamery queue or salivating at the aroma of porchetta wafting our way at the Roli Roti truck, I think there's something to the anticipation—maybe even the just slightly degrading act of almost begging for your food—that might make it taste all the better. (I mean, imagine the frenzy if only Tartine pastry chef Liz Prueitt carried a bullwhip and wore leather.)

There's more psychology to this phenomenon than just the thrill of S&M though. Waiting seems to confirm that the food you're waiting for is absolutely worthy of a wait. (Hey, Dottie's must be great, right? Look at all the other people freezing in line with me!) It also strikes a convivial sense of camaraderie amongst the waiters. (Unless that is, someone snags the last morning bun right before you. I've been witness to this and it's not pretty.)

So, in a very unprofessional sociological study, I asked a few of the people in the position of power to speak out about the power of the wait.

American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
Wait: As long as 45 minutes
"We’ve incorporated our long-line into a whole experience of eating at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. For example, we have our staff sample some of our house-baked treats to folks in-line, and we’ve also offered drink service to everyone in line (housemade sodas, beer and wine). We also have contests to see who can come up with the best cheese puns while they wait in-line. The winner gets a free dessert. Some of the puns we’ve heard from the customers include “You’ve got to fight for your right to Havarti!”, or “Praise our lord, cheeses crust”, “Brie wheel, Brie wheel, rock you!”

Tartine
Wait: As long as 25 minutes
"The line can be long sometimes—especially weekends, mornings or holidays. On those days, we do have more staff to help the line move as efficiently as possible. The wait can be up to 25 minutes.  People always ask what is popular, and regulars often impart there generous knowledge of the pastries. During the holidays, I have seen many times customers buying the patrons behind them their coffee/pastries. And even split a loaf of bread with a stranger, when it was the last loaf! The regulars are amazing!” —Suzanne Yacovetti, manager

Roli Roti
Wait: Up to 45 minutes
"The line moves fast. Some people tell me it's a good thing to wait in line so you can chat with everyone. One guy who's a regular said that he consistently gets good dates out of it. I was impressed. (It also seems like he's a serial dater.) We generally apologize for the long line but a lot of people are saying not to worry about it, that it's worth it. Since 7x7 has written about us, people show up because of your 100 things to Eat Before You Die list. That put a humongous strain on the business, because people are confronting themselves with death! People are happy to stay in line in SF. We are relaxed about lines, people don't regard lines negatively. They regard them more as a necessity, versus in New York, it's a turn off. You don't wait in in lines in New York. On the West Coast we are very orderly and passionate. I don't know why people are more passionate about it, but I would literally call it a passion about lines. They know where the lines are, it's good food." —Thomas Odermatt, owner