Monday, April 24, 2006

Time and Money... and Really Good Hamburgers

New Yorkers pride themselves on their fast pace of life. We love it when our cabbies drive like maniacs. We love to complain about how slow the service is in restaurants in other cities. We love getting all exasperated at the goofy tourists who plod along our sidewalks gawking at everything while bogging down the pedestrian traffic. Nothing stays still for a second here. We walk fast, talk fast and pluck things out of each other's garbage in the blink of an eye.
I think this attitude is at least partially due to all the money being made here. Everyone feels like their time is valuable, but on Wall Street, hundreds, thousands, and even millions of dollars can be made in the blink of an eye. To slow down or wait for anything suggests that you aren't important. You aren't making money, you lack status and power.
So the question is, why do we wait in line for hours at Trader Joe's and the Shake Shack?
New York City just got its first Trader Joe's quite recently. From what I've read, the lines may have died down a bit by now, but for at least several weeks after the store opened, if you tried to go after work, you'd have to stand in a line of a hundred people just to get into the store, not to mention the cash register lines inside. With all the other upscale grocery options in this city, why would anyone waste their time like that?
The Shake Shack is another fascinating example. For those who don't know, this is a hamburger and hotdog stand, basically, in Madison Square Park. They also serve ice cream and shakes, beer and wine, and doggie treats. It is owned by Danny Meyer of Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe fame, and evolved from a hotdog cart he ran for a couple of summers, as a charity project, I believe. The food is excellent-- the Shack Burger and fries really are to die for-- but I can't understand how anyone goes there for lunch. Anywhere between 11:00 and 3:00, the line is at least an hour long, or so I've heard, as I don't have any inclination to go down there and try it for myself. I've stood in line for 30-40 minutes there, at off-peak times and on cold, rainy days, so I can imagine how much worse it is at lunchtime on a warm, sunny day.
I guess that is the flip side of the time/money equation: for some, the status and power come from being able to take a 2+ hour lunch whenever they feel like it... or they don't work and just happen to be walking their dog in the park at lunchtime... or maybe they are low-end models who are paid to stand in line and look cool just to add to the hype... someday I'll stake the place out and try to figure out how many people go there at lunchtime, how many collective hours they spend in line, and how much money that would represent in terms of NYC average salaries. My guess is: a lot.


Miserly Bastard said...

People wait in line for Shake Shack because NYers are complete foodie snobs, and, as you mention, Danney Meyer is the restauranteur behind Grammercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, 11 Madison, etc. So Shake Shack appeals to the elitist foodie contingent. Personally, Im down for a Blue 9 burger combo. The other option is the Parker Meridien burger joint (which of course, appeals to the so-cool-it-doesnt-have-signage crowd).

lauda said...

One other thing to consider is--who is waiting in line vs. who is actually eating the food. Now there is a NY thing--sending a goffer to stand in line for an hour just so you can have a hot dog--now that is a status symbol!
Needless to say, I have been that goffer...