It isn’t unusual for a queue to start at about 6.30 in the morning (an hour before opening time) at Dou Dou Bake, a trendy new “designer bakery” in Petaling Jaya, and stretch all day, every day.
The average waiting time to score a seat at the barely one-month old bakery is about an hour and a half but it can stretch to three hours on weekends and public holidays – which was exactly the case on Merdeka Day on Monday.
Self-confessed foodie and cafe enthusiast Amir Ikram says he was lucky to have waited “just about an hour” to get in on a regular day. He wanted to try the bakery’s much talked about sourdough bread and pastries.
Of course, the 22-year-old photographer also wanted to check out the minimalist aesthetic of the bakery – cement walls, neutral tones, minimalist, basic designs – which has instagrammers like him all excited.
“Be it the art, the decoration or overall interior, as long as it is worthy of me taking a picture to post online, then I’m good, ” he says, adding that the quality of the food also mattered.
He’d heard good reviews and wanted to visit and taste the food first hand.
“I’d actually drove for about an hour to get there so I was willing to wait, ” says Amir. “You know Malaysians... we can never be apart from bread! We have roti canai for breakfast then we sneakily have Ramly burgers for supper too!” he jokes.
Because of the standard operating procedure (SOP) imposed during the recovery movement control order (MCO), diners aren’t allowed to physically queue up in front of the eatery’s premises.
Instead, they are told to leave their name and phone number and are given an estimated waiting time. They are then urged to come back when they get a call informing them their turn’s coming up.Since his waiting time “wasn’t too long”, Amir hung around the neighbourhood to take photos.
“I never feel like I’m wasting my time while waiting; instead I get to have more fun with my friends.
"People need to be creative in spending their time while waiting – maybe take a tour around the area after giving them your contact details and snap some photos, or use that time to catch up with your friends, ” he says, adding that he probably wouldn’t have waited if the line was any longer.
What compels people to spend a long time waiting for food (or phones and fashion items – because lets face it, this happens too) despite the many alternative ways to spend their limited time or money?
Especially since there isn’t a dearth of good food anywhere in Malaysia. Unique products? Great tasting food? Bragging rights? Boredom?
Or, in this world driven by social media, is it mainly for a good photo?
Hariez Hazman, 31, who has a background in the food and beverage industry, feels that social media is possibly the greatest influencer, especially among millenials.
“It’s common for youngsters to try a hyped-up place and do it for the Gram (doing something just to post it on Instagram).
“Some might want to be there first to show it off on social media, ” says the 31-year-old who says that he waited an hour for a table at Dou Dou and on another occasion, 30 minutes to take away some pastries. The line for take away is considerably shorter.
“The trend creates the hype and the hype makes you curious to check out a place. And the ambience – whether or not it is good enough for you to post on social media – is a plus point.
“But at the end of the day, the most important thing has to be the food. Having said that, I wouldn’t wait more than an hour, ” he says.
Amirah Tan, 29, admits that she’s a “serial cafe hopper” who tries as many of the latest and trendiest cafes and eateries that she can. And a large draw for her is the opportunity to “take a cool photo in a cool place”.
“I go with friends anyway so it’s not like I’m wasting time. We’re still hanging out, ” she says.
Join the queue
But long snaking queues have been a reality long before Instagram existed.
In the early 2000s, there were queues for the Rotiboy buns not just in Malaysia but also in neighbouring countries like Singapore and Thailand.
In the 2010, urbanites in the Klang Valley were lining up for hours for the latest burger (a tasty burger, but more interestingly, with a charcoal bun?) in town courtesy of myBurgerLab and in 2012, the most sought-after food item was surely Kaw Kaw Burger Bakar, an innovative burger sold at a roadside stall in Wangsa Maju in Kuala Lumpur.
Queues stretched for almost a kilometre and people waited for up to three hours for the infamous burgers which included the “Tower 20” (20 beef or chicken patties!).
More recent fads have been bubble tea, salted egg croissants and Cronuts as well as Pablo’s cheese tarts.
And, remember the pop up by US fast food chain In-N-Out two years ago? Their burgers were sold out even before opening time!
Queues for concert tickets are known for being legendary. When Cantopop star Jacky Cheung came to KL three years ago, fans started queueing up three days before tickets went on sale.
Fans came prepared, armed with mats, pillows and blankets, snacks, drinks, table fans and (extension chords) and power banks to make their wait more comfortable.
According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dr Richard Larson (regarded as the world’s foremost expert on queues), for a queue to work well, people must believe their patience will pay off.
The queue must also be efficient and fair (don’t expect civility if an establishment allows customers to skip ahead for a premium) and there must be a definite and proportionate light at the end of the tunnel: that they will get to eat in 30 minutes (or three hours) and the food (and service) had better be good.
Otherwise, says Larson in an article titled Meet The Man Who Understands Lineups, establishment run the risk of losing a customer... for good.
Rekha Lavi is a prime example. She waited two hours to dine at a trendy eatery that was all the buzz two years ago.
“The food wasn’t cheap, mind you but I was curious because the reviews I read on my friends’ social media were glowing. The restaurant didn’t accept reservations so we had to line up.
“They didn’t even let us leave our details and come back later.
“After about two hours, we were let in. The food was delicious – even though we had to wait another hour before we actually ate.
“But the service was atrocious. The wait staff were not attentive and very unfriendly. So you can bet that I never went back.
“The restaurant has since closed down and I don’t wonder why, ” says the 36-year-old lawyer.
One way to beat the queueing blues, says Amanda Ong, is to plan for it.
Ong, 24, says that even having to queuing in the scorching Malaysian heat won’t deter her from checking out trendy eateries.
“As long as the waiting time does not affect my schedule, it’s fine by me, ” said the marketing executive whose longest waiting time was three hours – though she can’t remember which eatery it was that made her wait so long.
“But I do remember it being a fun-filled day. My friends and I adjourned to a karaoke lounge after dropping our details on the wait list.
“We already knew that there was going to be a long wait so we’d planned for the karaoke session, ” she explained.
Not worth the wait
Obviously, not everyone is willing to wait in line: not even for the best meal they will ever have.
Raja Manickam, 36, says that even though he enjoys a good meal, even an hour is too long to wait.
“After all, it isn’t hard to find good food a stone’s throw away from the trendy place with a queue, ” he says.
Kate Cheng tends to stay away from places that are newly opened because she figures that once the hype dies down, she will have a much better and faster dining experience.
The 22-year-old law student says she’s more likely to wait in line at places where she’s already familiar with the food and she isn’t swayed by photos of newly opened cafes that her friends post about.
For Cheng, small stores and hawker shops with long queues are where good food awaits.
“When my friends and I used to study at Taylor’s College, there was a pork noodle shop that we frequented.
“Say there’s a one hour class at 11am, one of us would skip class to go there and order for everyone first then get a table because the queue on a good day takes about 20 minutes!” she shares.
Norella Amin agrees, adding that the best way to gauge if an eatery is good is if there is still a queue six months later.
“I like to try new dining places but I don’t need to be the first to eat there. And usually, if you are there in the first couple of months, the experience isn’t the best as the establishment is still ironing out the kinks. So I’ll gladly wait... at home, not in a queue, ” she concludes.
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