Lisa Markwell: Who are the waiters in restaurants these days?

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The Independent Online

Where was I on one of the coldest nights of the year? Why, queuing outside a restaurant in London's Soho, of course...

Temperatures were well below freezing on Wednesday night and all right-minded souls were either at home with a slanket and soup, or heading there – for once delighted by the warming crush of the commuter train.

But foodies in the capital have decreed that Pitt Cue Co – a new place that specialises in barbecue – is the hottest place to eat right now. Hot enough even to overcome the cold weather.

And so I joined the back of the queue outside; there were nine plucky eaters in front of me chatting merrily as they waited. And waited. I lasted about eight minutes before I lost all feeling in my feet and gave up on the idea. Moments later, I was inside a nice warm restaurant nearby (there not being any shortage of places to eat in the centre of London). OK, I wasn't at the culinary cutting edge, but nor was I in any more danger of developing hypothermia.

Since then, I've been ruminating on the current vogue for restaurants that don't take bookings. Pitt Cue Co used to be a food truck parked on the banks of the Thames, so queueing is in its blood. But when the wheels came off, it could have been the chance to change the policy too. It might be fantastic in a country where the evenings are long and balmy year-round, or where there's a huge anteroom with a bar and some comfy chairs.

The restaurants (and there are many of them now; the trend is taking hold) get the benefit of being able to serve more customers (and increase their takings). They don't have to run a bookings system, or worry about no-shows.

Plus there's the thrill of having a queue outside your venue – buzz begets buzz. Bettys of Harrogate makes everyone wait, as does Le Relais de Venise in Marylebone, which has been making folk line up outside for years. Still they come (the steak and chips is ace, to be fair).

But who decides to go out to dinner and is happy to wait around for an hour or more before they eat? You'd have to be not hungry, without children, not meeting a date, a boss or anyone else who might take a dim view of standing in the cold.

I've spoken to restaurateurs about the trend and many agree it's not without merit for making money, but only if you're in a busy city centre, where passing trade is your bread and butter.

I do hope it doesn't spread countrywide: what we need is comfort food, not uncomfortable waiting. It's all a bit emperor's new loaves.