We Britons may believe in queuing, but that doesn't mean we actually enjoy it, or think that it's an essential part of any good night out. This will come as news to London's most ambitious restaurateurs, who have transformed the face of dining out in the past 18 months with the introduction of the Buzz Queue – a long crocodile of hungry punters whose persistence is alleged to advertise the hipness of the establishment.
The Buzz Queue is only too happy to wait 60 or even 120 minutes on its feet before being shown to a precious table. Replacing the boom-era three-month waiting list as the best way to torture the eating public, a Buzz Queue is supposed to be democratic and unpretentious. It suits the current trend for small plates of food, tapas, posh burgers and gourmet pizzas, keeping low-margin restaurants jam-packed during a recession.
Your chances of getting a table at any of the currently hottest London tables – MEATliquor, Spuntino, Pizza East – are determined by the sturdiness of your legs, not by your speed on OpenTable or how intimately you are acquainted with the maître d'.
Which is fine, unless queuers sense that all those waiting in line might not be equal. Burger & Lobster, a massively hyped new place in Mayfair with a menu that serves just those two dishes (at £20 each), is the latest opening in town to have a no-reservations policy. That doesn't stop certain guests getting a better deal, of course. AA Gill revealed at the weekend that Burger & Lobster staff kindly offered to call him when a table became free, rather than make him stand with the plebs.
Normally, I am only too happy to heave myself onto the latest gastronomic bandwagon. But I've had my fill of the Buzz Queue. At the last two such places I visited, we waited in vain only to quit for somewhere else nearby that would welcome us with actual hospitality.
I conclude that it is an arrangement which suits the restaurateur just fine – empty tables are minimised, hype is maintained, and fees to online booking services are cut out – while demeaning the diner. "How Ryanair would run a restaurant," snipped one blogger.
Neither are all chef-patrons enamoured of the concept. "It can really disappoint the customer. If you can't book, some people won't go near the place," Mark Hix, the restaurateur and Independent food writer, says, although he allows that it is a canny tactic for new restaurants wanting to make a bang. "It can be a good way of starting out, but you have to play it by ear, really. It depends on the type of place." The type of place, of course, is somewhere that's a little less expensive than the Michelin-courting crowd, but still delivering a version of "fast food". Twenty quid burgers, then.
The only other arrangement that it reminds me of is the NHS clinic appointment: you're given a time that you assume is yours alone, only to turn up and find 15 other patients with the slip that says "10am". Keeping people waiting for an organisation's own convenience is bad enough; when they're infirm or even just very, very desperate for lunch, the arrangement is unforgivable.
Is this a case of one law for the rich?
Perhaps Petronella Wyatt had been turned away from a no-reservations restaurant, but clearly something drastic had nudged the former Boris Johnson squeeze and Spectator stalwart off the straight and narrow.
Wyatt has confessed she shoplifted a £55 white truffle from a department store in order to impress a boyfriend. But I was most amazed to learn that the security guard who felt her collar, despite watching her pop the delicacy into her bag, let her off, leading her to the cash desk rather than calling the cops.
Would this happen in less well-to-do circumstances? Last month Antony Worrall Thompson was initially shown leniency by security guards, who let him repeat a shoplifting crime five times before having him arrested, "to be sure it was not a genuine mistake... because of his high profile". Are all security guards really so easily impressed, or does it just take a posh accent and minor celebrity to pilfer with impunity?