Good enough to wait: Long queues at Bourke Street Bakery. Photo: Steven Siewert
You could be forgiven for thinking there were terrible food shortages in Sydney these days, if the number of ever-present queues at Sydney's eateries are anything to go by.
When Ash Johnston and Elle Brooks arrived at Gelato Messina to grab their post-dinner sugar fix on Friday, they were confronted with a 20-metre queue. But it was no deterrent.
''I had no idea it would be this long, but we're happy to wait,'' said 26-year-old Ms Johnston, a first-timer whose expectations grew by the second as she deliberated over flavours with friend Ms Brooks, a Messina regular.
"Queues suggest to consumers that this is really important and make them think, 'I want to be part of this, I'm motivated to get into the store'." Photo: James Brickwood
Fifteen minutes later, when the pair popped out of the Surry Hills gelateria, they took photographs of their desserts on their phones, sending one to a friend and posting another on Instagram.
Consumers here, it seems, are simply willing to be patient.
Diego Vidal from Messina said the queues began forming when they ramped up marketing efforts on social media six years ago, building up a Facebook community of more than 50,000 people.
''It's a good thing being sold at a good price,'' he said. ''The other thing is we keep having specials and people want to be part of that.''
Gary Mortimer, consumer behaviour researcher from Queensland University of Technology, said a regularly changing specials menu was an important crowd-pulling tactic.
''It's the Zara strategy: they change the range every two weeks to keep it new and dynamic,'' he said. ''People are willing to come every two weeks and they're willing to wait.
''Queues suggest to consumers that this is really important and make them think, 'I want to be part of this, I'm motivated to get into the store'. It's seen as exclusive.''
Queues have swelled to such surprising lengths outside Jamie's Italian on Pitt Street that waiters have had to placate people with free servings of pizza and antipasti.
But celebrity names only play a limited role, with the nondescript Marrickville Pork Roll dishing out its famous $4 banh mi non-stop during the lunch-hour rush.
Then there is the long line regularly sprouting from the neon-lit Emperor's Garden Cakes and Bakery, at times cutting the flow of human traffic through Chinatown.
The Malaysian eatery Mamak in the city has dealt with queues since its early days in 2007. Despite doubling the seating capacity to 100, the queues remain.
"It's not something we take for granted. We're mindful [that] Chinatown is a competitive area and we're mindful that one day the queue may not be there any more. We shake our heads in disbelief too; it's amazing," co-owner Julian Lee said.
He said being a regular customer had no advantages: ‘‘They like to joke that we should give a VIP card, but we don’t give anyone special favours.’’
At the sprawling Mr Wong on Bridge Street a no bookings policy for groups of fewer than six has seen pairs and trios spend a chunk of their evenings patiently waiting.
‘‘Dining out habits have changed. In the past, booking a restaurant was the norm but these days, people often decide what they are going to do an hour or two before they head out so understand that waiting for a table is part of the experience,’’ Frank Roberts, Merivale’s food and beverage director, said.