Much like Serengeti National Park in Africa, the lunchtime watering holes of midtown fill with hundreds of hungry, vaguely antagonistic creatures every day around noon. When the sun is high, the Bonobos-clad hordes converge inside bustling bodegas and filled-to-capacity fast-casual chains, lunging at prepackaged sandwiches like hyenas on the heels of an antelope. (In the animal kingdom of busy New York lunch spots, chicken clubs rarely last long.)
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At these grab-and-go eateries, the frenetic energy and large crowds of the noontime rush are somewhat tamed by the calming presence of clearly designated lines providing a path from the food to the checkout. Even when nature is at its wildest, these civilized partitions seem to say that a sense of order can still survive.
Unfortunately, this sensible model for dealing with the chopped-salad–ordering masses has yet to be adopted by some businesses still subscribing to a Darwinian worldview of customer service. Instead of waiting in line at these establishments, customers tensely gather around the registers, each one inching a step closer to the prize, unsure who among them will finally pounce to pay.
Walk through midtown in the middle of a weekday, and you’ll hear the familiar sounds of this feeding frenzy: “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you in line?” “Excuse me, is this the end of the line?” “Oh, actually, I’m just waiting for my sandwich.” “Hi, did you already pay?” And like the roar of a mighty lion thundering over the grasslands, “Next customer, please! Next customer, please! Next customer, please!” The cry remains unanswered by the confused crowd until one brave soul quickly steps forward. In needless chaos such as this, the rule is always the survival of the swiftest.