How to Never Wait in Line for Brunch Again

According to statistics, I spend an average of 73 hours a year in traffic, 730 hours watching TV and 1,825 hours on my phone. Given this information, I don’t even want to know how many hours I’ve spent waiting in line for weekend brunch.

As a native New Yorker, born and raised, it’s bound to be an appalling number. I have memories from my childhood where I am standing in the too-small, uninsulated vestibule separating Three Guys diner from the chilly outdoors, my head barely high enough to peer through the pane of glass separating me from Belgian waffles and fake maple syrup, listening as my mom asked, “How long’s the wait for five people?”

“25 minutes.”

As a kid, a 25-minute weekend brunch wait sounded like an eternity. As a twenty-something adult woman who has now spent time living in the West Village and Nolita, a 25-minute weekend brunch wait sounds too good to be true.

Until recently, that is.

My revelation to the contrary occurred 100% by accident. I was meeting a friend at Jack’s Wife Freda for — you guessed it — weekend brunch. We agreed to meet at 12 p.m. We both coincidentally arrived early (13 minutes early, to be exact). At 11:47 a.m., we approached the establishment from opposite directions. We saw each other at the same time and laughed. What providence!

Like gladiators entering an arena, we faced the entry shoulder-to-shoulder, bracing ourselves for the presumably long wait ahead. I felt the beginnings of a stomach grumble and attempted to distract myself from impending hunger by thinking of various inedible things: cement, rusty shovels, etc.

It didn’t work. I smelled eggs.

We approached the hostess trepidatiously. “How long’s the wait for two?” I asked.

“Actually…” she said, glancing over her shoulder, “We can seat you right now.”

My friend made a noise that sounded like a cross between a giggle and a sexual experience. Meanwhile, I glanced around for traces of Ashton Kutcher.

But this wasn’t a prank. After we were seated and had a moment to collect ourselves, we began taking inventory of our surroundings. Our fellow diners were mostly tourists at first (a conclusion drawn based on the fact that many were carrying cameras, looking at paper maps and speaking languages other than English). They were just starting to wrap up their meals, pay their bills and vacate as we arrived. Then, starting around 11:57 a.m., groups of locals began to arrive — people who, just like my friend and I, agreed to meet at 12 p.m. for brunch. The restaurant was packed by 12:05 p.m., and there was a solid crowd gathering outside the door to wait for tables.

As we noshed leisurely on green shakshuka and toasted baguettes, an unprecedented brunch strategy began to crystallize. We called it: The 11:47 Theory.

The 11:47 Theory is based on the following suppositions:

+ Tourists who are visiting NYC but eat according to different a time zone will likely visit trendy eateries super early (pre-11 a.m.) or super late (post-2 p.m.).
+ Locals usually agree to meet for brunch on the hour or the half hour sometime between 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.
+ There is a magical, fleeting, whisper-thin sliver (no, I wouldn’t even call it a pocket) of time in which early bird tourists are trickling out and locals have yet to arrive.
+ That magical, fleeting, whisper-thin sliver of time is 11:47am.

If you think I’m kidding, I’m not. I’ve tested The 11:47 Theory no less than three times since discovering it, and my success rate is eerily immaculate. I was tempted to keep the theory a secret, but that felt wrong.

The gift of The 11:47 Theory isn’t mine to keep. It’s for everyone whose fingers have frozen while waiting to get into Dimes on a Sunday morning, for everyone who plunked down on the bench outside the West Village Westville for hours, for everyone who’s salivated over Instagram posts of the chocolate chip pancakes at Clinton Street Baking Co. while eating stale toast out of the fridge. It is, quite simply, for all of us.

See you on the inside.

Photo by Louisiana Gelpi; Creative Direction by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Hayley

    Actively laughing at my desk at these two lines:
    “My friend made a noise that sounded like a cross between a giggle and a sexual experience. Meanwhile, I glanced around for traces of Ashton Kutcher.”

    Sadly, this theory does not apply for brunch in Syracuse?? Brunch is nearly impossible because brunch here is anytime between 10-2.

    • Jackie Homan

      I’ve waited in line like over 2 hours way too many times for Modern Malt in ‘cuse but sooo worth it every time

      • Hayley

        Really? I’ve been there a few times (granted, at night) and I haven’t found it to be worth the hype.

        • Jackie Homan

          the fruity pebble french toast though….! (basically i eat like a 5-year-old and am fascinated by their menu)

          • Hayley

            Ahhh so we go for totally different breakfast types. It all makes sense now! I like savory vs sweet breakfasts.

  • Rachel

    I once drove two hours from Ottawa (where I live) to Montreal to get to my favourite brunch place when it opened at 9am. There was already a line before it opened but we got a table! I think there are some places that will always have a line because they are just that good. Maybe in NYC that brunch hack works since there are just so many options but other cities the good brunch options are more limited.
    I supposed you can’t really call it brunch if you’re going at 9am, it’s just breakfast on a Sunday morning earlier than you’d actually care to be awake on a Sunday.

    • Laurence

      what place is it? I live in Montréal and totally need to know

      • Rachel

        Régine Café on rue Beaubien E, it’s so good!! I go every time I’m in the city

        • Ève

          I knew you were going to say Régine! Always packed, but so goooooddd

          • Rachel

            It’s worth the 2 hour drive haha!

        • doladex

          Taking note for my next trip!

  • Abby

    Reason #10945 why I love my city: I’ve never had to wait for brunch, even at the busiest of times.

    But honestly, if I sincerely want to avoid any wait I just cook at home.

    • I would not want to wait either, it seems too much stress before eating – not a good thing.
      I have only done brunch at home and love it …

  • Adrianna

    I refuse to wait for brunch longer than 10 minutes. I took advantage of living in downtown Manhattan by arriving just as the location opened.

    We once asked for the wait time estimate at Egg Shop, to which my boyfriend appropriately said “45 minutes? Nope.” The host called out after us in a nasty way that it was the shortest wait they had all day. Um, we’re paying money for the food and service.

    We ended up supporting a local business in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn the past five years, because we knew we’d always sit down immediately. It wasn’t our usual Hispter decor, and we were a little out of place among all the strollers. We got to know the chef and his family from a distance and watched their business evolve to two restaurants with great, unique food. We’ve even been treated to free entrees and desserts. He’s going to be on the next season of Top Chef!

    • Aydan

      egg shop is overrated anyway–you did not miss out!

      • Adrianna

        I’ve eaten there twice (when the wait was >10 minutes!) and thought the sides of fried chicken and hashbrowns were delicious but the sandwiches were just okay. The food isn’t very special if you know how to cook and/or eat out in NYC in a regular basis

  • Julia

    Every time I willingly add my name to a 45-minute brunch waiting list, I feel so disgusted by my own generation. But then I wait anyways……

  • Am I the only weirdo who calls it brunch, but doesn’t like to mess up my sleep schedule so we meet up at like 9 a.m. on a Saturday? Just me? Cool.

    • graceyu

      You are not alone. I do this too!

    • I feel like we are kindred spirits here.

    • Lizzie

      This would therefore be called breakfast, not brunch

      • Hence the reason I called myself a weirdo for calling it brunch.

        • Amelia Diamond

          i use the word brunch to mean any meal before “dinner” on a weekend

    • Melissa

      I also hate sleeping in on the weekend because it makes Monday mornings so much harder!

  • edes

    Long ago I maitre d’ed the Sunday brunch shift at a trendy restaurant in Brooklyn. It was actually stupefying to watch the same people come in, week after week, from about noon to 1pm, or 1:30 on really busy days, and be repeatedly pissed/alarmed at how long they had to wait. Show up 15 minutes earlier and you’ll get seated. Or come late. It’s not rocket science…

  • Lorange E

    Oh man, this just reminded me of the stupefying brunch lines in Portland, Oregon. You can show up at 7AM for breakfast on a Sunday and have to wait in line for an hour. 7 AM!! It’s like everyone really likes breakfast/brunch there and you’re going to have to wait no matter what–any time between 7AM and 1PM. This is only for the popular places though.

  • Laura

    when I used to live in my small hometown, we would always try to avoid the post church goers rush. usually everyone’s mass would let out sometime after 1 pm, so getting to a restaurant anywhere in town after, say, 1:10 pm on a sunday was a struggle.

  • From a friend I was grabbing brunch on vacation “beware the fight is real in NYC and I’d suggest we prepare to roll up an hour before we wanna eat.” Except then we showed up to the East Village at 10:30, both extremely hungover, and the only ones in the whole place. 11:47 is likely the upper limit of this magical time when the city sleeps away their drunkeness and I endorse this theory!!!

  • Kristin

    Whenever we are in nyc museum/shopping/sightseeing time seemed to always be swallowed by a 45 min wait and then hour and a half languishing over avocado toast and mimosas. We never got so much done as on our last visit wherein we skipped brunch in favor of bagels—

  • Ann P

    And now I know why I didn’t have to wait anywhere when I was in New York in July. I’d heard the stories and was curious. I was the early tourist, rocking up at 9am for breakfast or 11.30 for brunch, or sometimes eating by myself which gets you seated pretty well immediately anywhere.

    (FYI, four days in your city is not enough, certaily not enough to eat everywhere I wanted, but all I could legitimately tack on to a work trip from Australia)

  • belle

    Why does it seem like everyone in NYC eats at Dimes, Jacks Wife Freda, or Eggshop? Is this a figment of social media?

    • Aydan

      lolz yes. these are all “insta-worthy” spots…but still even non insta worthy spots with better food have lines too!

      • belle

        I forgot to include Cha Cha Matcha and Happy Bones!

  • Joy Miller

    In suburban England going out for Brunch is not a thing, I really wish it was, but there is nowhere to go and no culture of this.I wonder how it became a thing in USA.
    So we all cook lovely full English breakfasts and enjoy them, and it has been known for family or friends to call round to join in but not a usual thing in our family. USA sigh …..

    • LM

      just pop to the local greasy spoon with a bunch a friends between 10h-14h and call it brunch, honey. because honestly, *what* is even brunch? a late breakfast. nothing special, really. there are no “right” or “wrong” places to have brunch. they serve food? they are open roughly between 10h-14? they do brunch. and so can you.

  • Whitney V

    Love the theory! Works wonders in London too. I’m obsessed with the ricotta pancakes at Greenberry Cafe in Primrose Hill but the queue is insane, so a few minutes makes ALL the difference! Love Jack’s Wife Freda too, makes such a great insta-pic haha

    Love from London,

  • Basil

    Yeah, I found that the solution was having a baby who wakes up at 6:30/7 everyday (no respect for weekends!) which means you’re normally out of the house by 8:30 (and desperate for food), which means – no queues! Including going to Jack’s Wife Freda when we visited NY, so not only were we able to get their waffles super quickly, we also had Bryan Adams as a babysitter. True story

  • rolaroid

    I don’t understand brunch. If you’re gonna leave the house anyway to meet someone, make the food together. Brunch food is super easy and you can laze around as much as you want afterwards.

    • LM

      some people, sometimes, like to leave the house, see different faces, eat stuff they don’t know how to cook/don’t want to cook themselves and not having to do the washing up afterwards.

  • Sarah

    If it’s not an OpenTable restaurant where I can reserve I won’t go because I HATE waiting for food (especially after a night of drinking)

    Perhaps now I’ll have to abandon my rule and try the 11:47

  • Lisanne Smink

    I arrived at 11:30 this weekend for brunch in Amsterdam and the wait was 1hr and 25 minutes… Still shocked

  • Lizzie

    Okay I totally tried this on Saturday for brunch at Root & Bone on the LES (although I arrived at 11:49 and my friend at 11:47). It worked! BRAVO!

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    Having worked in restaurants before, it’s also much much easier to seat a two top on the fly than a four-or really any group larger than two. But I have to agree that most New Yorkers wouldn’t show up before 12:30 1pm being the most packed, so I totally support your 11:47 theory!

  • Thanks for sharing the secret! Sadly this would never work in San Fran – we had to go to places right at opening in order to get a seat without an hour wait! People in California wake up super early, run marathons and then grab food. Our bagel place would be out of bagels by 11am on a Saturday and Sunday! Glad the NYC crowd sleeps in though 🙂

  • That is so silly, but that was a funny way to share an antagonism that we all fear!

  • Shey Aponte

    Hello! Just FYI the Clinton Street Baking Co link directs me to Westville’s website!

  • Neo-Seul

    Brunch at only 12?! You guys are crazy~ Bruch at 10am please <3

  • Zadie Copeland

    Unfortunately, in Atlanta alcohol can’t be served before 12:30pm on Sundays (ik ik it’s ridiculous) and if I don’t have a bloody in my hand within 10 minutes of being seated I will loose my ever-loving shit.