Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Sunday, June 13, 2004


Queuing for ‘Cue

It sure sounded like a good idea: seven barbecue pitmasters, live jazz, “and more” -- on a crystal clear June afternoon in Madison Square Park. This, more or less, was the description of the 2nd Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party – sponsored by (among others) Blue Smoke & the Brooklyn Brewery. So I rounded up a couple of friends, and we went.

Well, the food – at least the food we eventually got -- was remarkably good. And it was a nice afternoon.

Too bad the event wasn’t better organized. And too bad the sponsors had to intrude their interests into the proceedings with an idiotic “cue-pon” system – which requires you to pre-purchase non-refundable coupons, and then use the coupons to pay for food & drinks.

So if you had imagined this might be like a typical New York Block Party, only with music and much better food, think again.

And if you had imagined that you might casually stroll past kiosks offering up enticing samples of fine barbecue, and indulge to your heart’s and belly’s content, think again.

The problem, at least the worst of it, was those coupons (sorry, I refuse to indulge the cutesy misspelling more than once), which clearly exist for no other reason than to assure the sponsors of their cut of every dollar spent. Never mind the inconvenience to the customer. Never mind that they are just as likely to curtail spending (as they clearly did in our case) as to encourage it. Never mind that there were better and less obtrusive ways to accomplish the same thing (for instance, one could have simply relocated the cashiers selling coupons to the kiosks with the food -- where the additional staffing might have actually helped move the lines along).

And yes, I know the venture was officially not-for-profit. But that's no excuse for spoiling the fun.

Imagine, for a moment, if a restaurant tried this. Here, sir, take a look at the menu. Now try to guess what you want to spend. Then pay us that amount, in advance, and we’ll give you these coupons. If you guess too little, well – you’ll have to come back, wait in line again, and buy more. If you guess too much, well – sorry, sucker – these things aren’t refundable. Have a nice day!

Now imagine that each and every thing that you and your friends want to consume is treated as a different transaction. If you want a beer, go wait in the beer line. If you want North Carolina pulled pork, go wait in that line, if you can find the end of it (when I was there, it took about forty minutes to get through a line than snaked and doubled back on itself and crossed at least two or three other lines, to the confusion of all). If your friend over there would like the Memphis-style baby back ribs, well, he’ll have to go wait over there - somewhere. Chips? Another line. Desserts? Another line. You get the picture.

There’s just no winning strategy. If you hang together – you’ll either limit your choices, or spend even more time waiting in lines, or both. If you try the divide and conquer strategy (which we did), well – then you can’t run off and get more coupons or beer while you’re waiting, and you’ll need your cellphones to re-locate your friends.

Needless to say, the arrangement is beyond ridiculous. I have a feeling that a lot of folks did what we did – which was buy just enough coupons to cover the first “plate” of barbecue and a beer, figuring that they could always go back for more. What we discovered was that the “plates” – in actuality, paper containers more suitable for a side order of onion rings – weren’t exactly generous. Which meant that another plate, or even two or more, would be needed, to constitute a meal. Which I would have been fine with, if not for the coupons, and the damned lines.

But at that point, we had had enough. We weren't going wait in line for more coupons, for the privilege of waiting in more lines for food. Instead we walked a few blocks, and got hot dogs at F & B.

Still, I liked the idea. It's not every day that you can get honest barbecue in New York. But the sponsors have a long way to go to make this work.

[UPDATE: The Food Section has more. As I suspected, quite a lot of folks went away unhappy -- and hungry]


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