Why do people in Manhattan wait in line so much?

Restaurants, movies, you name it, it seems you so often see people in The Big Apple waiting in line.  In the spacious northern Virginia, in contrast, things are built larger and sellouts are uncommon.  You stroll right in and let them take your money.

It is not a priori that the net effect should work this way.  Manhattan has higher rents, but also a higher value of human capital, and thus possibly the losses from waiting time are higher.  But Manhattan also has higher inequality, which means those waiting are often the young rather than the wealthy.  The rich can queue-jump in separate spheres of activity, whether it be holding MOMA membership, being a regular at Le Bernardin, or getting a special invitation to the movie premiere on opening night and walking down a red carpet.

(If you are wondering “why don’t they just raise the price?”, raising the price changes the composition and quality mix of buyers, not always in desired ways for long-run profit maximization.  In the implicit model here, allowing queuing and building more capacity are two alternative substitutes for raising the price.)

Lately I have noticed a small but perhaps not insignificant increase in “waiting culture” in Washington, D.C.  What are ostensibly the town’s two best restaurants —  Little Serow and Rose’s Luxury — now both involve significant waits, as the places do not take reservations.

Income inequality is rising, and in select parts of this country, land rents are rising more rapidly than are returns to human capital for the marginal buyer/waiter.

Does that mean we can expect a culture of waiting to spread further throughout the bicoastal United States?


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