So maybe the chance to taste the flaky spawn of a doughnut and croissant won't get you lining up at the crack of dawn. Maybe you're holding out for a burger nestled between fried ramen noodles. Or perhaps it's the elusive McRib that moves you.
Whatever flies your foodie flag, it's hard to deny that Americans love feeling part of something deliciously exclusive, that they clamor to taste trendy, hard-to-get morsels.
"It's very much getting that badge of honor," Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief at Epicurious.com, says of recent food crazes that have seen people lined up for hours to get a so-called Cronut or ramen burger. "It's the trophy mentality. They can brag to their friends and family, and say 'It's great, it's not so great.' It gives you bragging rights."
It's tempting to dismiss the fanaticism as a crazy New York thing. After all, it is the city that gave us Cronut craziness. Here, people line up in the wee hours to wait for a chance to get one of pastry chef Dominique Ansel's trademarked (really!) treats. He makes just a few hundred a day and scalpers are known to work the line.
But this is bigger than New York. In Washington, D.C., Georgetown Cupcake often opens with hundreds of customers already waiting. In Portland, Ore., people try to beat the clock at VooDoo Doughnut. In Chicago, you can join the mob at the Doughnut Vault or at Kuma's Corner, where the hamburgers are named after heavy metal bands. Austin has Franklin Barbecue, Los Angeles has the Kogi Korean taco truck and San Francisco has — no fooling — lines for toast.
So why do we do it?
Scarcity — whether real or manufactured — drives people toward food trends, savvy observers say. On a recent day in Los Angeles, 1,000 people lined up to try to get one of 500 ramen burgers, a Brooklyn-born treat featuring a hamburger cradled between two stacks of fried soup noodles.
"It's really an old thing from the playbook of marketing," says Richard Martin, editorial director at Foodrepublic.com. "Do you want to create that limited edition buzz around a product or offer it up to as many people as want it?"