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Long Queues Return for Bangkok’s Famous Street Food

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It’s not easy to get a seat at one of Bangkok’s famous street food stalls. With the arrival of millions of tourists since Thailand relaxed Covid-19 entry rules earlier this year, the long queues of pre-pandemic days have returned – and with a vengeance.

At some of these establishments, long lines and hours-long waits have become the norm.

Long lines at Jay Fai, a one-Michelin-starred street hawker stall near Bangkok’s Grand Palace, are arguably a rite of passage for anyone hoping to try its famed crab meat omelette and drunken noodles.

Getting a table can take up to two hours, and diners usually have to wait another hour for chef Supinya Junsuta, who is over 70 and better known as Jay Fai, to prepare each dish.

“When I arrived at 9.30 a.m., there was a long line. But when I saw how delicious the food appeared, I knew I had to try it “said Geoffrey Lee, 27, a Singaporean operations manager on vacation in Bangkok last week. He had to wait seven hours to eat at the open-air shophouse.

Those who can’t stand the wait turn to Ms Chonthicha Finkemeier, 42, who is known as a “professional queuer” or “queue-fixer” by some.

Long Queues Return for Bangkok's Famous Street Food

With the return of crowds, queue-hire services have exploded in Bangkok. Initially known only to locals, these services provided by individuals and dedicated firms are quickly becoming popular among tourists as well.

Thailand met its goal of welcoming 10 million international visitors in December. While this number pales in comparison to the 40 million arrivals in 2019, it represents a steady recovery of the country’s vital tourism sector, which was harmed by Covid-19 lockdowns.

Ms Chonthicha fixes queues at a number of tourist-friendly restaurants. However, table requests for Jay Fai are particularly popular, and she has the walk-in booking system down pat.

“You must understand how the queue works, how long it takes to seat (customers), and when the next round of queue numbers are distributed,” said Ms Chonthicha, who works as a hotel concierge full-time and offers queue-for-hire services in her spare time.

For 700 baht (S$27) per booking, she assists customers – mostly foreign tourists – in queuing hours in advance, but she expertly times this to her customers’ preferred dining time.

“I count the number of people waiting in line (before me). I let others go first if I am too early. For example, if a customer wants to eat at 11 a.m., I will begin queuing at 6 or 7 a.m. to ensure a certain number “Ms Chonthicha spent hours studying the restaurant’s queue system before accepting reservations.

Her international clients include those from Brazil, Singapore, and the Philippines. She had five bookings when she first started this business in August. This number has risen to more than 30 in December, Thailand’s peak tourist season.

Long Queues Return for Bangkok's Famous Street Food

Professional queuers are also common in Bangkok’s famous nightlife district of Khao San Road. Some stand out because they are elderly women waiting in line with young partygoers to enter popular bars or nightclubs.

Mr Pachsu Titarapas, 32, the owner of the queue-fixing company Book a Table, said these “aunties” make up a portion of his 80 professional queuers, who help meet the growing demand for queue-fixers.

“Some businesses initially objected to old ladies queuing outside their bars and clubs. However, after Thai media reported on us, the businesses received increased media attention. They are now relieved to have the aunties present “He stated.

Mr. Pachsu founded the company in 2020, but it was forced to close due to the pandemic. He resumed operations in June, when the country gradually reopened to tourism. Since then, demand for queue-hire services has increased, primarily due to foreign tourists.

“We had 10 to 20 bookings per weekend in June. However, we now have nearly 100 bookings per day on Friday and Saturday nights “Customers are a mix of locals, expatriates, and tourists, he said.

Book a Table charges a minimum of 300 baht per booking, with additional fees for each hour spent in line. Its professional queuers earn around 500 baht per day, depending on the nature and volume of work.

Long Queues Return for Bangkok's Famous Street Food

Hiring a professional queuer is not a novel concept in Thailand, as such individuals can be found at immigration offices, exclusive product launches, and ticket sales events.

“More tourists are aware of this service and want to use it. They can spend more time doing other things instead of waiting in line for two to three hours “Mr. Pachsu stated.

He also stated that some hotels and tour companies have approached Book A Table to assist guests in making reservations at popular restaurants such as Jeh O Chula, a supper spot known for its tom yum instant noodles, and seafood restaurant Here Hai. Both restaurants are Bib Gourmand-rated by Michelin.

Mr Pachsu believes that most businesses see queue-for-hire services as a boon because it brings them customers and is a win-win situation for all parties. However, not all business owners are enthusiastic.

Long Queues Return for Bangkok's Famous Street Food

Mr Pitak Termpaisit, 72, owner of Here Hai, known for its crab meat-filled fried rice, said it is not fair to other customers who wait in line.

“We are a small restaurant; we cannot have someone book a table and then (sit) waiting for the actual customer (if he is late). It is detrimental to the other customers “He stated. While he has not noticed queue-fixers at his restaurant before, he prefers if people queue the “simple way”.

Ms. Chonthicha constantly reminds her customers to arrive at least 30 minutes before the agreed time slot in order to avoid upsetting restaurant owners. “The timetable is set. They must not be late, “Ms Chonthicha is careful to follow the queueing protocols at the various eateries, she said.

“(The restaurant) is aware of what I do; they respect me, and I respect them. I don’t cause them any problems “She stated.

Despite the fact that she has spent hours of her life queuing for customers, she finds the hype surrounding these famous restaurants perplexing. “It’s insane. I’m always curious as to why people (go through) this.”

Nonetheless, she is delighted to assist others in securing a table and earning some extra cash. “However, I also tell customers that there are better restaurants out there,” she continues.

 

Bangkok’s Queen of Street Food Jay Fai Continues to Cook Up a Storm

Bangkok’s Queen of Street Food Jay Fai Continues to Cook Up a Storm

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