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Franklin Barbecue Has Killed The Professional Line-Waiter Mini-Economy

How is thirteen-year-old Desmond going to save for a car now?

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Flickr Creative Commons/T. Tseng

Enough ink has been spilled about Franklin Barbecue—much of it by us—for anybody even remotely interested in smoked meats to have made a decision: Either they love it, or they are not interested in getting up early and waiting in line for five hours to find out if they love it.

A mini-economy has sprung up for Franklin-o-philes whose jobs/sleep schedules/sense of self-respect prevent them from spending hours in line. Line-waiting businesses, such as the one started by precocious thirteen-year-old Desmond, and similar businesses like Favor, Postmates, and the countless folks on Craigslist, have made it possible for brisket lovers to get their fix and patient entrepreneurs to make some cash.

Alas, those people are going to have to find other ways to make money, because the prestigious joint has banned stand-ins from getting in on the business. As of Sunday, Franklin Barbecue is just for people who wait in line themselves.

“It has gotten out of hand, and we owe it to the rest of our faithful customers to not allow the distraction,” the Franklins said in a messaged statement. “As the amount of line holders has multiplied, the large orders have begun to bog down the line. We prefer to serve our customers in house, and not to have a second party representing our food and brand.”

Regular customers can still have a friend join them after waiting in line, Stacy Franklin said over text.

“We still want our regular customers to limit the amount of joiners they have,” Stacy Franklin said. “Our normal customers are very conscious of this, but line holders continue to push the limits of what is fair for others.”

That’s fair. At the very least, it’s Aaron and Stacy Franklin’s business, and they can run it however they want. If they only want to sell brisket to people who take the time to wait, that’s up to them. But, of course, people are mad about it. And the anger isn’t just directed toward the policy, but at the very existence of a Franklin Barbecue line, the people who wait in such a line, the business whose brisket inspires a line like that, and anybody who would dare claim that such a line is worth tackling.

Let’s take a quick look at the comments on the Austin American-Statesman blog post on the matter.

statesman 1 statesman 2 statesman 3 statesman 4

Lest you think that it’s just the readers of Austin’s daily paper who could feel so strongly, you can scan basically any discussion of the professional line-waiter ban at Franklin and find comparable sentiments. Here’s what the readers over at Eater had to say:

eater 1 eater 2 eater 3 eater 4

And over at the Houston Chronicle, where hating on Austin is a pastime enjoyed by Houstonians with a fervor not unlike the one Austinites experience when waiting in line for food, the responses are at least as strident:

chron 1 chron 2 chron 3 chron 4 chron 5 chron 6

Clearly, there’s a lot of resentment toward Franklin (that’s not even including Reddit, where a 226-comment thread continues to grow) and the people who have the time to stand in line for the world-renowned brisket. When that fury manifests itself in business advice—add another smoker, open a second location, or expand until your brisket is no harder to get than Rudy’s—it’s silly. We promise you, Franklin has considered expanding capacity or opening another location. At some point, they’ve looked out at the snaking line, considered whether it was something they wanted to address, and decided to continue on with the one location.

But that alone makes Franklin unique among Austin restaurants that have this sort of slavish following. Austin doesn’t really have a fine-dining scene, per se—critics are right when they say that the city has more of a trendy dining scene, which befits the atmosphere of Austin. The most popular places serve brisket, burgers, pizza, and sushi—and even at a hotspot like Franklin, Hopdoddy, Homeslice Pizza, or Uchi, you’re as likely to see patrons wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops as sport coats. Houston and Dallas do fine dining, but Austin’s culture prizes “cool” as currency in ways that the more monied cities in the state prize, you know, actual currency.

Still, Hopdoddy is a regional chain now, with nine locations around the country (and a tenth opening in San Antonio soon). Uchi has two Austin restaurants and locations in Houston and Dallas. Homeslice announced plans to bring a second location to North Austin in 2016. Generally speaking, those trendy Austin restaurants are interested in maximizing their potential profits by serving as many customers as possible, in as many places as they can.

Franklin, for their own reasons, have opted not to do that. And cutting the professional line-waiters is another sign that maintaining control over the customer experience is crucial for the barbecue joint. Money from Favor and Postmates drivers spends just as well as the dollars of people who lined up themselves to eat the brisket, after all. You might not get the point of waiting in line for five hours for brisket, but you can’t argue that what Franklin is doing doesn’t work.

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  • oblate spheroid

    As long as people are willing to wait in line for 5 hours for his food (and believe it or not they still do!), Aaron Franklin can do what he damn well pleases. It’s not as simple as adding smokers or another location; when something takes 10 or more hours to cook there’s only so much that can be done while still maintaining the same level of quality.

    • joesmyth

      Actually it is that simple Oblate. Franklin has admitted as much in interviews.

  • Winston

    I’ve read that his primary concern is maintaining the quality everyone has now come to expect. Aaron Franklin is there every day putting in the hours that makes his BBQ so special. If he were to expand, it would without a doubt alter the food quality. I waited in line for a few hours and had a decent time. Drank some beer, chatted with people and played tailgate games that others brought. You go for the experience and unfortunately waiting in line is part of it. Except it or move on. There are dozens of other places to eat.

    • JBK

      *Accept

      • Winston

        Thanks for the correction.

    • joesmyth

      for Winston, Ignorance is bliss

      • Winston

        It’s really this simple: If you don’t want to wait, then don’t go.

      • Ranger1837

        I love Kreuz, but let me say that Franklin is much better than Kreuz, Smitty’s or Cooper’s. Those 3 have all dropped way off from what they once were. I don’t know why, but my taste buds notice the change.
        One reason Kreuz can serve more is because they cook hotter and faster. They are not the traditional low and slow.
        With that said, I don’t go to Franklin anymore. Last time I went, he was still in his trailer. I’ve never stepped foot near his present location. I’m not standing in a line like that no matter how much I like his brisket.

  • joesmyth

    Franklin has no one to blame but himself. The FAILURE to address the lack of product, is what caused this. Now instead of responding intelligently; he responds like all liberals do … REGULATION and MORE REGULATION. Instead of doing what real business people do, he responds like a Socialist. How has that worked for the last 7 years? (hint: lousy)

    1. NightRaider is correct — the layout of the “restaurant” is idiotic. I’m convinced it was done intentionally to make the Q appear more in demand than it is. (Austin being lefty, they thrive on looks, depth not required). Keeping a mystique up, by creating an artificial shortage is great way to convince the less intelligent you are awesome.

    2. StarOfTexas is correct, except that anything longer than 15 minutes for Q is the sign of an idiot. The only exception, MIGHT be Snow’s in Lexington … ummm no it’s not.

    3. BBQ is the people’s food; Franklin’s AND TM have tried to make it froo-froo-chi-chi. Enough already. Go back to San Francisco, or NYC. TM writers you want to be in NYC, you desperately want to write for The New Yorker, or Vanity Fair etc… please don’t wait around here for the golden ticket. We won’t feel bad if you leave.

    4. Only hipsters think standing in line is “cool.” They also think that “hash tags,” burnt overpriced coffee, idiotic gatherings of people who do nothing (SXSW), a music festival (ACL) that ripped-off Auqa-fest, and pretending to be hippies is cool. You know, the “new” Austin. These shallow followers are noting more than fad-chasing fools. Too bad TM is the leader of that pack.

    Enough already.

    • Stephen Martz

      If you’re going to wait in line for 5 hours you’d be better off using that time to drive to Lockhart. They have 3 of the longest running “best” barbecue places in America, not some upstart business made popular by the foodie, foodtv crowd.

    • Centexhorn

      You’re an obviously angry and bitter individual… that’s quite clear.

      You also know little about Franklin or his product. HIS supply is the key in this discussion. He has standards for ethically raised meat that make him far different than some of the other names mentioned (out of pure ignorance) in these comments. He has limited access to this kind of brisket (currently coming from Kansas), which means that he could not decide to double or triple his output. He would completely deplete his stock.

      He said in a recent podcast interview that getting meat which matches their standard is the most difficult and stressful part of what he does.

      Regardless, your post is full of nothing but vitriolic ad hominem attacks on Austinites, Franklin and TM writers. You make no intelligent argument as the base for your “case” is fundamentally flawed – i.e. wildly uneducated.

      No one asked you to wait in line for Franklin. I’m sure Aaron hasn’t hit you up for business advice. In fact, he’s doing quite well (read: top BBQ spot on earth, book, TV show) and I have immense respect for his commitment to quality control and his lack of desire to get caught-up in the nonsense you’re proposing.

      Austin is liberal, weird… simply put, awesome. Don’t like it? Don’t visit. Fairly simple. But to make an argument that Franklin’s methods and practices are impacted by a liberal “socialist” agenda is simply laughable… and that’s what I did when I read it… laughed. Enjoy being the angry internet man. The rest of us will continue to enjoy living in the Mecca of BBQ, Austin.

    • Ranger1837

      I’m as conservative as they come, but your political comments are so baseless. It has nothing to do with Aaron’s political leanings. I’ll tell you why he runs out of meat each day. Because that allows him to make a better product! Once a bbq place changes their hours to stay open later, their quality goes down. Kreuz stays open till around 8pm now. Their quality has not fully recovered. I refuse to eat dinner at a bbq place because if they’re open that late, you get the dregs. The stuff that’s been sitting on the smoker for too long.

  • Redeemed

    Its fun to watch all the liberals who want to dictate to Franklin how to operate his business. If they could, they would seek legislation that would require any restaurant with more than an hour’s wait to open another store. Those folks like nothing more than to stick their noses in other people’s business and back pockets.

  • 86Jordan

    Secret… Kerlin BBQ taste just like Franklins without the wait. 🙂

  • Justin G

    I suppose that the biggest impediment to Franklin’s expansion that nobody here seems to be considering is probably the meat supply chain… In short – it’s limited! See point number 5 in this article: http://www.tmbbq.com/what-i-learned-at-brisket-camp/

  • Bad Blood

    Meh. I guess I’ll never be having BBQ from there after all then. Look, I’m sure it’s fantastic. But I’ve never been disappointed in trekking out to Lockhart or, ideally, Luling City Market. I get a pleasant drive and I don’t have to wait in line a ridiculously long amount of time. And it’s damned good.

  • Tinderbox

    Franklin BBQ’s a**hole line is a perfect example of Austin today and what is wrong with Austin today.

    • Jed

      if standing around for a few hours talking to strangers, drinking beer, and then eating some awesome barbeque makes me an a**hole and the ruination of Austin, then so be it.