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Blue Smoke, located in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood, has been one of the most important and influential barbecue joints in the New York City area since it opened in 2001. Without Blue Smoke, it’s hard to imagine the many good barbecue joints that followed it in NYC, and without Blue Smoke, there would have been no Big Apple Barbecue Block Party the past 15 years.
So any time Blue Smoke make substantial changes to its business model and how it operates, it should be closely examined. In late January, the restaurant made such changes — it converted lunch from table service to counter service, will no longer take lunch reservations, pared down its lunch menu, and maybe most importantly, it completely eliminated tipping at lunch and dinner.
When you go in for lunch now, you first will order at a new counter right inside the door and then get a buzzer. You’ll get drinks from the soda fountain or order from the bar and then sit down at a table until your buzzer goes off, so you can go grab your food from another counter. In a way, lunch is now similar to the counter-service style you can find at joints like Hometown Bar-B-Que, Pig Beach, and Hill Country Barbecue Market.
Seth Frankle, assistant general manager of Blue Smoke’s Flatiron location, says the new changes are first and foremost designed to make lunch faster for office workers and people in the neighborhood.
“For our lunch crowd and most of the people working in the neighborhood, we’re giving you the ability to have a faster lunch and get back to the office or order take out and bring it back,” Frankle said. “If you want to stay and have a two-hour meeting, that’s wonderful by us too.”
The new lunch menu includes almost everything you’d want from Blue Smoke, including sandwiches (like the spicy chicken, brisket, or pork shoulder), baby back ribs, sides, and the mouth-watering wings with Alabama white sauce. Hat tip to Blue Smoke Executive Chef and Pitmaster Jean-Paul Bourgeois for his continued work on making this menu shine.
Interestingly enough, lunch prices are actually down “a couple dollars,” according to Frankle, but prices at dinner are now “about 10% higher” to reflect the no-tipping policy.
Digging in a little further into the no-tipping policy, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (of which Blue Smoke is a part) vowed to eliminate tipping back in 2015. It has not been an easy road, with many long-time employees leaving USHG over the new policies. But they have carried on. Blue Smoke is last restaurant in the group to embrace no tipping, and as such, it had to make some changes to the whole operation.
There are a lot of problems with tipping in the United States, but unfortunately, most American restaurants can’t make a no-tipping structure work. Among other reasons, consumers are not accustomed to higher menu prices that include hospitality, so they often complain and give poor online reviews to these establishments, which drives down foot traffic.
It’s unclear how this new model will work for Blue Smoke’s bottom line, but it will be fascinating to see if it can make a smooth transition and keep customers coming back for more. Blue Smoke’s Battery Park City location will be making some big changes soon as well, and we’ll keep an eye out for that.
Founder, NYC BBQ
EAT ALL ABOUT IT
Here are the top BBQ and food stories in New York area this week:
Josh Bowen, the owner of the very good John Brown Smokehouse, has sued New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer for defamation and abuse of process, following the two’s arguments over Amazon deciding not to bring HQ2 to Long Island City. Bowen says Van Bramer tried to “suppress Bowen’s political speech” by filing a criminal complaint with the NYPD over a text message Bowen sent to Van Bramer’s chief of staff, according to the New York Post.
Eater New York says Au Cheval, the new Tribeca-based “diner” with three hour (!) wait times, has a disappointing burger but the bologna sandwich and hash browns with duck-heart gravy are the real reasons to visit.
A new roundup of “New Jersey's 50 best hole-in-the-wall restaurants” includes Red, White, and Que Smokehouse, one of the best barbecue joints in the state. If you go, try the beef ribs, brisket, turkey, and/or beans.
Dixie's Smokehouse BBQ, a popular Long Island BBQ joint in Kings Park, closed its doors after 10 years in business. However, the owners plan to open a new joint called Andersen's Smokehouse Grill on Main Street in Smithtown in March.
Here are the top BBQ (and related) food events coming soon to the New York metro area:
March 15: The Smorgasburg X Vice Night Market is back with food, drinks, music, and more at the Villain space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you go, be sure to try Carnal’s short rib burger or other great vendor items. RSVP for free here.
March 23: Go wild on mac ‘n’ cheese at the Hoboken Mac & Cheese Festival just across the river in New Jersey. More than 10 vendors will be there, including House of 'Que and The Ainsworth. Tickets are sold out but you can join the waitlist. Join the waitlist here.
April 7: At The Bloody Mary Festival in Brooklyn, you’ll be able to try some of the craftiest and most creative Bloody Marys in all of NYC for 2 hours. It also includes a Brooklyn bagel bar, cheese station, and more. Buy tickets here.
April 10: The awesome Brisket King NYC event will be returning to Brooklyn on April 10. Hosted at Biba of Williamsburg, the all-inclusive event will feature 20 chefs and pitmasters serving their brisket creations. It will also feature a selection of beer, cider, wine, and spirits to enjoy. Early bird ticket sales end on March 15, so don’t delay. Buy tickets here.
April 13: Pig Beach in Brooklyn will be hosting the Jeff Michner BBQ Benefit on April 13 to raise money for Michner’s family following his death last year. The event will have an all-star lineup of pitmasters and chefs from all over the country. Read my write-up about the event to learn more. Buy tickets here.
April 13 & 14: Enjoy hot sauce samples from makers all over the world at the 7th annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint. On top of samples, beer and BBQ will be available for purchase and there will be spicy food eating competitions to watch as well. Buy tickets here.
May 18: Mark your calendars for The World’s Fare 2019 at Citi Field in Queens. More than 100 vendors will come together and unite through authentic food, drink and music curated by the city’s leading culinary advocates. Buy tickets here.
June 8: The NYC Bacon and Beer Classic 2019 will take place at the Brooklyn Mirage and will celebrate two of the best things in life: bacon and beer. Over 50 local restaurants will be serving bacon-inspired dishes, and local breweries will be pouring over 100 top craft beers. Early bird tickets are on sale now. Buy tickets here.