Tempest in a barrel smoker? Franklin Barbecue addresses line-standing rules

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A tray at Franklin Barbecue. (Credit: Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Photo by Laura Skelding

Photo by Laura Skelding

A 13 year-old named Desmond received a heaping of Internet attention in recent days when news of his Franklin Barbecue line-standing business went viral. Barbecue lovers pay the local teen a nice sum to spend hours waiting in line for smoked meat at Franklin Barbecue. His savvy entrepreneurial spirit led to renewed discussion and debate about Franklin Barbecue’s policy on professional line-standers, leading the popular barbecue restaurant to clarify its line-standing rules Saturday on Twitter. Which led to even more heated debate.

But, according to Franklin Barbecue co-owner Stacy Franklin, all of the Internet fervor has been something of a tempest in a barrel smoker.

“There’s no big change. There’s no new rule,” Stacy Franklin told me by phone Tuesday. Franklin Barbecue has had the line-standing protocol in place for about a year.

Simply put, the rules at Austin’s most popular barbecue restaurant are as follows, with parenthetical editorial notes by Stacy Franklin:

  1. You may only order one large order. (Orders over five pounds are considered large.)
  1. If you are holding a place for someone, you must limit it to one or two people. (This seems to be the biggest problem right now.)
  1. You can either hold a place or make an order. You may not do both.

Franklin says the rules were put in place to police a very small group of people. She speculates only a couple of professional line-standers (read: anyone who gets paid to stand in line) show up each day, and most follow the rules.

“It’s really all just to protect our customers, who are waiting for their own enjoyment. It is disrespectful for them to have people show up at the last second,” Franklin said. “I try to make as little amount of rules as possible … Every day the most amazing people are waiting”

Professional line-standers who violate the rules (the main infraction being holding a spot for a group larger than two people) receive verbal warnings. Continued violations result in being banned from standing in line, something that recently happened with two repeat offenders.

“Once it’s come to my attention, then you’re already a problem,” Franklin said.

Franklin, who says restaurant management is familiar with the frequent paid visitors, said most professional line-standers follow the rules in the self-policing line, and that management rarely has to do anything about it.

“Once it starts distracting from normal lunch service, then we have to step in,” Franklin said.

Would the Franklins ever completely ban paid line-standers?

“If that needs to happen, we’ll do it,” Stacy Franklin said.

In addition to lunch service they at the restaurant, Franklin Barbecue also distributes their pre-orders each day starting at 10 a.m., adding exponentially to the restaurant’s output. People can order a minimum of five pounds of brisket via email at 9 a.m. on the first Monday of each month for pick up the following month. She says the restaurant sells out of its pre-sale allotment in the first minute, though people who email at 9:03 a.m. are sometimes able to secure a weekday-pickup order.

Aaron Franklin is currently converting the original Franklin Barbecue trailer to a to-go operation to implement at the restaurant, which may help ease lines. And, for those who wonder why Aaron Franklin doesn’t expand his operation, the answer is quality control.

“I’d rather keep it small, keep it as manageable as we can, and just keep it good,” Franklin told me in May, adding that the restaurant cooks 2,000 pounds of meat a day. “I don’t think we could comfortably make any more. We cook 24 hours a day. We just can’t squeeze any more out of it, and I don’t really want to.”

As for the enterprising teenager who unwittingly earned the line culture overheated interest in recent days, “I don’t blame him and don’t have a problem with him at all,” Stacy Franklin said. “So far he’s been respectful of the rules.”


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