There are conventions in customer psychology that are unspoken but carefully observed, like a code of conduct for street trading which we have noticed sits just below the surface. Once noticed it seems to be everywhere, or perhaps it’s just me.
The Invisibility Gap.
Absolutely vital to the process of ordering. There is a certain distance from the hatch beyond which we, as vendors, pretend we cannot see. It means that the customer is free to stand at this distance and view the menu in peace, without being greeted, addressed or acknowledged. Speaking to customers who are standing in the invisibility gap is on the same spectrum as trying to start a conversation with a stranger in a public toilet cubicle (apparently only uncomfortable for you, the person being spoken to), so we wait, keeping half an eye on them, until they take that all important step forward. Once they have moved out of the Gap we are free to engage them and take an order.
The Invisibility Gap is often breached by traders with different selling styles to ours (shouting your wares or habitually greeting everyone who comes close); at all other times the Gap is approximately 2m from the edge of the stall, depending on the person.
When ordering a ham and cheese toastie, it is usually accompanied by an apology. I expect other traders have this as well with the cheapest item on the menu. I don’t think there is anything that sums up the British consciousness quite so neatly, other than possibly the Invisibility Gap. You’re buying a toastie from us, there really is no need to apologize. I suppose it’s because they are not ordering something more expensive or adventurous, but if we didn’t want you to order it, we wouldn’t sell it. Plus; it’s a really good ham and cheese.
In the same way that an empty restaurant doesn’t appeal, the queue-less street food unit looks a lot less delicious than a bustling hive of culinary activity. It is also an indication that whatever you’re standing in line for is worth the wait, and one sale tends to generate another. We have occasionally been known to fake a queue with friends, and studies suggest that this actually probably works.
The Cutting In Half Spread
This makes a toastie harder to eat, as the cheese then has twice as many escape routes, but it does cool down faster, which is important when you serve toasted sandwiches, widely regarded to be the hottest foodstuff in the universe. So I understand that many people ask for it to be cut in half. It only takes a moment, and we have a chopping board spare for this very purpose. This action is then inevitably followed by the spread. If one brave customer asks for their toastie to be severed in two, and we oblige, it spreads through the queue and we will be cutting the next five toasties in half.
Perhaps they would all have been happy with a whole toastie? Perhaps they were expecting two halves (like you get in a Breville) and had only then realised that we don’t serve them like that? We may never know.
Squares or Triangles
A further subtlety to the cutting in half. The ham and cheese is an excellent option for children, as it’s all natural, not a processed hotdog, kids will usually eat it, it isn’t a processed hotdog, it’s nice and simple and, from what I can gather, it isn’t a processed hotdog. We offer the cutting up as standard if we suspect it’s for a child, because of the above-mentioned heat problems, but it is important to get the follow-up question in, and make sure you cut it up the right way round. It’s surprising how grateful parents are that you understand, and how important some stuff is when you’re 4.