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How to properly order a bagel in New York

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New York is famous for its bagels. Here’s how to act like a pro behind the counter.

Don’t delay your bagel order. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

New York is famous for having the best bagels in the world. There’s nothing like a good morning bagel to get you going at 8am, but if you’re new to the city, you may not know how to best navigate the bagel shop madness. Ordering is an art, and there are a few key things to know.

Find your bagel shop.

Depending on where you live, you have to find a fine balance between the location of the store and the quality of the bagel. I’m partial to three in Greenwich Village: Belly bagel, Bagel Bob and Bagel Pub. And as a native Northeasterner, I really like the Dunkin’ Donuts takeaways, and I’ll admit that Dunkin’ in University Hall has a more decent bagel than the rest of the chain, but it’s just not the same. My general rule of thumb is that if the bagels aren’t in wire baskets behind glass, they’re not fresh.

Decide what you want before you get to the counter.

Chances are there’s a line, you’re stressed, the guy behind the counter is stressed, the people behind you are stressed, and I’m stressed. Stand back until you know what you want. There’s no harm in not ordering the signature bagel, but standing at the front of the line and squinting at the menu just makes it worse.

It’s trial and error. Don’t assume the employee can read your mind, be clear about what you want. If you don’t ask for a toasted bagel, you won’t get a toasted bagel. I always recommend the bagel toasted with cream cheese.

Take out your headphones.

I won’t be a hypocrite and say I don’t, but you have to be careful in the middle of the morning rush. No matter how well you think you can hear the voices outside Harry’s House ringing in your ears, I guarantee you will miss your order. Then you have to ask them to repeat what they said, embarrassing yourself and then you’re late for class. Take the hassle out of it by pressing pause.

Don’t fuss. There is a backup option.

Things happen. Maybe your favorite type of bagel is out, the grill isn’t working, or the espresso machine is broken. Take it easy and make the second choice.

Speak quickly and be prepared.

The staff at a good bagel shop don’t have time to listen to your “mms” and “likes” as you scroll through your order. A simple “Hi, I can get…” will do. It’s fast, polite and gets the job done. Just say “thank you” at the end of the sentence and you’re done. It will be loud, so you need to speak louder. Also prepare your wallet. I don’t have to wait for you to dig through 70 cards in your wallet for you to pay. You know you’re making a purchase. Be ready to touch this card.

Order coffee.

Please don’t go to a bodega and order a caramel macchiato with oat milk. It’s like going to Joe’s Pizza and asking if they have gluten free options. There’s a small chance, but you’re embarrassing yourself in the process, and that’s just painful for everyone involved. If you have a fancy coffee order that you can’t give up, stop by the coffee shop. Don’t order it from a bagel shop, because even if they make it for you, it won’t be the coffee you imagined.

Ordering a bagel is a patterned structure and you want to be the fastest person to get in and out. Know what you want, don’t make them wait or ask them to repeat, but step aside. When they call your order, raise your hand, move to the front of the pack, and walk away. The day you do this unconsciously and internally judge the person in front of you for their vegetarian cream cheese is the day you become a true New Yorker.

Contact Julia Diorio on [email protected]

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