Most barbecue joints use a counter-service model in which guests line up to place an order with the meat-cutter or order-taker.
Barbecue lines have become rather notorious with the rise of the craft barbecue movement. Some people find it an annoyance (who has time to wait an hour in line for barbecue?) while other people see it as a fun part of the barbecue experience (many friendships have originated in barbecue lines).
For very popular barbecue joints, it is first-come, first-served, so people will start lining up early in the morning. Some barbecue joints have implemented a numbering system so that when you arrive, you get a number, and that is your place in line.
Numbering system/line protocol requires that you stay on site until the restaurant opening time when you can begin to line up in order. In other words, you can’t show up early and get a number and go home and back to sleep, and then return just before opening time. At popular joints, you’ll see people snoozing in their cars after picking up a number and then waiting for the opening.
In addition to a numbering system, some joints offer free coffee and even beer for guests waiting in line. At the most popular joints, a staff member will estimate how much food is available for that day and then go down the line and notify people after a certain place in line there may be limited food left when they finally make it to the order counter.
All that said, the vast majority of barbecue joints do not need a numbering system and the line is relatively short with an average wait time of 10-20 minutes before you make it to the order counter.
How the HOUBBQ Guide helps: Each barbecue joint’s profile page includes Location Details with Ordering info, including notes about line protocols and ordering procedure.