How to order an NYC bagel the right way

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

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

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

Julia Diorio, Contributing Writer

New York City is famous for having the best bagels in the world. There’s nothing like a good bagel in the morning to jump-start that 8 a.m., but if you’re new to the city, you might not know how to best navigate the frenzy of a bagel shop. Ordering is an art, and there are a few key things to know when doing it. 

Find your bagel shop.

Depending on where you live, you have to strike a delicate balance between the shop’s location and the quality of the bagel. I’m partial to three in Greenwich Village: Bagel Belly, Bagel Bob’s and Bagel Pub. And, as a native Northeasterner, I do love my Dunkin’ Donuts meal swipes, and I will credit University Hall’s Dunkin’ for having a more decent bagel than the rest of the chain, but it’s not the same. My general rule of thumb is that if the bagels aren’t in wire baskets behind the glass, they aren’t fresh. 

Figure out what you want before you get to the counter.

Odds are that 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 aside until you figure out what you’d like. There’s no harm in not having a signature bagel order, but standing at the front of the line and squinting at the menu is only making the entire situation worse. 

It’s trial and error. Do not assume the employee can read your mind, state exactly what you want clearly. If you don’t ask for a toasted bagel, they will not give you a toasted bagel. I always recommend an everything bagel toasted with cream cheese.

Take your earbuds out.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say that I don’t do this, but you have to be paying attention in the midst of the morning rush. No matter how good you think you are at hearing voices beyond “Harry’s House” blasting in your ears, I guarantee you that you will miss your order being called out. Then you have to ask them to repeat what they said, embarrass yourself, and then you’re late for class. Save the hassle by pressing pause. 

Don’t be fussy. Have a backup option.

Things happen. Your preferred bagel type might’ve run out, the grill could not be working, or the espresso machine could be broken. Take it in stride and have a second choice. 

Talk fast, and be ready.

Employees at a good bagel shop do not have time to listen to you “um” and “like” your way through your order. A simple “Hi, can I get…” will suffice. It’s quick, it’s polite and it gets the job done. Slap a “thank you” onto the end of the sentence and you are good to go. It’s going to be loud, so you have to speak up. Also, have your wallet ready. I don’t need to wait for you to dig through the 70 cards in your wallet for you to pay. You know you’re making a purchase. Be ready to tap that card. 

Coffee orders.

Please do not go to a bodega and order a caramel macchiato with oat milk. That’s like going to Joe’s Pizza and asking if they have gluten-free options. There’s a slim chance, but you’re embarrassing yourself in the process and it’s just painful for everyone involved. If you have a fancy coffee order you refuse to stray from, stop at a coffee shop. Don’t order it at a bagel shop, because even if they do make it for you, it is not going to be the coffee you imagined. 

Ordering a bagel is a formulaic structure, and you want to be the quickest person to be in and out. Know what you want, don’t make them wait or ask you to repeat, and step to the side. When they call out your order, raise your hand, push your way to the front of the pack and leave. The day you do this all unconsciously and internally judge the person in front of you for their veggie cream cheese is the day you become a true New Yorker. 

Contact Julia Diorio at [email protected]