We all hate waiting in line. But why is it so annoying? Professor Dick Larsen at MIT says the secret is not the time – it’s the experience. Boredom is one problem, expectations another. If we get the impression service will be fast, the fall is much higher when we really do have to wait. Fairness is another key aspect – many of us lose it completely when someone arrives after us, but gets served first.
So what’s the answer to happy queueing? Many experts suggest a single serpentine queue as the fairest solution. The line moves at a decent pace, while multiple service desks or cashiers make it virtually impossible for anyone to cut in line.
Here are six other simple yet efficient ways to improve your queue management.
1. Let your customers pre-order
Perhaps the oldest, yet most efficient, trick in the book. If you don’t do online orders, at least make sure you keep your phone handy for calls. Why not let customers pre-order their tall latte and grilled sandwich for smooth pickup later?
2. Accept contactless payments
Contactless payments like Apple Pay can reduce service time by 10 seconds for each customer. Increasing efficiency is key to happier customers, shorter waiting times and more transactions.
3. Know your peaks – and manage your customers’ expectation
Most businesses know when their regular customers usually arrive and what they order. iZettle users can plan their peak hours easily with the help of iZettle reports, showing exactly when those busy times occur.
Jon Lacotte runs the fine kebab fast food stall Snack Bar at K25 in central Stockholm. He finds iZettle reports helpful in planning peak hours, but has chosen to focus on managing customers’ expectations.
” With 250 lunch servings we have an average wait of 7-10 minutes, but never more than that. If the wait is long we usually just tell people before they order. Very few have been complaining so far.”
4. Find the bottlenecks
Some businesses seem to have a queue problem at all times, peak or not. Obviously demand is high, but what is taking so long? Perhaps it’s time for you to think about the potential benefits of hiring a second chef or barista, investing in a new oven or having more card readers to hand for smoother payments. Just do the maths and your customers will thank you.
5. Be honest about the wait
So it’s not the actual waiting time itself that’s bothering people – it’s the stress of uncertainty. If you have a sign saying “current wait time is 20 minutes”, the 20-minute wait won’t be as annoying (especially if it turns out to be just 15 minutes!).
6. Activate the queue – and make the wait seem shorter
Queuing is boring, so turn it into a sales opportunity. Let people read a magazine on sale while waiting, or have restaurant guests order drinks before being seated (happier customers, as well as increased revenue for you).
You could also try music, live tv or free food samples to make time move faster. Offer people sweets, have them try your famous chocolate chip cookies, let them solve a puzzle, offer free arcade games, put up a chalkboard with crowd-sourced quotes or set up a digital jukebox where customers can add their favorite song to the play queue. Activation quickly kills boredom.
And remember: be fair.