Queue Mastery (A-Z Challenge Day 17)

There is an art to choosing a queue.

I insist on categorizing it as an art, because to call it a science gives way too much credit to the people who claim to have achieved Queue Mastery.  And I am convinced it’s an impossible thing to master.

But just to humor you, I thought I would give the science angle a try.

d2Truth is, my friend and I have pretty much mastered all of the lines at Disneyland.  For example, Pirates of the Caribbean is a right liner (assuming the ends of the line are about equal, which they generally are).   Why? Because there is an option in the left line to open an extended serpentine back by Tarzan’s Treehouse to fit more people in the line.  There is no such option on the right.  Same goes for Small World.  It’s a righty, too.  The right side gets narrowed sooner than the left, and there is no disabled boarding on the right, either. See?

So maybe there is a science to queue selection.  I’m willing to think this through…..

Most people try to minimize their time in line by choosing the shortest one.  This is a colossal oversimplification that has trapped many fools in the line game.  If you are harried and distracted, you will resort to this thin and feeble single criterium, but there are many factors that can make this a mistake.  If you just pay attention to your surroundings for another few seconds, you can improve your chances of optimizing queue speed by observing two other significant factors….

(1)  The gatekeeper.  We watch the pace at which people are providing the service.  “Oooo.  She’s fast.  Let’s get in her line…”   It’s considered low-hanging fruit to spot a zippy, focused person who is moving with such confidence and speed that sparks are practically flying.  

But even they get sent on breaks, run out of receipt paper,  require Manager approval for a void… Anything can happen, even to a skilled worker.  And it generally does happen.  When you’re next, and you’ve made a huge investment in this queue already.

But let’s assume you’ve chosen the Olympic Gold Medalist of Customer Service Providers….there is still another factor you must include in your assessment:

(2) The speed and complexity of the requirements of the people in front of you.  

The most obvious factor in this category is,  of course, the number of items in a cart.  Depending on the kind of store you’re in, however, this can be fraught with blind spots.  I recall being in a Christmastime line at Pier One, behind a woman who had a small hand basket of items.  Score.  I thought.  Until I realized she had about 50 delicate glass figurines in there, and she wanted each one so carefully wrapped that you’d have thought she was hand carrying them in a backpack over the Rockies.  

Another common blind spot is the cheerful offer to open a charge account to save an additional 20% on today’s purchase.  This requires some paperwork and an oh-so-pregnant pause while the great credit judge out in the ether sends back a verdict.  Lots of foot tapping in the line when that process is launched.  Really?  Now?

Truth is, the greatest enemy here is (I hate to say it) age.   Yes.  Ironically, the older you get, the more time you have to wait in line.  That’s not to say older people don’t complain about being in line.  In fact, I think there is a positive correlation between age and frequency and volume of verbal complaints….made to no one in particular.  Non-verbal complaints are primarily the purview of the younger crowd.  Most common are the heavy sigh, the tapping foot, the dramatic shifting of weight from one hip to another. These have no effect on the speed of the line, but they do demonstrate the superior importance of one person’s time over everyone else’s in line.

So pick a youngest line with the fewest items and the zippiest checker.  The formula  looks something like this:

                                                       Q = C + Px – BS

Queue Score = Speed of the Cashier + (Speed of People in Front of You) x (Number of People in Front of You)  – Blind Spots  

Got it?

Well, good for you.  Now get over it.  Because regardless of your knowledge of the many factors that determine line speed, a person who “picks the best line” – even randomly – is automatically dubbed a genius.

While I, on the other hand, usually earn a comment like, “We’re never letting you pick the line again.”


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