Here’s a quick quiz question for you:

What word can you take four letters away from, and still end up with the same sounding word?

Answer: Queue

According to research by The Telegraph, we Brits spend 6 months of our life queuing – probably more if you use the London Underground – although I’m not sure that this is strictly queuing, it’s more like a blood sport.

After discussing the weather, a fascination with queuing is our second most popular national trait – with some other peaches like:

  • getting drunk
  • moaning
  • wanting our sports teams to fail and
  • a love of curtain twitching




Waiting in line can be frustrating, in fact waiting for anything is – for example, waiting to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing. But did you know that, depending on how busy a junction is, pressing the button has no effect at all? It’s a placebo, to make you feel like your somehow involved.




Which just makes it even more frustrating. Another fact about pedestrian crossing – do you know about the secret button?

Anyway, back to queuing.

No-one seems to know where the British fascination with queuing comes from, but it seems that World War II appears to have cemented our reputation as civilized queuers. Rationing played a big part on this, where [very] long queues would form in the hope of getting whatever it was that was available – some people often joined the end of a queue without knowing exactly what it was for, they just hoped it would be something useful!

There have been a couple of literary observations made about queuing. George Orwell imagined a foreign observer would be struck by the English crowd’s “willingness to form queues”, and British author George Mikes wrote in his 1946 book How to be an Alien that “an Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”.

Some would argue though that whilst we are always keen to form a queue, we’re not so good at waiting in them – might be a bit extremist, but just ask anyone in the kebab house queue, late on a Saturday night, when someone barges to the front and orders “Large Doner, fully loaded – flood it with chili sauce”!

The key with queuing is making people think that they have not waited less time than they actually have. Some companies install TVs for you to watch in the queue – although this can feel as though you’re being sold to. I was recently in a McDonalds and they had installed tablets to distract you, or at least distract my kids whilst we waited.

How quickly customers are served can be a driver of satisfaction, or more accurately a driver of dissatisfaction – you don’t get massive praise for there not being a queue.

So the more you do to reduce the wait, or at least help to reduce the perception of the wait the better. In a recent study, it was found that where there appears to be no steps made to reduce waiting time, people will over estimate their wait by 25%, so if they actually waited 4 minutes they believe they waited for 5, if they waited 20 minutes they believe they waited 25 minutes etc.

So at the very least, if you’re in a queue and you can see that people are trying to help, you’ll be more forgiving.

Now queues can take any number of forms:

  • Stores – eg queueing in a supermarket or bank
  • Telephone – eg being on hold
  • On-line – eg waiting for a website page to update or waiting for a reply via social media

In all cases you need to take a critical look at how you can reduce wait times; be that actual wait times or the perception of waiting. Examples could be:

  • opening more checkout points in supermarkets
  • having a call back option for telephone enquiries – although care needs to be applied as the customer just ends up waiting for the call back as opposed to waiting on hold

Remember though, if you happen to find yourself in a queue whatever you do, do NOT push in.