How much time do we spend waiting in line? With all the grocery stores, gas stations, coffee shops, kid drop-offs, left-turn lanes, and waiting for tables at restaurants – we spend an average of five hours a week waiting in line. So, it’s time to look into the “psychology of the queue.”  

  • Dr. Richard Larson is a so-called “queuing theorist” at MIT. He says the trick for businesses is to convince people that they’re being treated fairly – and that everyone’s in the same boat. How? One line makes people feel like things are more fair than multiple lines. Like at the bank, which has one line, and several bank tellers.

  • Another fact about lines: Customers waiting in parallel lines often feel that the other line is faster – even if they’re moving at about the same speed. 

  • But get this: We’re not very accurate when we estimate how much time a line will take. Studies show that people overestimate how long a line will take by 23-percent.

  • Another fact about waiting in line: If a customer decides they’ve spent too much time, they’ll literally walk away before they reach the front of the line. But, the more people there are waiting in line behind them, the less likely they are to leave, because they figure they already beat the crowd.

  • Then there’s “faffing,” which is the amount of time it takes for someone who’s done paying to gather up their stuff and move on. The average faffing period: 3.2 seconds.

  • Finally, if you get frustrated waiting in line, try sniffing some lavender. Studies show that lavender is a calming, soothing fragrance and people who smell lavender while waiting find lines much less annoying.