7 Truths About Waiting in Line Companies Should Be Aware Of


We have all done it. We order ahead or book an appointment from our favorite establishment and then swoop into the store, breezily passing by the people who are patiently waiting in line. Is this considered “cutting the line” or a necessary convenience for busy customers who have neither the time nor patience to wait?

Now with the advent of mobile phones and technology, ordering ahead and booking appointments is increasingly a seamless exercise. We can save our food orders on mobile apps and then in seconds, order our favorites in advance. We can book appointments in advance at the Apple Genius bar or at our local bank branch, skipping past all the walk-in customers.

As ordering ahead and booking appointments in advance has become easier and more available, time-strapped consumers are taking advantage. In the U.S., food and drink ordering ahead accounts for 10% of the estimated $225 billion in outside the home food spending and will grow to almost 50% within five years.

How should companies best implement an ordering ahead or appointment booking solution while not alienating their “walk in and order” customers? Here are 7 truths about waiting in line that companies should be aware of as they implement their own “order ahead” service.

1. Understand “waiting in line” etiquette

As booking appointments and ordering ahead grows, companies need to be aware of any potential resentment from the patrons that did not order ahead and who feel that these other customers are “cutting the line.” Ironically, some “ordering ahead” customers might believe that they are actually cutting the line and do not want to be unceremoniously called out by others, so they will choose to stand in traditional lines to avoid any “cutting the line” controversy.

2. “Waiting in line” etiquette varies by country

If you are a global company, be aware of etiquette differences about waiting in line. In the U.S., they call it “waiting in line,” and people who are waiting in line are more than willing to call people out who are cutting the line. The UK calls it “queuing” with plenty of personal space between the people in line and minimal conversation between patrons. While the western world is fairly accommodating and generally follows local etiquette, Asia is a completely different story. In China, the government had to post line monitors before the Beijing Olympics to ensure that people followed the waiting in line rules. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, many residents credit McDonald’s with teaching the population how to queue in an orderly fashion. In India, people are so wary of people trying to cut the line, they get so close to the person in front of them that they are literally spooning that person.


3. Offering booking and ordering ahead increases customer loyalty with one caveat

A mobile app offering ordering ahead increases customers’ loyalty because it reduces ordering or appointment friction. The customer must choose between a quick booking ahead order or potentially waiting in a long line. Companies should be cognizant that implementing an ordering ahead solution will decrease conversations between customers and your employees. It is important to implement feedback mechanisms with any online food ordering to ensure that your company is getting sufficient input from these loyal customers. Meanwhile, implementing online appointment booking actually increases the quality of conversations between customers and employees because meetings are now happening at a convenient times. More quality conversation leads to increased customer loyalty.

4. Think about your waiting in line store layout

Stores have a variety of location layouts to accommodate customers waiting in line. Most banks have a serpentine line, to ensure order and fairness. Meanwhile most food stores have individual lines so it is always a challenge to figure out which line to stand in. Now that customers are able to book whatever they need in advance, there is a third type of line that needs to be provided. Usually this line doesn’t have anyone standing in it, so make sure you have big signage – clearly marking where customers should go to make if they have booked or ordered ahead – you don’t want anyone standing in more lines than they need to.

5. Don’t forget about training and staffing with advance booking

While ordering ahead can be a boon to your customers and your bottom line, ordering ahead changes the well-established process for addressing customer needs. This can put a strain on your staff. Your staff is crucial to the success of an ordering ahead solution. Improperly implemented, it can lead to irate customers and a loss of customer goodwill. Starbucks’ online ordering has actually been too successful, leading to ordering bottlenecks and customers walking out of the store without ordering. At BookingBug, we conduct proper training of all employees during the appointment booking implementation to ensure that the launch goes smoothly across all stores.

6. Ordering ahead increases order sizes and productivity

Consumers ordering on a mobile app can take as much as time as they need to make their order as opposed to feeling rushed while in line at the store. This along with familiarity with the menu results in larger orders than in-store orders. Taco Bell is already seeing 30% larger order sizes from their mobile app. There is a little bit of psychology going on here, too, as consumers might be more likely to order the decadent chocolate sundae via an app rather than via the fast food cashier. By receiving orders in advance, stores can batch and streamline preparation, increasing productivity.


7. Best to start small with ordering ahead

Before you launch your ordering ahead solution nationwide, start with a pilot store or a hundred to make sure you work out all the kinks. McDonald’s, leery of the pitfalls that Starbucks has encountered, launched a pilot “order ahead” program in 180 stores this past spring before launching it in all 14,000 U.S. stores.


Booking an appointment in advance or ordering ahead will continue to grow exponentially. Retailers need to follow the lessons learned from companies who have already launched so as not to repeat their mistakes. While technology is a key part of a booking ahead solution, companies need to consider the expectations of both types of customers (order ahead and order in store) as well as perceived etiquette rules as they roll out their ordering ahead solution.


For more information about waiting in line research, download our e-book, The Science of Waiting in Line. As it turns out, we behave predictably when forced to wait in line. When waiting for service, we are all cogs in one big machine, conforming to statistical rules. Those who know them can manage waiting crowds mathematically like data packets on a network. Download this e-book and learn more about the psychology of queuing and the steps you can take to master them.