I have a confession to make – I’m incredibly impatient at times.
I’m often baffled at the number of people who appear willing to join snaking queues that have no apparent motion. It seems there are a lot of people far more willing than me to wait indeterminate periods to have that unique experience or get that special bargain. I’m likely to take one look at the size of the line and decide it just can’t be worth it.
Perhaps it comes from growing up in a relatively small city – you grow up accustomed to going about your daily business with few problems associated with crowds. In cities like New York, queuing is a fact of life and several times we found ourselves in long lines waiting to get into museums or art installations while visiting there last year. But when we could avoid it, either by planning ahead or purchasing premium-rate tickets, we jumped at the chance. But then again, not everyone is willing or able to spend the extra cash needed to jump the line.
Another factor in my queue-aversion could be my size. At a mere 155cm (5’1″) in height, I’m quickly lost in a crowd. And it’s easy to lose a sense of control over your environment when all you can see up ahead is sea of backs. And that sense of autonomy and control is what environmental psychology tells us we need in order to feel comfortable in a given setting.
However, one thing that visitor experience research has taught me is that you should never just take what you think about a given scenario and extrapolate from there, assuming everyone else thinks the same. While I’m prepared to wager there are few people who actually enjoy spending hours on end waiting in line, there are clearly many people doing the same cost-benefit calculation as I am and coming up with a different result.
While it’s not something I relate to personally, I can see how the line could be considered part of the experience itself, the journey being just as important as the destination. A queue could help build anticipation about an event, even add to the “buzz” – if the line’s so long, it must be good! A queue can be a sign of success for event planners.
As far as queues go, there is such a thing as “good” and “bad” ones. A “good” queue has a clear beginning and end. If it’s a long queue there are enough barriers to keep it orderly and good signage to direct people appropriately. The people in charge are organised and look like they know what they’re doing. The queue moves: if not quickly, then at least at a predictable rate. A timed ticket gets you in at the time it says it will.
A “bad” queue appears chaotic – it’s not clear where it starts or ends, if there are multiple queues it’s not obvious which one you’re meant to be in, and the chaos seems to let people ‘jump ahead’ of those who have been waiting patiently. No-one seems to know what’s going on and the staff look underprepared and overwhelmed.
A queue will always be associated with some uncertainty: how long will I have to wait? Am I in the right place? Will it be worth the wait? People differ in their tolerance of uncertainty, and it may be lessened if they are uncomfortable with crowds in the first place. But there are ways of reducing uncertainty (e.g. signposting queues with waiting times, offering timed tickets) so that even those who are usually disinclined to wait will be happy to be (at least a little) patient.