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Queue area

Queue areas are places in which people in line (first-come, first-served) wait for goods or services. Examples include the DMV, checking out groceries or other goods that have been collected in a self service shop, in a shop without self service, at an ATM, at a ticket desk, a city bus, or in a taxi stand. In economics, queuing is seen as one way to ration scarce goods and services.

Queuing has been studied in queuing theory.

The term "queue" is used more in British English, while the word "line" is used mostly in American English. Most of the United States "get in line," whereas New Yorkers tend to "get on line." Canadians use the term "line up." In the United Kingdom the expressions "form a queue" or "queue up" are most common.

Types of queues

Physical queue

Organized queue areas are commonly found at amusement parks. The rides have a fixed number of guests that can be served at any given time, so there has to be some control over additional guests who are waiting. This led to the development of formalized queue areas – areas in which the lines of people waiting to board the rides are organized by railings, and may be given shelter from the elements with a roof over their heads, inside a climate-controlled building or with fans and misting devices.

In some amusement parks—Walt Disney World is a prime example—queue areas can be elaborately decorated, with holding areas fostering anticipation, thus shortening the perceived wait for people in the queue by giving them something interesting to look at as they wait, or the perception that they have arrived at the threshold of the attraction.

Queues are generally found at transportation terminals where security screenings are conducted.

Large stores and supermarkets may have dozens of separate queues, but this can cause frustration, as different lines tend to be handled at different speeds; some people are served quickly, while others may wait for longer periods of time. Sometimes two people who are together split up and each waits in a different line; once it is determined which line is faster, the one in the slower line joins the other. A fairer arrangement is for everyone to wait in a single line; a person leaves the line each time a service point opens up. This is a common setup in banks.

Virtual queue

Physical queueing is sometimes replaced by virtual queueing. In a waiting room there may be a system whereby the queuer asks and remembers where his place is in the queue, or reports to a desk and signs in, or takes a ticket with a number from a machine. These queues typically are found at doctors' offices, hospitals, town halls, social security offices, labor exchanges, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Immigration, free internet access in the state or council libraries, banks or post offices. Especially in the United Kingdom, tickets are taken to form a virtual queue at delicatessens and children's shoe shops. In some countries such as Sweden, virtual queues are also common in shops and railway stations. A display sometimes shows the number that was last called for service.

Restaurants have come to employ virtual queueing techniques with the availability of application-specific pagers, which alert those waiting that they should report to the host to be seated. Another option used at restaurants is to assign customers a confirmed return time, basically a reservation issued on arrival.

Queue Ethics

Since queuing can be a boring and time-consuming activity, but one that may also have high stakes (e.g. attempting to purchase a good or product with a limited availability, such as a concert ticket), people can become angry when the unwritten rules of queuing are broken.

For example, in Britain it is unacceptable to queue-jump (to push in, skip, or cut in line), although it is sometimes acceptable for one member of a party, waiting in the queue, to allow a second member of the party to join the first halfway through the queuing process, without the second member having to join the back of the queue.

In the United States, the above example from Britain (second member of a party) would also generally be accepted. It is acceptable for waiting persons to leave the queue briefly (to use the bathroom, etc.) and return to their original place, without having to ask neighbours to hold their place or to be allowed to return (however, many individuals would still tell their neighbors in the queue). It is also common to allow others to jump to the front of the queue in a train station to buy a ticket if their train is about to leave and if waiting from the back of the queue would cause them to miss their train.

Physical queue design

When designing queues, planners attempt to make the wait as pleasant and as simple as possible. They employ several strategies to achieve this, including:

  • Expanding the capacity of the queue, thus allowing more patrons to have a place. This can be achieved by:
    • Increasing the length of the queue by making the queue longer
    • Increasing the size of the lanes within the queue
  • "In-line" entertainment can be added. This is popular at amusement parks like Walt Disney World, which uses TV screens and other visuals to keep people in the queue area occupied.
  • Secondary queue areas for patrons with special tickets, like the FASTPASS system at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Queue Delays

Sometimes, often at amusement parks, there will be a modifiable sign at the start of the queue or halfway point in the queue informing people approximately how long their wait will be.


  • Maister, D.H. "The psychology of waiting lines." Managing Services: Marketing, Operations and Human Resources. Prentice-Hall, 1988.
  • Mercer, David. "Redefining marketing in the multi-channel age." Wiley

See also

External links

  • For an insight into the British habit of queueing, see standinaqueue

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