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.
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.
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.
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.