Single Line or Multiple Lines: Which Should You Choose?

Single Line or Multiple Lines: Which Should You Choose?

Last updated: October 15, 2014Perry Klukin

Studies have proven that a single-line queue leading to multiple servers is more efficient and results in less variation in the amount of time customers are kept waiting. Still, the single-line queue can appear daunting to customers who fail to understand that one longer line is actually a better bet than taking their chances with one of many lines. So how do you know which formation is best for your business and your customers? Assuming you have more than one cashier or agent, here are some considerations:

A single-line queue…

Has shorter average wait times. It can look like a single-line queue comes with a long wait, but compared to multiple lines, people are standing in one line for a much shorter time than if they had chosen from many lines. You’re not at the mercy of the customer in front of you or a slow or chatty cashier. The service points are staggered so the entire line benefits from a single fast cashier and the agony of a single slow customer is spread evenly among all who wait.
Promotes fairness. “First come, first served” is inarguably the fairest way for a line to form. When all customers are standing in the same line, the perception is that there is no doubt who was there when and who should be getting attention before others.
Cuts down on stress. Whether customers are in a rush or not, they pretty much always want to make good use of their time, and this can result in stress about selecting the “right” line. The single-line queue takes away this need to choose.
Reduces jockeying. Line switching is frustrating for customers and businesses alike. Some people stand and scope out the multiple queues, trying to gauge which one is their best bet for getting through the line as quickly as possible. Others pick a line and still rubberneck, seeing if there is a better option, often jumping from line to line in an effort to get through the line faster.
Reduces sweethearting. One of the most common forms of employee theft, sweethearting, is when a cashier neglects to scan a few items, or only scans the lower-priced items as a favor to a friend or family member. In a multiple-line queue, it’s easy for a customer to choose the line staffed by their acquaintance. In a single-line queue, the next person in line has to report to the next available cashier. This random selection process dramatically reduces sweethearting.

A multiple-line queue…

Creates flexibility. The customer has greater flexibility in a multiple-line queue because they get to select the line in which they want to stand. Providing they’re not of the jockeying nature, having the power to choose can make a customer happier because they’ve selected where they want to be and aren’t feeling forced to stand in a single line.
Deters balking. When there is one line, serpentine or straight, long or short, a customer can feel trapped by the thought of being at the mercy of only one waiting option. Multiple-line queues maintain the illusion that there is more service available and, therefore, worth the wait.

It’s possible to argue both sides of the coin when it comes to choosing a single-line or multiple-line queue configuration. What ultimately matters is what kind of queuing system works best for your business.


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