Patience is a Virtue, But Not to a Waiting Customer

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YOU see it everywhere: at Jollibee, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chowking and anywhere you’re forced to wait for your food, beverage or whatever. At times, when I would be intimidated by my wife to wait at a bank, department store, or supermarket, I’d be 110 percent ready to make my time productive, so you’d see me reading Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

Why not? It makes you feel justified with Tolstoy’s words: “Everything comes in time to him who knows how to wait.” However, there are 7,230 times that I would reject such false idea. Being an incurable student of work efficiency, I’m the first person to reject waiting as one of the most hateful problems in every situation. After all, waiting is a universal form of waste that robs customers on one hand, and the service provider or product manufacturer on the other, of opportunities.

Let’s study this carefully. When a customer sees a long line of customers in a restaurant, he is often confronted with four options: One is outright rejection of the situation, no matter how tasty the food is or how well the price of the merchandise on offer matches your budget. When you see a restaurant overflowing with customers, you move to a next-door competitor with fewer customers, even if they charge exorbitant rates at modest quality and quantity.

Two is to wait and reject. You enter the restaurant, join the queue, evaluate the situation, and if you feel like it’s a hopeless case, you leave the place with a smirk on your face, if not a dagger look at the unconcerned branch manager who’s checking updates on his Facebook page.

Three is related to number two above, except that you try to learn from a problem situation like that. You attempt to make a scientific analysis of things and the people around you. If there are four cash registers manned by four service crew members, with each line averaging at seven customers each, you literally and figuratively calculate the situation in your head.

You’re now occupying a queue with five customers ahead of you. Would you transfer to a shorter line or stay in line with those five who were ahead of you? Without thinking, the obvious answer is to move to a shorter line. The trouble is that – it’s not always the correct answer. Why not?

If you’re too shy to ask each person ahead of you for the volume of their order and the exact bills (it takes time to change P1,000 bill than P100), more often than not, you’ll use their age, appearance, and body shape to give you a clue on whether to move to another line or not.

For example, a late-40s management professional wearing decent clothes may order a set menu, plus a side dish and gives a P500 bill as payment. While a 20-year old college intern in her uniform may simply be satisfied for a one-piece chicken meal or plain hamburger, to be downed with a standard-size cola drink. She pays with a P100 bill, if not with an exact change, unless she fumbles looking for coins in her counterfeit Hello Kitty wallet.

But what if, the five customers (two males and three females) ahead of you are all heavyweights that approximate the size of Orca, the killer whale? If you’re not a fan of Animal Planet, chances are you know nothing about killer whales being alpha predators—meaning they are on top of the food chain and no one is interested in dealing or frolicking with them, much more in preying on them.

Would this little known fact push you to take your chance to reject a line of five Orcas in favor of a line composed of eight persons with average height, size, appetite and earning capacity?

Now, you know what I mean, except that what we know represents only one side of the clock (errr, coin). These fast food restaurants know what they’re doing best to reduce the customers’ waiting time.

That’s why you encounter student part-time crew members taking advance orders while you’re on the line during peak hours, among other waiting time reduction strategies.

Then you also wonder, among others, why Jollibee and McDonald’s use the multi-server (several cash registers) and multi-line (several customers queue) approach, compared with Starbucks’ single-server (one cash register) and multi-phase (one cash register and one order pick-up point)?

Which one is better in appeasing customers who have every right to vote with their feet?

SOURCE: This article was first published on June 13, 2016 by The Manila Times under the title “The Science of Waiting Time at a Fast Food.” Image credit goes to

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