Does Waiting in Line Affect Your Perception of Quality?

Posted on September 11, 2010 by

It’s not unusual for people to wait in long lines to purchase products that they want. Coffee, burgers, even iPhones. But what affect are these lines actually having? Do you see a long line and think to yourself that the product must be worth it? When you finally get to the front of that line, does the reward seem sweeter? The average wait for a burger at Shake Shack is so long (over an hour) they added a web-cam to their site so you can check the status of the line before showing up.

From Time Out Chicago:

“What the line does is sensitize the consumer to the experience,” Fine says. “And [people are] going to pay attention to the food. That attention can wind up being positive or negative, but in general they’ve invested that time, so they are prone to say—sociopsychologically—that that investment was worthwhile. So they’re prone to say: This is great pizza. Because only an idiot would stand that long in line if the pizza was only so-so.”

Same goes for the burgers, the churros and the cocktails.

Of course, it can go the other way, too. “If the pizza for them is unsatisfying, [people] will probably treat it more negatively than they otherwise might have,” Fine says. “It eliminates the middle ground.”

Personally, I have limited patience for waiting in lines. I prefer avoiding them by visiting during off hours whenever possible. But I’m always willing when I think the product is worth it.

When enclosed in a small environment (like a cafe) it’s important that those that are waiting don’t perceive their time to be wasted. Maybe they don’t understand the dozens of variables that you’re trying to control in your espresso, but they do understand when certain no-no’s take place. And after waiting so long, “[people] will probably treat it more negatively than they otherwise might have”. And then of course, they blast you online.