Standing In Line: It’s Just Not That Difficult

My neighborhood Whole Foods recently changed the check-out procedure. Rather than individual cashiers each with a separate line, they adopted a modified bank-teller-line method: two long rows of cashiers with a single line waiting for all.

They had to make one concession to the layout of the store itself: there are actually two lines, side-by-side, with signs clearly indicating that shoppers may use either lane. Once one reaches the head of one’s line, shoppers alternate back-and-forth as a cashier becomes available. There is usually a Whole Foods staff member to keep things moving.

Sadly, the existence of the two lines is an overly-complex system for many a shopper and they feel a need to introduce their own version of democracy into the line by monitoring the progress of their fellow shoppers in the other line – taking note, for example, that they have moved ahead of someone who was in line before them. Thus an element of chaos is introduced into the previously orderly line.

Just go when it’s your turn! When you hang back out of “politeness” for the person who was “ahead” of you (they were not actually ahead of you since they are in a different line!), it artificially increases the length of your line. So while you’re motives may have been pure, you’ve now delayed the people waiting behind you by violating the social contract of this particular type of line. So please cut it out and just go – GO! GO NOW!!

And while most of the WF employees managing the line run a pretty tight ship, the woman in charge the other day (who was as nice as could be) at one point asked, “Who’s next?” This is wrong! As the line-wrangler, you have an obligation to maintain a laser-like focus on the line at all times and ensure the lines always alternate. Otherwise, it’s a quick slide into anarchy and we’ll all be living in caves, venturing forth only to fight each other for the scraps left behind by the giant nuclear rats.

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