Pooled Queues vs. Dedicated Queues

I dislike waiting in lines. Whenever I’m at the grocery store I like to observe how checkout lines are setup to gauge how much store owners care about customer experience. There are generally two categories of lines: pooled queues and dedicated queues.

Pooled Queues

A pooled queue is when you have a single long line and multiple cashiers, and the customer at the front of the line goes to the next available cashier as soon as a spot opens up. Airline check-ins use this method. Nordstrom Rack uses this, as well as certain grocery chains. The benefit of using a pooled queue is that the average wait time is less, since you don’t have any one particularly troublesome customer holding up the entire line.

Dedicated Queues

A dedicated queue is one where you have multiple cashiers and a separate line forms behind each cashier. The TSA uses this approach, as well as certain grocery chains. Personal experience through airport security can attest – wait times in dedicated queues are generally much longer. The main benefit of a dedicated queue is that it provides the illusion that wait time is less since you see a smaller line behind each cashier. Dedicated queues also provide the opportunity for agency effects. For example I like to think that I possess a special ability to pick the shortest line, and sometimes I even do manage to squirm my way through a line a little faster than the average person.

McDonalds used to be a strong proponent of dedicated queues, citing “Americans like free choice” as the reason why they did this. Haha.

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