Cutting in Line
January 28, 2004 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Line etiquette: When standing in a line and another lane is opened, what is the etiquette for who goes in that new line? What should it be? Is it different when there are no numbered "lanes" (meaning it's just another person helping people at the same counter area)? Should another line be created in that situation, or should there just be a single line moving at double speed?
posted by magnetbox to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In the case of a counter with one line and multiple checkout "spots," it should definitely be a single line moving at double speed. In the case of separate lines, like at the grocery store, ideally, the people who have already been waiting the longest should be the ones who get to step over to the newly-opened line. I know I'm always appreciative when a thoughtful cashier calls over those customers specifically (especially when one of those customers is me). However, what actually happens most of the time is the customers just approaching the checkout area race to fill the new line, and the rest of us are left to remain in our lines and give them evil death stares.
posted by boomchicka at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

I think the problem is that most people don't know what to do and they hesitate. In this situation of course, hesitation is deadly and so what ends up happening is that the more aggresive people end up with an advantage.

You see, if you are the 'next' person in the old line, ideally you are the one that should get to move over. But its not so clear that its to your advantage. After all, here you are, you are next and if you run over to the empty lane and get beaten out you might actually end up in a worse position!

At the back of the line, clearly its to your advantage here but you also (for etiquette) want to give some people in front of you a chance since they have been waiting longer.

The result of all this is a momentary mass confusion. Honestly, it is best handled by checkers who actually point to people in the old line and ask them to come over. This is the only way to thwart the aggressive people who would then be crossing the line from 'savvy' (in their eyes) to 'clearly rude.'

In the absence of a guide, I suggest the following etiquette:

You're next: stay where you are and encourage the people behind you to move over. you will give them the 'pass' they need to act swiftly and beat out the jerks.

Middle: Rush over. If someone from the old line that was in front of you arrives, invite them to go in front of you.

End: Saunter, don't rush, over. You'll likely still increase your position but won't look like a jerk.

New arrival: hang back until things settle. Don't be an interloper.
posted by vacapinta at 9:29 AM on January 28, 2004

Just use your elbows.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:53 AM on January 28, 2004

What should it be?

i should add that from a decision-theory type view, the new cashier should come over and grab every other person in the old line, starting with the first. This way everyone has the line that was in front of them shortened by about half.
posted by vacapinta at 9:54 AM on January 28, 2004

Ok, what do you guys suggest doing about people who bring twenty items into the express line? Whose (ethical) responsibility is it to see that the 10-item rule is obeyed, the customer, or the checker? And should I start busting heads next time? Cause that's what I want to do.
posted by Hildago at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2004

When a new line opens, I'm all for letting the people in front of me take advantage of it unless they hesitate. You snooze, you lose, buddy... and all the more so because if I hesitate because you're hesitating, sure as shootin' someone else is going to get there before either of us. My getting a move on is frequently the incentive for those ahead of me to make a decision for themselves.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 AM on January 28, 2004

it depends where you are. here in chile, whoever pushes in first gets to the front.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2004

Is there a limit on items in the self-checkout? I got a dirty look the other day when I had a cart full and someone else had only 3 items.
posted by agregoli at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2004

I do what FFF does, except I'll motion to them to go first rather than counting the milliseconds with steely eyed predatory behavior.
posted by machaus at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2004

Whose (ethical) responsibility is it to see that the 10-item rule is obeyed, the customer, or the checker?

I've never rung at a supermarket, but as someone who has cashiered often, I would say that it is the customer's responsibility not to saunter into a 10 item line with 20 items. For the checker, it's usually quicker to just ring the transaction up then to try to argue with the offender.
posted by drezdn at 10:25 AM on January 28, 2004

Whatever gets me out the fastest. IT'S A JUNGLE OUT THERE.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 10:28 AM on January 28, 2004

You snooze, you lose

This is the basic rule of existence in NYC. I used fff's technique when a seat opened up on the subway (back when I rode the subway to work): wait the ~2 seconds considered appropriate by local mores for someone else to make a move, then go for it myself. Unless, of course, I was standing right next to it, in which case I had my slide-right-in technique finely honed -- there are some bastards who don't give you the two seconds. Same thing for lines. If you're too polite, you'll get shafted every time.

Note to non-New Yorkers: do not think smugly "Aha, New Yorkers are rude." We're very polite in our own terms; they're just different terms. We don't have time to stand around and chat with customers/cashiers, for instance, and we consider out-of-towners who try to do so lacking in the necessary urban social graces.
posted by languagehat at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2004

agregoli - some self-checkout lanes do have a limit (usually 15 items or less that I've seen). I was in the grocery store the other day buying 4 items. I went to the self-checkout lanes because I figured that would be quickest. Amazingly, I saw a woman with an almost overflowing cart using one of the four clearly labeled 15-items-or-less-self-checkout lanes. And that wasn't all - she either had a question about or a problem with nearly every item I saw her scan. What's wrong with these people? Are they just clueless or are they actively trying to piss off everyone that's in a hurry with just a few items?
posted by MsVader at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2004

here in chile, whoever pushes in first gets to the front.

Chile would be my kind of place, if the average indoor temperature wasn't 40 freaking degrees.

MsVader, I think they are clueless, dumb as shit, and/or horribly entitled.
posted by jennyb at 10:47 AM on January 28, 2004

it depends where you are. here in chile, whoever pushes in first gets to the front.

Many places in Western Europe are like this, France being the worst offender.

I loosely follow vacapinta's guidelines, and I'm not afraid (often to the chagrin of my companions) to call out people who act like selfish asses in the checkout lines.
posted by mkultra at 10:54 AM on January 28, 2004

Yes, Hidalgo, I recommend you simply assault anyone with 11 items in the express line, right then and there. Grab the 11th item and hold it over their head like a game of keep-away, crying "NUH-UH! NO PINT OF SOUR CREAM FOR THIS LINE-HOPPER!" while they jump, clutching futilely at it. If it's something messy, like a carton of eggs, you might consider smashing it over their head at that point, and then going back to your place in line like nothing happened.
posted by scarabic at 11:11 AM on January 28, 2004

To mkultra's point, why don't people call out people who are not being nice and are butting into lines, waiting until the last second to merge on a freeway, etc?
posted by magnetbox at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2004

Regarding the hesitation to scoot over to that new line, everyone seems to agree that the people near the front of the original line should get first dibs on the new one. They've been waiting the longest, but ironically, they also have the least to gain, since they're already at the front of a line.

At a certain point, you're "committed" to the old line, eg: after you've taken your items out of the basket and put the on the conveyor. Also, there may be one person in front of you, but it may appear that they are, within seconds, going to be done.

Some people may simply not want to bother with moving over, especially if the checkout aisle is long and narrow, lined with impulse-racks, and moving over would entail moving backward, against the grain, through a crowded line of people which is designed to move only in one direction.

So yea, give the person in front of you the benefit of a second or two to grab the lead spot, but if it's me, chances are I'll just wait the extra 30 seconds.

The way people scramble for the newly-opened line makes me ill. It's as if they're inside a video game titled "Harried Consumers from the Planet Rude" and they're suddenly confronted with a surprise treasure box. GIMMIE! GOTTA GET THE PRIZE! They rush in, as if saving those 30 seconds (at the cost of their dignity and manners) is really going to make their lives better.

In other words, you snooze, you lose implies that there is something to win. I don't think there is, and I'd rather take my time and not butt heads with strangers. Take my 30 seconds, please!
posted by scarabic at 11:31 AM on January 28, 2004

The supermarket on the campus where I work tends to get waves of people and can go from busy to quiet and back again very rapidly so there are constantly people being called to the tills and thus opening up new lanes. Its pretty much regarded as being whoever gets there first gets served, people specifically watch out for new cashiers approaching a lane if its getting busy. There is no animosity attached to getting in a lane, its pretty much seen as a game I think. (Hence there is a win/lose element)
Having said that, the place I used to shop was much more confusing and it was quite easy to work up some hate for people who didn't obey the single queue rule for the two tills at the same counter.
I firmly believe that no queue hates like a British queue spurned; though naturally this will be the limit of our action.
posted by biffa at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2004

I'm almost positive there are no limits (or at least no signs saying so) on our self-checkout areas, but I'll check again when I go. I love checking out my own groceries, it's fun.
posted by agregoli at 12:05 PM on January 28, 2004

I've pretty much eradicated any vestige of grocery etiquette I once had - it was either that, or leave the Greek supermarkets in tears in every time. I still will allow people with only a couple of items to get in front of me in line when I have a lot in my basket, unless they are little old ladies. The little old ladies here are monstrous; they always barge in front of you without asking, and I've even had one behind me in line who, very purposely, kept knocking me in the butt with her cart - I still can't imagine what that was supposed to achieve. The Greeks find the whole idea of British/American-style lines and queues very amusing and slightly puzzling. So here, the proper thing to do would be to rush over there from wherever you are, elbowing aside anyone who happens to be in the way; extra points if you stampede a granny.
posted by taz at 12:07 PM on January 28, 2004

Operations Research proved decades ago that single-server, multiple-queue is the fastest way to serve a bunch of people, like boomchicka said in the first response. It's why the banks (and at least one big theater around here) use it - no "other line" moves faster, new servers automatically help everyone, and a single long checkout doesn't unnecessarily delay the rest of the line. If only there were a way to get supermarkets to use it.

At the local Mega-Lo Mart, the checkers often wave people with full carts into the "express" lanes when they're free, especially if there are only one or two non-express lanes open. That's happened to me a few times, and I usually feel the guilt of going through full checkout when someone walks up behind me with a bag of cookies and a carton of milk. But the MLM finds it cheaper not to staff non-express lanes at off-peak times, and this is how they cope.

As for the original question, I combine chivalry with opportunism. Usually the lines here are short enough that there are only one or two people between me and service. If the person in front of me makes no sign to move to a newly-opened line, I go for it. If she does, I let her go first, and then assess whether following her would be faster than staying where I am (depending on how full her cart is, how full the cart of the guy in front of me now is, and so on).

The MLM staff usually avoids this, though, by picking someone out of the old line as it opens the new one. "Ma'am, I can check you out on 5 now, please come with me." Perhaps its just our inherent Oklahoma politeness, at least to each other.
posted by mdeatherage at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2004

Answer: Kick ass, and, if you need to, pick up some bubblegum.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2004

One situation that happened to me recently was at a movie theater concessions stand (one long desk, one cash register, multiple workers). There were 5 people in line, I was in the middle, when suddenly a new employee popped out and said "I can help the next person." With no hesitation, the behind me popped over and started his order. Soon after, the man behind him followed suit and basically created a second line.

Is it ever right to assume a second line should be created when there are not designated lanes with numbers?
posted by magnetbox at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2004

What if there are two open registers on opposite sides of the same aisle (as in a self-checkout)? I was waiting in line at one of these, when this woman came up behind me and asked which register I was in line for. "Whichever one's first," I said, viewing the situation sort of like the line for teller windows in the bank. "That's not how it works!" she said. I was pretty sure that that's exactly how it works, but I was a wimp and moved to the register that happened to be the slowest.
posted by transona5 at 2:27 PM on January 28, 2004

In Cashiering School/General Merchandising, not sure if they still exist since everything is scanned, the union grocery stores chains would send you there to be trained.

The next person in line is always next. When a lane opens up and I'm next, usually pass the offer since the walk will take up some time, so the line will flow better as the person behind me will finish about the same time too.
The worse, is finding yourself in a closed line and being next. Then you move over to the new line finding yourself the last person and the clerk not caring. It is a job clerking the lines at times. Sometime hope is all you have, when hoping your customers will show patience with a rude person in line.
I've seen it all, from the pushy, walk right up, cut in line while a customer's transaction was in process; to running by me showing item(s) and tossing the cash as they said: no receipt needed, keep the change.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:50 PM on January 28, 2004

There were 5 people in line, I was in the middle, when suddenly a new employee popped out and said "I can help the next person." With no hesitation, the behind me popped over and started his order.
The clerk should have said something, yet if he was not observaning, he's clueless, so say, I'm next.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:02 PM on January 28, 2004

As a former grocery cashier, PLEASE yell at the assholes who try to bring a cartful of groceries into the express lane. The cashiers really aren't able to say anything to them since "The Customer Is Always Right" [/puke]. In the cases where the customer is actually an illiterate asshat, I loved the vigilante shoppers who would get into little fights with them. Ah, memories.
posted by gatorae at 5:24 PM on January 28, 2004

Take my 30 seconds, please!
*takes scarabic's 30 seconds*
posted by languagehat at 6:40 PM on January 28, 2004

Dammit, languagehat, thanks to you it took me 90 seconds to write this pithy reply to transona5:

this woman came up behind me and asked which register I was in line for. "Whichever one's first," I said, viewing the situation sort of like the line for teller windows in the bank. "That's not how it works!" she said.

I fucking hate that shit so much I could.... Seeya in the county lockup, Hildago!
posted by scarabic at 10:34 PM on January 28, 2004

Sadly enough this is an issue that bugs me.

The CVS near my office is set up with one counter lane and multiple cashiers. The customers usually opt for a single line, but the store keeps trying to force people into multiple lines! They post signs and have the "greeter" tell people repeatedly to form multiple lines.

If the customers are happier in one line - whats the big deal!
posted by Julnyes at 2:24 PM on January 29, 2004

If you tolerate people taking too many items into the express lane, then you get what you deserve.

Also, I was oddly amused when another shopper called me a "bitch" because she failed when she tried to cut me off in heading to a new line.

As far as entitlement to a lead position in a new line, nope. Your position in line entitles you to your position in that line, not in an absolute checkout order.
posted by NortonDC at 7:39 PM on January 29, 2004

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