The Book of Good Living: Standing in Line

good stuffToo harsh? Anything you’d add?

The General Rule

It all comes down to fairness. It’s fair that the guy who got there first deserves to be waited on first. If there are people behind you in line, NOTICE THEM, and remember you’re taking their time too. Do the deed and move along.

If you were in traffic and the light turned green, other drivers would expect you to move off immediately, not sit there texting or talking or dithering. And so would you. They’ve got 30 minutes for lunch, they’re late for an appointment, they have to get home right away, they want to get on with their day. Care about it and move things along.

C’mon, you’ve been standing in lines since you were 5 years old. You know the drill; you just have to do it.

A. Cashiering

1) Cashiers: If there’s a small crowd of people standing randomly out there, don’t just grab the first person your eyes fall on. Ask “Who was next?” The people waiting out there KNOW who was next.

2) Cashiers: This is your job, not private time to socialize with your friend or off-duty co-worker. Your first priority is customers, always. If people are waiting, every second you spend chatting with your friend is stolen from others. “Sorry, got people waiting. Catch me on my break.”

3) Customers: This is not the time to go on with the cashier about little Bobby’s baseball game, or the weather. She can’t gracefully say “Gotta cut you off, you’re taking up these other people’s time.” Smile at her and move on.

4) Customers: If the cashier or order person ignores you in favor of a private conversation, walk the hell out and call the manager, or the corporate office. They really do want to know. Chances are everybody involved will remember you, and it will never happen again.

B. Waiting

1) Fair’s fair. If someone is ahead of you, they’re ahead of you. Signal them to go ahead, even if there’s some confusion on the part of the cashier.

2) No cuts. Seriously, are you 8 years old? The guy behind you is behind YOU, not your whole family and extended friends list who happen to stroll up when you reach the first position. If you all want to go together, how about YOU move to the rear of the line with them?

3) It just takes some people longer. Be patient with them. They probably don’t mean to be like that. It might be their first time at this joint. They might be new to the country, or Planet Earth.

4) If there are 4 of you, Mommy and Daddy and Millie and Billy, but only one of you is ordering, have that one person stand in line and order. The rest of you, move slightly away so others can see the menu, the second register, etc.

5) We all deserve some personal space. Don’t loom, don’t touch, especially with women. Stand back a ways from the person in front of you.

6) Speak up. If a guy walks past you and up to the counter when it was your turn, say “I’m sorry, I was ahead of you.” Use a carrying voice if you feel the need. Nobody will think less of you, and you do have the right not to be stepped on. Also: If somebody’s being a dick, and someone else speaks up, back that guy up by also speaking up. “I’m sorry, he’s right. He was next, and we all know it. You’ll have to step back.”

C. Ordering

1) Get off your fucking phone and do your business. Don’t waste other people’s time. Repeat to yourself: “Order. Pay. Get out of the way.”

2) If you stand in line for 5 minutes before finally reaching the order desk, and THEN start peering dopily at the menu and thinking about what you want, you have failed as a human being and probably deserve to be clocked on the back of the head. That guy behind you probably knows exactly what he wants, and the lady behind him ditto. Think ahead at least enough to know pretty much what you want by the time you get there. If you’re a parent, get your kid’s order settled while you wait, not when you reach the counter.

3) If you’re in a group, it’s even more important that everybody figures out what they want before you get to the order desk. Laugh and talk after you get back to your table.

4) If there’s nobody behind you in line, you have time to explore all the hidden options of the Secret Menu. If it’s lunch hour, and there are 8 people in line behind you, order something off the menu with no substitutions. Play gourmet next time.

D. Paying

1) Hey, dummy. You’re in line to buy something, right? There will be this moment when you have to pay for it, right? Don’t just stand there like a cotton-headed sock monkey and then go “Oh, goodness, let me find my little wallet” when it’s time to pay. Have your card or your money ready, or where you can get to it quickly.

2) If it’s a really busy day, move to the side slightly before tucking away your receipt and change.

3) Coin Purse Ladies Only: If there are people behind you, don’t go searching for your little coin purse and then fish around in it for that last penny of exact change. Nobody’s getting any younger; move things along.

E. Picking Up

1) If you’ve ordered and there’s a pickup point down the counter, move there. Don’t stand blocking the order counter.

2) Emergency assistance: If the lady who just picked up her order comes back to complain that her order wasn’t right, make allowances. She deserves to get what she ordered, just as you do. Waiting in line again isn’t fair.


Couple of good comments from Facebook:

Chris Leithiser: When you’ve put all your groceries/items on the conveyor belt at the checkstand, it’s YOUR job to put a divider AFTER them. If there are none available, wait until one comes free and then do it. That way the person after you can start unloading her basket.

Dayla Reagan-Buell: I allow people behind me at the grocery store to go before me if they have fewer items — especially if the have ice cream, bags of ice etc.


  • Machintelligence

    A good story, probably apocryphal, from the opening day of DIA airport in Denver:
    At the United ticket counter, the clerks were trying to reticket fliers that had been bumped from flights due to opening day screw-ups. Lines were long and slow moving. One self-important gentleman walked to the front of the line and announce that he needed to be put on a plane for Cleveland — right now. The agent politely informed him that she understood why he was upset, but everyone else was having the same problems.
    In a loud voice he asked her “Do you know who I am?”
    She grabbed the microphone and announced “We have a passenger at United ticket counter 3 who does not know who he is. If anyone has any information about him we would appreciate it.” The folks in line began laughing.
    Becoming red faced and apoplectic he yelled “Screw you!”
    “I’m sorry sir,” she informed him, “you will have to stand in line for that too.”

  • Annerdr

    Hmm, I let a couple cut line ahead of me two days ago because (1) they lost their place in line chasing down a wayward toddler; and (2) said toddler was whining and clearly on the way to a meltdown. One guy gave me the evil eye, but I thought I was doing a service for the entire store to get them out before the full temper tantrum started.
    On the flip side, I’ve been allowed to cut in front of others when I had a sick, whiny toddler and toddler vomit on me. In fact everyone respected my personal space. I was picking up medicine for my son and was a single mom so there was no option for me other than taking him with me. He threw up on me in the store. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the people who waved me through to the front of the line.
    So, there might be special rules for parents with annoying toddlers, with permission of the others in line.

  • Machintelligence

    A small addendum for those who shop at home centers and big box lumber/hardware stores: make sure everything has a scan tag or SKU number on it. If it does not. copy down the number from the shelf tag to give to the cashier. This will save you time, since they will not have to call the department to find out what it is, and it will save me time, since I am usually behind you in line.

  • Chuck Farley

    This is excellent! I’ve had all these thoughts myself and I have a few more to compliment your list. It is especially important to know what you want ahead of time if you go through the drive thru. Don’t take 5 minutes to peruse the menu while in your car (unless there is no line). Also, the drive thru is a bad place to be a picky eater.

    When shopping in stores do not get in the checkout line until you are done shopping! Leaving your cart in the line to go grab one more thing is bad manners. Once you are in line, you are done shopping.