Why waiting in lines isn’t the worst thing

I went to New York City this weekend and I stood in a lot of lines. Some lines were to expected, like waiting to get on the ferry to Ellis Island. But other lines were of a different variety. I waited in a 30 minute line at 11 o’clock at night for a sit down restaurant that serves milkshakes. Seriously?

I also waited in a line for a hole in the wall burger joint behind a curtain inside a fancy hotel.

There are obvious benefits to lines when you’re the restaurant owner:

  • A predictable stream of customers
  • No down-time and more revenue
  • Social proof that your restaurant is the place to be

There are also some benefits to a line when you’re the consumer. This is counterintuitive, but that’s why it’s interesting.

  • Waiting in line adds to the feeling of adventure. When you finally get inside and have your milkshake, it tastes amazing because you struggled to get it. Your hard work and patience make┬áthe milkshake taste better.
  • So much of happiness is anticipatory. That whole time you’re in line, you’re so excited to get your food. It’s just like looking forward to a warm vacation in the middle of the winter. You get joy for months leading up to the trip because you have this great event coming up.
  • So much of happiness is the memory. It’s not ever day you wait in a 20 minute line to get into a hidden burger joint, but when you look back on that unique experience, you remember it fondly. You remember it as an experience and not just ground beef between two buns. You remember a collective struggle that was worth it in the end.
  • People like rare stuff. A rare baseball card is special. An exclusive club is desirable. A long line is a proxy for rarity and exclusivity. Not anyone can get in. You have to pay your dues and wait on the sidewalk for 30 minutes first.

We may not like the idea of standing in lines, but sometimes it enhances the experience. It builds anticipation for the event, it helps us cherish the experience and it makes for a better story in the end.