How to always pick the shortest queue

How to always pick the shortest queue

Is it just me, or do you also ALWAYS choose the wrong queue in the supermarket? Quick tip, if you spot me in your local store, get into a different line.

Here are my tips to make sure you always pick the right queue so you don’t spend any more time than necessary in a manic supermarket. Life is too short!

Supermarket queue

Ditch the five items or less queue

Nope, it’s not because sneaky so-and-so’s ignore the rules and pack a month’s worth of shopping into a basket, it’s the number of people in line that adds more to the wait time than the number of items each person has in their cart.

Just think about it, scanning an item takes no time, it’s the shopper faffing about putting items out of their basket, then into carrier bags. Oh, and then you have to wait for them to rummage through their bag for their wallet, and then find their card – then, ‘OH, I HAVE TWO MILLION COUPONS’.

Dan Meyer, a maths teacher and blogger who analysed the data said: When you add one person to the line, you’re adding 48 extra seconds to the line length (that’s “tender time” added to “other time”) without even considering the items in her cart. Meanwhile, an extra item only costs you an extra 2.8 seconds. Therefore, you’d rather add 17 more items to the line than one extra person!

Now of course, if you get the checkout assistant who is chatting away with their colleague and really doesn’t want to be there, the results may differ.

Supermarket queue

Avoid self service machines – or know the tricks

Real talk, are you faster than a checkout assistant? Probably not, as they are professionals. One of the main reasons you are not quicker is that unlike with the main line, there is a scanning delay on the self service machines, meaning you aren’t able to scan at the speed you may be capable of.

Also, can you trust your fellow shopper to be quick and efficient? Hell no. Never join the self-checkout queue unless there is an open terminal immediately available. Not everyone has the required skill necessary to operate what should amount to a fairly simple computer interface (read between the lines here…).

However, if you feel like you want brave the self service machine, here’s the optimum way to do it. Scan the item, put it on the platform where the bags are, but do not bag them. Keep doing this for the few items you have, press pay now, debit or cash, swipe – and only then put your items in your bag.

There’s no wasting time trying to get a bag open with one hand, while you have a product in your other hand, while the machine screeches ‘please place the item in the bagging area’ while people (like me) tut at you.

Supermarket queue

Someone buying loads of fresh fruit and veg? Banana split (geddit?)

Avoid a line if you see someone with a lot of produce, as these items can slow down checkout cashiers (especially inexperienced ones who have to look up codes). It’s far quicker to scan something with a barcode than it is to weigh some fruit/veg, find it in the computer system and then put through.

Supermarket queue

Veer to the left

Most people are right-handed so we have a natural inclination to turn right. Do the opposite, as queues on the left maybe emptier.

Scout out the people in the queue

Ok – here’s where you have to be a bit judgey – and sure, although it may not be very nice, if you’re in a rush it may save you some valuable time. Look for the shoppers who seem to have some place to go and/or look like they know what they are doing. It’s better to be behind someone in a suit who is buying his lunch and has to get back to work, than an elderly person who is in no rush to go anywhere.

Supermarket queue

Pick the serpentine queue

A serpentine queue is the long winding line in which a number is called to send you to the next available register ‘Cashier number 6 please!’. The beauty of this kind of line is that it prevents one person from holding up an entire line if they take too long with their shopping.

It may seem like this is the worst line because it is so long, but it isn’t.


It’s your turn, how to get through quicker

  1. Sort your items based on how you want them bagged. Meats together, cold things together, boxes together, bread together, fizzy drink bottles laid down on the belt pointing towards the cashier so they don’t roll.
  2. If you’re buying cigarettes, booze, fireworks, knives – anything where there is an age limit, have your ID ready.
  3. If you have coupons, inform the cashier straight away and ask if they need them now or if they need them later.
  4. Have your method of payment ready to go once the scanning is complete. There’s a special place in hell for people who wait in queue for 5 minutes to only start digging around for their money once everything is packed away.
  5. If the cashier is shorted handed and you’re in a hurry – help them pack.


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