Having just left Nantucket, I already miss the Juice Bar’s incredible homemade vanilla ice cream that I like to mix with their triple chocolate mountain (cookie dough, chocolate chips and brownies in chocolate ice cream). However, I will not miss the long evening lines that can stretch for more than a block.
A small section of a Juice Bar queue:
According to researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, there is an alternative.
Where are we going? To why the incentives for queues are all wrong.
A Shorter Line
If you observe traditional queue etiquette, the people who arrive early should get served first. The problem though is that the traditional way encourages us to arrive early. And the sooner more people arrive, the longer the line and the longer the wait.
On the other hand, if Apple, for example, told everyone interested in a new iPhone that the last people who showed up would be the first served, no one would show up twelve hours before opening time with a sleeping bag. And the line would be much shorter. Or, as an economist alluding to a Nash equilibrium would say, LIFO (last-in-first-out) is welfare optimal for all parties.
Our Bottom Line: Incentives
Whether signing up online for Obamacare, buying concert tickets or going to Shake Shack, most of us figure out an arrival strategy if we expect a long line. When the early birds are more likely to achieve success, we have the incentive to design a strategy that moves us in front of the crowd by getting there before everyone else. Ironically then, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy because our approach creates the bottlenecks we hope to avoid.
The solution? Change the incentives. With LIFO instead of FIFO (first-in-first-out) or even SIRO (service in random order), everyone is better off. But then, our social norm that says FIFO is fair will have to change.
As for the Juice Bar, until LIFO becomes their rule, I guess I will continue buying several quarts of ice cream and their fantastic homemade waffle cones at 11 a.m. when they open. Then, while blogging during the evening, I make my own vanilla/triple chocolate mountain waffle cone.