Whether you are stalled in traffic, twiddling your thumbs while you wait for a friend to arrive, doing Words With Friends in a doctor’s exam room donning nothing but a paper robe, or trying to get out of the parking lot after a game, we all spend a ridiculous amount of time waiting. If you’ve ever crossed your legs in anticipation while on the bathroom stall line at intermission, you know what I mean. Whether you wait on line, or in line, waiting sucks.
So it was with great excitement that I woke up this past week to a New York Times article titled, “How To Pick The Fastest Lane at the Supermarket.” In this article, Dan Meyer offers some interesting and counterintuitive techniques for waiting less at the supermarket. And even though I have a lot of fun judging what’s in other people’s carts while I’m in line, I’m always interested in saving a few minutes of precious time.
“How great is this?” I wondered, and decided to commit a few of the techniques to memory, anticipating how awesome I would be later on that afternoon as I picked up ingredients for dinner.
So here’s what I took to the market with me, based on the New York Times article (I’m paraphrasing here):
I would be better off getting in line behind the one person with a 100 items, versus 4 people each with 20 items, because each “how ya doing today, did you find everything you need?” takes up precious time. Pleasantries are time wasters.
I should Go Left (which I have advocated in other instances) rather than right. Righties generally go right, and most people are righties.
I should avoid chatty cashiers. Well, duh. But how you are supposed to know whether your cashier is chatty when you choose a lane?
I should choose a female cashier, because they are generally faster than their male counterparts.
I should avoid customers with lots of produce (duh).
I should avoid elderly customers like the plague. I’m going to assume he means REALLY old people, like the kind of old people who still sometimes write checks.
To this list I added my own strategies: 1. trying to find a lane where there is a bagger (though it seems that the minute I get to the front of the line, the bagger disappears) and 2. only shopping at stores that do not have that stupid credit card chip (is it just me who hates to wait for that thing?)
The lines were long at the grocery store that day, but I had ammunition. There were no baggers at any of the lanes, and no credit card chip devices. I assessed my cart: too many items for express; too much produce for self-check.
On to the lines…
I wanted to get this right, which added a degree of tension to the whole shoppping experience that I really did not need. I strolled the entire length of the store, perpendicular to the lines, wasting precious time making my assessment (Meyer forgot to mention that while you are assessing, other customers get in line and mess up your assessment from moments before.) I cracked my neck, rolled back my shoulders, and went to the left.
I passed by the line with the old man with a cane. I passed by the line with the woman with multiple bags of produce. I passed by the lines with lots of people with 20 items.
And then I saw it…the perfect lane, the one all the way to the left: One woman, very full cart, no excess produce, big items like diapers and paper towels…and I went for it, making the assessment that the utter perfection of the lane was worth the risk of the male cashier. It was a split second decision, as of course, it must be. I got in line.
Fail. The male cashier was the slowest cashier I have ever encountered. He talked with his hands, stopping the scanning to gesticulate while talking. And boy, could that guy chat.
“Stop CHATTING and start checking!” I screamed silently. I gave him my best, “hey some of us are in a hurry” look, which went unnoticed. I looked up, and saw a nun behind me with a full cart.
“I guess we picked the wrong lane,” I whispered to her, looking for a little sympathy.
“Oh, this guy is notorious,” she said, as she did an about face and moved her full cart out of the lane, and into another.
So one more strategy: never fully commit to a lane until you have checked out the reality of the cashier. A quick getaway is key, because you’re bound to pick the worse lane no matter what strategy you use; that’s just life.
However, I’m eagerly anticipating an article on how to pick the best lane in traffic.