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Cutting the line

Having a queue of customers isn’t a problem if you’ve got systems in place to ensure it moves efficiently

If there’s one thing us Brits are good at, it’s queuing. Our ability to form an orderly queue is something that will astound other nations for years to come. But this doesn’t mean we enjoy doing it.

In fact, a recent study by University College London revealed that 5 minutes and 54 seconds is the amount of time a customer considers is reasonable before waiting starts to have a detrimental effect on their satisfaction levels. After this time, the customer’s satisfaction drops from 95% to 85% and by eight minutes it’s plummeted to 55%. The report also suggests that customers are unlikely to join a queue that has more than six people in it.

Whether you believe the findings or not, one thing is for sure, customers are becoming increasingly impatient. And while a queue can be a good thing when it comes to searching out somewhere to eat - people identify it with a good fish and chip shop - it needs to be managed in order to offer the best possible experience and reduce abandoned sales.

In a bid to improve the efficiency of his takeaway, Taylor’s Fish & Chips in Penygraig, Mid Glamorgan, owner Darren Taylor revamped the shop’s layout, switching from a counter range to a high efficiency Florigo island range, Resulting in more space, Darren was able to go from one till and two servers to two tills and two servers plus have room for a third server when needed. He’s also introduced a barrier queuing system, which directs customers in one way and out another so the queue is in a complete circle and customers are not bumping in to each other.

Not only is the queue moving more quickly but Taylor’s is serving more customers, with takings up 15%. Darren comments: “Since I turned my shop around and we now have a completely different way of serving, I get queues which are just acceptable. On a busy Friday or Saturday people were waiting 15 minutes, now it’s more like five to eight minutes.

“Although it’s the same size shop, we’ve got more space. On the customer side, if there are four, five, six people waiting it doesn’t look as full now, whereas before it would and that would put people off.

“Before, customers in cars would take a look at the queue and drive on. Now they can see that customers are getting served pretty quickly, they are happy to join it.”

Investing in a second till has proven beneficial too for Jason Nicolaou, owner of Norton Fisheries in Stourbridge, Dudley, giving him the ability to dictate the pace of the queue. He comments: “If it’s getting busy, I can put more people on and that really helps get the queue down. Plus the girls aren’t getting in each other’s way, they aren’t leaning over each other, there’s less errors, which again helps the queue move.”

Weighing up whether to invest in a second till, Craig Maw, owner of Kingfisher Fish & Chips in Plymouth, Devon, went for a handheld tablet instead which has the same programme as his computerised till. “For us, we don’t tend to get really long queues,” Craig explains. “People will queue to a point but because we are on a neighbourhood estate, if the queue is too long they will just go and get something they can heat up at home, so it’s important for us to smash the queue down as quickly as possible.”

Only needing to use the tablet two or three times on a busy shift, Craig and his team can ramp the business up when they need to and ramp it down again when they don’t. Craig adds: “If we can eliminate 6, 8 or 12 customers ahead of schedule that really gets the queue down. And because the order goes to the kitchen, we get it immediately and start cooking the food so when the customer gets to the till, it’s ready to collect.”

Another benefit with this system is the interaction staff have with customers, something that can get lost on a busy shift. Craig adds: “For around £1,200 - £1,500 we could have put in another till, but then we needed somewhere for it to go and another person stood there. This cost a quarter of the price and we can we pull it out as and when needed.”

Offering its customers convenience but also helping to reduce queues at peak times, Churchill’s Fish and Chips has joined the increasing number of takeaways adopting order-ahead technology. By working with online ordering technology supplier Preoday, customers place and pay for their order online and, once instore, they then use a clearly marked and dedicated click and collect line to pick up their food. With a fully trained and dedicated click and collect staff member prepared to manage orders separately, queues are streamlined and the danger of creating a further queue when online orders increase is avoided.

At Eric’s Fish & Chips in Thornham, Norfolk, owner Eric Snaith has taken a different approach and invested in a pager system from Long Range Systems. As well as helping to disperse the queue, it also gets customers committing to the transaction earlier.

Eric comments: “On a really busy day, customers can wait up to 40 minutes as we cook all our food fresh to order. By handing them a buzzer, they now wait ten minutes to order their food and then they can have a drink at the bar, go and sit in the car or wait outside with the dog.

“It just makes for a much nicer customer experience and I think people often overlook the fact that if you do that, customers will come back. Whereas if customers are queueing for too long or the systems aren’t slick, it has a negative impression on you.”

For many shops, weighing up the cost of investing in extra staff or the latest queue busting technology will come down to the additional revenue and improved customer loyalty it’s likely to bring. But proving it doesn’t have to be expensive is Alberto Jaconelli, owner of The Bridge in Sauchie, Scotland, who simply invested in an additional member of staff and a pen and paper.

He comments: “I employ someone in the carry out who goes down the queue taking any special order items that take longer to cook. By the time the customer gets to the counter, their order is ready. It means they are only waiting once, not waiting 15 minutes to order and 15 minutes for their food.

“It’s fantastic, not just for the customers but it’s also great for taking the pressure off the girls at the counter. They can concentrate on dishing up orders that are already ready.”

What Alberto has also noticed is that customers are a lot happier to now join the queue, adding “If a customer comes to me and they’ve waited 30 minutes, the next time they drive past and see another huge queue they are going to think ‘I can’t be bothered’ and I’ve lost the sale. But because they know they will be in and out in 15 minutes, they will stop.”

Carl Heery, owner of Fairfield Plaice in Buxton, has also taken a low cost approach and accepts telephone orders, which he says is a big help for larger orders as staff can get everything ready for collection at an agreed time.

“As we only have a small customer area this is as important to us as the ‘walk-in’ customers.” he says. “People generally call for their order 20 minutes before collecting, some factories call in the morning for lunchtime, and nursing homes drop off a list a few days in advance. This is vital as they tend to order lots of things in bulk and I need to make sure I have the necessary stock.”

Ultimately, different queuing strategies will work for different shops. The important thing is to monitor your waiting time, see if there’s anything you can do to improve it and, of course, manage expectations while customers are waiting.



At the Golden Carp in Redditch, Worcestershire, waiting customers are kept occupied with a 38inch TV screen showing customers what goes on behind the scenes, from how it prepares, stores and cooks the food to nutritional information and details of the awards the takeaway has proudly attained.

Owner Theo Ellinas comments: “This lets the customers see exactly what actually goes on behind the counter and in the prep room, because we are all curious and want to see what we are actually buying.”

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