Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

The person at the end of a queue should actually be served first, according to new research

rexfeatures_5813141co.jpg

Along with tea, talking about the weather and passive-aggressive politeness, the British fondness for forming an orderly line forms a fundamental part of our national identity. At a time when the world often seems to be collapsing around our ears (thanks, 2016 – you’ve been a real joy), a nice, organised queuing system provides some much-needed stability.

Because you know where you are with a queue. The person at the front gets served first, and then the person after them, and everyone else waits politely for their turn with no pushing (or, heaven forfend, cutting in line).

At least, that’s how we’ve always done things. But now a group of academics from the University of Southern Denmark has made the bold claim that the traditional way we queue is inefficient and – gasp! – wrong.

In a paper titled The curse of the first-in-first-out queue discipline, economists Trine Tornoe Platz and Lars Peter Osterdal make the argument for a radical new method of queuing – where the last person in line gets served first.

queue

You'd never guess, but through that door is the hottest club in town.

They say that serving the first person in a queue first gives people an incentive to start queueing early – which ends up causing a backlog of people, thus forcing everyone to wait longer. (Think of the ridiculous queues to get into Wimbledon, for example.)

But if the last person in a backlogged queue was served first, there would be no reason for people to start queuing early – dramatically reducing the likelihood of a severe backlog at all.


Read more: This ‘Very British Problems’ Twitter account is all of us


If the last person in a line was served first, Platz and Osterdal argue, people would be encouraged to arrive at a slower rate, reducing everyone’s time spent in line.

The mythology surrounding British people and queuing is thought to have begun around the time of the industrial revolution in the early 19th century. As more and more people moved into urban areas in search of work, the way they shopped and interacted with one another began to require greater organisation.

queues

The British way: women queuing for their shopping in Birmingham during WWII.

“Traders started moving from market stalls into shops as they moved into towns,” says historian Juliet Gardiner. “In the more formal setting of a shop people had to start to queue up in a more structured way.”

But it was WWII that cemented our reputation as a nation of queuers.


Read more: How to skip the queues and bag yourself a table at London's best no-booking restaurants


“Propaganda at the time was all about doing your duty and taking your turn,” Dr Kate Bradley, a lecturer in social history and social policy at the University of Kent, tells the BBC. As a result, the queue became weighted with symbolic meaning, representing core British values like decency, fair play and democracy.

But if the Danes have their way, it looks like that terribly British sense of order might be tipped on its head.

Images: Rex Features, iStock

Related

you and your dog.jpg

A Great British Bake Off-inspired dog show is coming to the BBC

zoe_turn_rt.jpg

The (chatty) girl on the train

landscape-1452114078-elle-the-crown-index.jpg

New Netflix series The Crown is already mapped for three seasons

More

20 soothing, beautiful songs guaranteed to help you fall asleep

An expert picks the ultimate classical music playlist

by Sarah Biddlecombe
20 Oct 2017

Puppy dog eyes are a thing and your dog makes them just for you

A study says dogs change their facial expressions when humans are looking

by Amy Swales
20 Oct 2017

Here’s how to buy a house or a flat for the princely sum of £1

It's time to enter the real-estate raffle

by Megan Murray
20 Oct 2017

Oxford University under fire for shocking lack of racial diversity

One MP called the revelations an example of “social apartheid”

by Moya Crockett
20 Oct 2017

This prosecco festival is the best way to start feeling Christmassy

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere

by Susan Devaney
20 Oct 2017

Missing your 16-25 railcard? We have good news for you

Rail bosses have taken pity on cash-strapped millennials

20 Oct 2017

This man’s response to his friend’s period while hiking is everything

“I had NOTHING on me and I was wearing shorts”

by Susan Devaney
20 Oct 2017

Why anxiety makes it harder to follow your intuition

It can have a paralysing effect on decision-making

by Anna Brech
19 Oct 2017

“Why all men must work to stamp out sexual harassment and abuse”

In wake of the Weinstein allegations, one writer argues why men need to be counted

19 Oct 2017

Rage, lust, power and warmth: how it feels to experience ‘red emotions

“I grew up being told my body was terrifying and my voice was unimportant”

by The Stylist web team
19 Oct 2017