How to Wait Less in Supermarket Lines

waiting in line at Whole Foods
Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

Because we're lucky enough to live in the First World, our "problems" include "Uber rides that take five minutes longer than we expected" and "waiting in line." Waiting in line, in 2015! How come science hasn't solved that for us yet? 

MIT professor Dr. Richard Larson, aka Dr. Queue, is at least turning a scientific eye towards the issue. He's spent over 25 years researching the psychology of waiting in lines (or queueing), and shared his insights on how to wait in line less and how to make it more bearable when you get stuck.

waiting in line
Flickr/Phil Sexton

Why do we hate waiting in line so much, anyway?

"Each of us is given a finite number of minutes on planet Earth. We don't know what that finite number is, but it's finite. The infuriating part is if you feel like some of those minutes are being stolen from you, wasted -- you feel momentary imprisonment."

Save time by studying the lines first

"I look to see if there's a bagger along with a clerk. If there's a bagger along with a clerk, that doubles the speed. I'll also look at the people in front of me to figure out, is there going to be a lot of coupons? Or is it an efficient person?"

waiting in line

Spend less time waiting in lines by not waiting in the line at all

"There are some startups involved [in solving that problem]. You can place your order online and you tell them what time you'll be in the parking lot, and they'll load up your car. (Editor's Note: Curbside is our choice for that service. We also like Instacart, which will actually deliver your groceries within an hour.) The key thing is to avoid the rush hours. If you avoid the rush hours, the lines aren't very long, or might not exist at all."

When you're stuck in line, you can at least improve the experience

Taking out your phone and staring at it will distract you, but Dr. Queue doesn't like it. "That's okay to a point, but so many lives now are just totally virtual. So many humans don't know where they are." If a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is telling you to put down your phone, you should listen.

Instead, he offers, "I would recommend [focusing on your breath/meditating] as one of the ways you can calm down in queueing. I like to reflect on life or daydream. Or I'll introduce myself to someone who's an adjacent queuer and make a new friend."

He continues, "I'm not a big fan of just living in the virtual life all the time. It's nice to introduce yourself to a human who might be standing next to you."

But if you continue to stare at Thrillist on your phone for another minute, we won't complain.

Lee Breslouer is a senior writer at Thrillist and doesn't mind waiting in line and sitting in traffic. Follow him to more news you can use at: @LeeBreslouer.