How to Choose the Quickest Line at the Supermarket

This could be a total game changer

Waiting in line at the supermarket is a punishment everyone suffers on a regular basis. What might be worse than standing in line, though, is the anxiety you feel glancing around at your neighbors, wondering if you made the right decision to commit to your line.

Thanks to a recent article in the New York Times, you shouldn't worry any longer. The Times pooled a number of experts on supermarket science, including professors on supply chain management and the founder of a company that finds people to stand in line for you (yes, you read that correctly).

The conclusions aren't as intuitive as you might assume. Here are some of the key takeaways:

① Stand behind the fuller cart.
This might not sound like the wisest decision, but according to Dan Meyer, chief academic officer at an organization that studies the future of math and education, each customer uses a 41-second window to greet the cashier and get sorted. So more customers with fewer items in their carts could take longer than fewer customers with bigger carts.

② To the left, to the left.
Apparently, right-handed people have a tendency to turn to the right, and left-handed folks are more likely to turn to the left, according to Robert Samuel, founder of the line-waiting service. And since there are more righties than lefties out there, go against the grain and navigate yourself left.

③ Choose a line with more cashiers.
This may sound obvious, but most lines at the grocery store are parallel queues that pass through one cashier. But systems where the first person in line goes to the next available cashier are actually more efficient. They may look longer because everyone is standing together, but appearances can be deceiving (see rule number one).

Of course, there are also choices that you as a customer can make while standing in line to speed things along, and the Times made some helpful strategy suggestions. Abide by its rules and rest assured you're doing yourself, and your fellow shoppers, a great service. It's science.