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‘Queue’ the eye-rolling: Danish study finds serving last person in line first is most efficient




Miami voters wait in a long line to cast their ballots early for the President of the United States October 27, 2004. There are reports of people waiting up to three hours to vote in the South Florida area
Miami voters wait in a long line to cast their ballots early for the President of the United States October 27, 2004. There are reports of people waiting up to three hours to vote in the South Florida area
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Submitted for your approval: what if we served the last person in line first instead of serving the first person in line first?

While this may sound like something out of the Twilight Zone, a new study out from researchers at the University of Southern Denmark suggests that a last-come-first-serve system for serving lines is actually more efficient.

To do this, the researchers made two assumptions: those in line want to be served as quickly as possible and want to spend the least amount of time possible waiting in line. They then analyzed three different systems of serving lines: the traditional first-come-first-served, randomly selecting the order in which people are served, and last-come-first-served.

When they crunched all the numbers, they concluded that the last-come-first-served system is most efficient because it doesn’t incentivize waiting in line like the first-come-first-served system does.

So instead of being rewarded for waiting in line the longest, researchers say that people would be more inclined to come intermittently instead of all at once when there isn’t capacity to serve everyone.

The study authors acknowledge that we’re not likely to see this method put into practice anytime soon because of the practical challenges it creates. Research suggests that people are more concerned about fairness than they are about being efficient, even if there’s a personal cost attached.

What do you think about employing a last-come-first-served system for lines? Do you mind waiting in line? Is it worth it? When? Why?

The curse of the first-in-first-out queue discipline

Guest:

Martin Lariviere, professor of managerial economics & decision sciences at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. You can read Professor Lariviere’s blog post on this study here