Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Nobody Goes There Anymore… It’s Too Crowded

The other day I was driving by a Chick-fil-A restaurant at lunchtime. I was blown away by how many people were in the drive-through lane. There had to be at least 20 cars. I thought to myself, “That’s a long line. You really have to love Chick-fil-A to brave that line at lunchtime.”

Then I noticed they had four people on the lot taking orders from the people in the drive-through. They eliminated the problem. The cars were moving through the line at a pretty good speed. Actually, they moved faster than the traffic I was sitting in on the main street. Brilliant thinking… just because you’re in the drive-through lane, doesn’t mean you have wait to get to the front of the line to order.

There’s an old saying often attributed to Yogi Berra, who was known to say some pretty clever things. I believe he was referring to a restaurant when he said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” My take on this is that the place was so successful and the wait to get a table so long, people just stopped going to what was once a very popular restaurant.

I remember when Home Depot came to the St. Louis area, which is where I live. The parking lots were jammed, and the lines were long – so long that it prompted a local news station to come out and report on how long the lines were. Well, a smart manager realized he had to change this problematic reputation, so Home Depot started advertising that the lines would never be longer than five minutes. Any customers who had to wait in line longer than that would receive a discount. Problem solved. Bad reputation averted.

When your success causes your customers frustration because you are too busy to take care of them, you are at risk of losing your best customers. How often will people wait in a long line for a meal before deciding it’s not worth the time? How long will customers wait on hold for a customer service rep before switching to another brand?

There are exceptions to this. Pink’s Hot Dogs, a popular roadside restaurant in Hollywood, California, comes to mind. Its reputation for long lines is part of the experience. But those types of business are few and far between. Most of the time, you’ll frustrate customers.

If you’re so successful that you cause your customers the inconvenience of having to wait, you may be casting doubt into your customers’ minds about the next experience they are going to have with you. That’s when it’s time to get creative and find ways to create confidence, not frustration.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact 314-692-2200 or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs, go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

  1. Long lines are a real danger for any successful business. The challenge is the impact on customers is both real and perceived. For example, your initial reaction to the long Chick-fil-A line was it was too long to wait in, until you saw the extra employees moving things along.

    I often notice the line problem in the morning at my local Starbucks. Once the line gets to eight people, the store starts losing customers. People walk in, see the line, and decide they don’t have time. (App-based ordering has helped this problem quite a bit since people now skip the line.)

    Disney is a master at controlling the perception side of wait times, by making the line (and the wait) feel shorter rather than longer.

    • Great to hear from you, Jeff. Companies are starting to recognize the friction that is created with lines and over-crowding. I was just at a conference where the Starbucks line was long. Smart customers simply ordered through the app and then picked up their drink. Brilliant (by both Starbucks and their customers)!

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