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Attendee behaviour: is the clue in the culture?

Paul Foster, founder of event site planning platform OnePlan, explains the psychology of queuing and notes the systems that will keep even the most impatient fan happy

13 Feb 2020

Boredom, restlessness and annoyance – these are the common synonyms for the word “queue.” As far as event planners are concerned, queues are the necessary evil to ensure attendees are safe and the event space doesn’t exceed its capacity. But how can we make this better?

It is important to understand queue psychology and how it differs across the world.

Queue psychology is truly the key to unlocking efficient queue management. People feel that “occupied” time passes more quickly than “unoccupied” time, and generally overestimate the amount of time waited by around 36%. Therefore, giving people an activity to distract them from a wait can reduce complaints of delays. One example of this is placing small tempting items on display at retail checkouts. Another is at festivals, where goodies (or even water) are handed out in queues to keep people happy. They also can “trick” people by putting up signs that overestimate the wait time so people are pleasantly surprised when they get in more quickly than expected.

This last tactic can be done at entry and exit points by creating a mobile app for the event and its queues to allow attendees to track the waiting time, which kiosks have freed up, and which exits are most efficient when they wish to leave. This keeps them distracted, gives them a sense of having greater control over their situation, and makes queueing up more efficient.

How you design the queue can work wonders to ease attendees’ anxieties. Say you have a multi-channel queueing system where there are multiple service points, for example ticket collection and catering concessions. Queue system A gives customers a choice but also the risk of displeasure if they join a queue that moves more slowly than the others. One slowly serviced customer at the front of the queue has an impact on all those queuing behind.

The single-lane queue system B ensures people don’t feel they have lost out by joining a slower queue and it will move more often as it feeds into multiple servers.


If you do opt for a snaked system like in design B remember that when there is a quieter period of attendees arriving, it can be highly frustrating for people to have to walk a long distance through a queue system. The image below shows a queue system at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games Ice Hockey venue. Despite there only being a small number of people arriving, they have to walk over 160 metres to travel 20 metres!

During periods of very low demand, visitors should be able to walk straight in by the most direct and shortest route.

Now, culture.

If someone cuts in front of you at the local Waitrose, you’d be astonished. At a street market in Delhi, not so much. Culture plays a huge role in determining attendee behaviour. By considering the nationalities and wider demographics of your attendees, you could avoid some public safety issues as well as save some money on your event budget.

The example below shows a queue system for a large event in Japan. Despite the absence of crowd barriers and signage, the attendees are obedient and orderly.

However, this behaviour is not common elsewhere in the world, where in some cases, people will do almost anything to avoid queuing, especially if the wait time is extremely long and no information is provided to those who are queuing.

The Brits? They have a reputation for liking a queue however in reality they are more accepting of queuing as it is an everyday occurrence and they’re unlikely to want to draw attention to themselves by jumping the queue. During the 2012 Olympic Games there were often long queues before venue doors opened as people wanted to make the most of the event as tickets were hard to come by and in some cases expensive.

Conversely, in some Middle Eastern countries, there is low tolerance for queuing and people tend to form crowds rather than orderly lines.

Understanding if your attendees are accustomed to queuing (and what types of queuing), which events they typically go to, and how they react to long wait times, is essential when planning an event. Say you’re planning an event in Japan, where attendees are familiar with a venue and there is no fixed start time and the weather is expected to be pleasant, you may only need minimal crowd barriers and staff to manage crowds. By contrast, for a major football match in the UK where both sets of fans are from a foreign country and English is not the first language, you may need a more proactive approach with additional resources.

Habits vary nationality to nationality but other factors such as age and social status will also have an impact. It’s therefore worth researching your audience when designing safety and security for your event.


Paul Foster is founder of OnePlan, the event space mapping platform which combines the best characteristics of CAD and Google Earth with the most powerful event planning tools.

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