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It takes something very special to generate a quarter-mile queue. Shake Shack did it, despite having ‘the laws of the line’ seemingly against them. On offer was a gourmet, one-day only chef-designed burger as part of its 10th birthday celebrations. People stood in line for over two hours hoping to wrap their jaws around one of the 1000 burgers being sold.
I’ve witnessed huge queues before, but never for a burger. Hunger normally trumps patience for most people and they balk at joining a line that’s 50 deep, let alone 500.
So how can you explain the Madison Square Park phenomenon? Well New York magazine sought the input of queue expert Richard Larson, director of MIT's Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals. (It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we now have qualified experts on queues, yet somehow it still is!) And his insights, in this instance, make perfect sense. Shake Shack’s limited edition burgers were all about the exclusivity of the experience. The mystery of what awaited. Only 1,000 people would get to taste one.
As the queue grew, it became something of an attraction in itself. Bragging rights for the people in it, who were no doubt taking selfies and posting Facebook updates. It was an event, which made it unique, and obviously tolerable. Whereas elsewhere Larson notes the secret to a good queue is making sure its inhabitants are distracted from the wait, so their attention is elsewhere and not just thinking about the wait. Not just that, but people need to know their patience will be rewarded. And that, at the end of the day, is what counts.