The Fastest Line at the Grocery Store, According to The New York Times

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

What’s your strategy for choosing the shortest line at the grocery store? Do you just go for length of the line? Do you try to decipher if anyone standing in line is actually together? Do you look to see how many baskets versus carts are in line? A new study by Christopher Mele for The New York Times suggests a new way to get through the line faster, and it’s not what you think.

According to Mele, you should choose the shortest line where shoppers have the fullest carts. Mele talked to mathematician Dan Meyer, who explains this concept: “Every person requires a fixed amount of time to say hello, pay, say goodbye, and clear out of the lane,” says Meyer. This whole interaction takes about 41 seconds per person, and that it takes only three seconds to ring up items. The fixed 41 seconds will not change depending on the amount of people in line, so you have to calculate the three seconds per item instead.

Mele explains this logic: “One person with 100 items to be rung up will take an average of almost six minutes to process. If you get in a line with four people who each have 20 items, it will take an average of nearly seven minutes.”

Does every line at the grocery store appear to have the same number of people and items? Mele suggests other ways to get through the line faster, including choosing the left lanes and avoiding talkative cashiers.

Read More About the Fastest Grocery Store Lines in The New York Times: How to Pick the Fastest Line at the Supermarket

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