Supermarket queue rules

I’d nipped into Coles at Marketown on instructions to get something or other and as I strode through the fruit-and-veg section I saw celeriac for $3 each.

A good size, too, and so I loaded three into a bag, found whatever it was I was under instructions to get and headed for the check-outs, a little fearfully I’ll admit. It’s not that I’m a particularly impatient person – it is that I always pick the wrong queue, and that makes me very impatient. Much like, I suppose, driving behind unnecessarily slow drivers makes me impatient, or not being able to find the cut end of plastic wrap.

I rounded the end of a far aisle striding briskly lest someone beat me to the express checkout only to find that a dozen or so had, and one or two appeared to have more items than the limit of 12 or 15. Look, I try not to make too much of it, and I accept that a bag of potatoes is one item because they’re not priced individually, but fruit and vegetables priced individually are separate items, right! Even my three celeriac bulbs were three items, although I may have overlooked this if I’d needed to.

So then I set about looking for the quickest queue.

I can tell you from long experience that it is seldom if ever the shortest queue. And avoid any queue with a woman pensioner, or at least those with the most women pensioners, because they’ll be arguing about a few cents, and getting it wrong, they’ll insist an item was on special when a supervisor will eventually convince them it was the next item on the shelf that was on special, and, yes, she would like the supervisor to change the item thank you dearie that would be lovely; then they’ll have forgotten the pin for the card, and finally they’ll insist on searching in the bottom of their bag for loose change.

But I broke my rule to avoid the shortest queue, because I could see that the qeueue was even shorter than it appeared, that the three women were the one party. There was the elderly mother and two middle-aged daughters, and I took a punt that the two younger women would hurry her up.

I broke the rules about bypassing the shortest queue and any queue with an old biddy, and I paid the price. The last items to be put through were small tins of cat food which were, I gathered, at a special price for lots of three. But there were just 11, which meant that two of the cans registered as full price. Had one can been put through already? No. And by now the three women were talking simultaneously at the young girl on the checkout, and the mother realised that some of the cans were a flavour her cats didn’t like anyway.

Then I broke another rule, never quit a queue. I bolted for the self-serve check-out area, commandeered a nearby staffer to show me how, by which I meant do it for me, and I’m as good as out the door. Yes, celeriac, I answered. C E L E R I A C. Yes, begins with a c. No, no k at the end. It’s not there? Of course it is! No, it’s not there; no I don’t want to wait for a supervisor.

So I headed back the way I’d come, past the jabbering old biddy and her jabbering daughters, to a queue of average length, three people with half full trolleys. Are we better to join a queue of more people with fewer items or of fewer people with more items? The former, I find, is more likely to become stalled with a problem requiring a supervisor, and so on Friday I broke yet another rule but by now I was a bit steamy.

Have you ever waited while someone at the checkout races off to get another can to take the bill over $30 so she can get the petrol discount? I have, but I didn’t have to on Friday. Instead the checkout operator called for a supervisor, perhaps a problem with printing a receipt or short on change, and I didn’t hang around to find out.

This time I went in the other direction, past the long queue where the old biddy had been, past the self-serve check-out that didn’t list celeriac, to the shortest of two queues, and I was determined to stay put. And as I stayed put I watched the people in the long queue next to me move through quickly. They were long gone by the time I reached the bumbler I’d chosen, and no, I didn’t want to tell him how my day was going so far.

Do you have the secret of picking the right queue? Do you have queue rules?

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