Jan 27

The Trouble With Numbers

Nobody likes to queue. It feels like wasted time, you’re on your feet for ages, and you know there are other things you could be doing. Add a bored, tired child into the mix and you can see why parents are often grumpy after even a short wait.

The queue is also the bane of existence to face painters, as we are constantly trying to move the line along as quickly as we can, while simultaneously managing people’s expectations, and trying to create art on a moving target. Some days it can feel like a very far queue indeed.

But can we do without them? How about using a numbers system?

This is a common suggestion from event organisers and clients. The idea is that, much like waiting at a deli, each guest is issued a number so that they can go and do other activities and return when their number is called. While this can work for very small parties in a small contained area, or to finish off the queue at the end of the day, it’s generally inadvisable to use at busier events. It actually makes the wait longer, and requires a lot of management to implement. There are several common problems with the numbers system that clients aren’t aware of.

It takes more time. Often when you call a number, the customer is not there. It can often take an extra few minutes to find them, or for them to finish their activity and finally get into the face painter’s chair. This wastes precious time, doubling the wait, and reducing the overall number of guests painted.

It takes a lot of management. Let’s say you move on to the next number. Inevitably the earlier number that was not present when their number was called half an hour ago will turn up and expect to be painted next. This disappoints the people who thought they were next in line, and requires some careful explaining and people skills to manage. This slows down the process yet again, and still leaves guests feeling a little unhappy. Even if you have a policy that guests forfeit their turn if not present when their number is called, the guest will still be unhappy that they missed out, especially since the numbers system was supposed to give them more freedom to do other things in the first place.

People will still queue. It’s a strange phenomenon, but it’s an inherent part of human nature in many cultures to form a queue. Often when people are handed numbers they will queue up anyway in their numbered order because they don’t want to miss their turn when their number is called. All it takes is one or two people to start to queue in their number order, and everyone else will follow suit. This defeats the purpose of using a numbers system in the first place.

There’s no visual indicator of how long they’ll wait. One of the beautiful things about a queue is that it’s very clear how long it is. Guests can count the people ahead of them and get a rough estimate for how long they’ll be waiting. A numbers system gives them a sequential number, but without a physical indicator of progression, the wait can feel longer and out of their control. People actually prefer to queue, because they have a physical action of moving forward every few minutes, giving constant reminders that they are getting closer to their turn.

It can make finishing up confusing and stressful. Remember those guests who weren’t present when their number was called? Remember how the time that would have spent painting them was wasted trying to find them? Now imagine that there are 30 of them, and they all turn up 15 minutes before face painting is due to finish. This can be a very tricky situation to handle!

It is possible to hand out too many numbers. For the reasons previously mentioned, a lot can go wrong during a shift that puts you out for time. If the maximum number of number tickets have been given out early in the piece, you have very little flexibility, and a high chance of finishing later than expected. It also takes a lot of time to explain to newcomers that all numbers have been given out for the day, and to stop people from creating an un-numbered queue which is their natural instinct when they don’t see a queue formed.

It requires an experienced dedicated line manager to manage. The numbers system takes a lot of time and people management to implement. It’s impossible for a solo face painter to do their job and try to manage the numbers system at the same time. Therefore, a line manager needs to be employed at extra cost to try to keep things going smoothly.

It’s for these reasons that I personally don’t use a numbers system when painting at larger events. It’s not a terrible system and it does have its benefits, but it needs to be used wisely and carefully matched only to the right kind of event with the right kind of audience.

There is no magic wand that you can wave over a group of people to reduce waiting times, but there is one not-so-secret weapon: more face painters! In my experience, nothing is more effective than a big team of face painters busting through a single queue at a fast pace. Guests are pleasantly surprised at shorter wait times, and more artists means better quality so it’s a better experience overall.

So in the end queues rule. But how do we make them less tiresome and more fun? I’ll address this in my next blog post, coming soon!

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Colourfully yours,

Suedy @ Juicy Body Art

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