The 'fun' queue
Queuing, a new trend in the United Kingdom!
If queuing is a necessary evil in most of our daily lives, our British cousins have made it an art form. It all started during WWII when they were encouraged by the ministry of Information to queue in an orderly manner when making their purchases. Today, a new and fun version of queuing has become a trend in the UK.
From John McEnroe’s views on the gender pay gap to who’s who in the royal box and how they have done their hair, the variables at Wimbledon are endless. But at one of the few sporting events that sells tickets to spectators on the day, there will always be one certainty: the Wimbledon queues.
2. Mention the word queue and most people balk. Because queues are boring – or, worse, punchlines, synonymous with etiquette and Britishness. They are surrounded by rules (don’t push in, one in one out, and so on) and sometimes more rigorous systems – some skatewear brands have embraced ticketing. One involves heading to a location on a Monday and putting your name down simply to get a queue spot several days in advance of an item going on sale. If, as Harvard academic Leo Mann explained in his 1962 essay Queue Culture, queues work best when they mimic a normal social system, imposing “cultural values of egalitarianism and order- liness”, then this social system feels borderline Gilead.
3. And yet, through choice or otherwise, we spend around 52 days of our life in line. These queues range from prosaic ones at the bank, in the supermarket or at airport security to sexier iterations for gig tickets, book signings, PlayStations, a new Warhammer piece,
the latest iPhone release or, indeed, grasscourt tennis’s ultimate championship. In the last decade, another sort of queue has emerged; one that is less about the end result and more about the act itself. Queues to make friends in, and queues to be seen in.
IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY
4. The “fun” queue has long had a place in popular culture. According to Sex and the City, it’s where girls meet guys. In The Full Monty you can dance in them, even if you’re signing on. Fashion has co-opted this sort of line particularly well. At Gucci on Bond Street, there is often a six-deep queue outside their flagship store during busy times (the idea is to create a more one-on-one service, although insiders say having people outside has helped cultivate the brand’s cult status).
5. Just as a logo on a T-shirt semaphores your allegiance with a particular brand or movement, joining the right queue signals you know that, say, Thursday is drop day (the day some labels choose to release new stock) or that Virgil Abloh is going to be in town. It’s a tactic borrowed from the world of streetwear. Long before the much-document- ed drops at Supreme and Palace, skate shops doubled up as social spaces for young people. “The queue becomes an offline communal experience shared with fellow fans,” says Laura Saunter, insights editor with trend forecasters WGSN. “The process of acquiring the item requires a certain amount of emotional investment, so waiting in lines all day can be a rewarding experience – even if they don’t buy anything.”
THE SOCIAL ASPECT
6. A New Yorker short story from 1974 entitled “Come Down to Queue” sums up the social aspect neatly, following two friends who bump into each other in a queue waiting to see The Exorcist. “Why do people do it?” asks one, referring to the act of watching such a film. Misunderstanding the question, the other replies with a quote from US sociologist David Riesman: “People standing around all day together get to meet each other and that way communicate.” Some queues will forever be dull. But others have the potential to be social, fun, quixotic, ripe with energy and atmosphere – and in 2018 to be documented on social media.
7. Everyone has queued for something for a laughably large amount of time. Among my social circle, there’s the guy who queued for 12 hours for a Nintendo 64, a friend who queued for eight hours to see Duran Duran at Wembley Arena in 2004, another who queued for a burger at a new opening for four hours in the rain, and another who has queued for every single Harry Potter book. One friend in Japan admitted to queueing for two hours for ice- cream, adding: “I sometimes think the queue itself is the main event.”
THE RESTAURANT SCENE
8. Much of the modern queue’s rebranding can be credited to the restaurant scene, its derided “no-bookings” policy and the ensuing lines outside. For over eight years, says Russell Norman, the restaurateur behind queue-friendly restaurants Polpo and Spuntino, “I have taken the flak for restaurants and queues.” Initially they took reservations but it got busy quickly, “and people’s expectations were sky high”. So they got rid of evening bookings, attracting locals and passersby who came knowing full well they would have to wait but were catered for as they did so.
9. “I understand why people associate it with me, but waiting for a table is not new,” he says, citing the arrival of Barrafina in Soho in early 2007 and Wagamama in 1992. Trattoria Da Nennella, a popular local/tourist haunt in the back alleys of Naples, has become world famous for its social queueing system. The maitre’d takes your name, you wait in the street with the other punters making small talk perhaps with a spritz from the bar two doors down, and he shouts your name when the table is ready. In the catering world, drinking in queues is encouraged. Queues may be a new social currency, but how healthy any of this is remains open to question.
Everyone has queued for something for a laughably large amount of time.
Fans of the Harry Potter series queuing outside Waterstone's bookshop in London's Oxford Street for the release of the book Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, July 2005.