Waiting in line is an inevitable part of most sports and entertainment experiences. Whether it’s to process through security or an entrance gate, at a concession stand or – often the worst – to get in to a restroom, languishing in some queue or another is near-impossible to avoid for most live event attendees.

In some cases, patrons seem to have accepted the inevitability of the moderate line-wait. For instance, when I go to a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, I know that if I choose to buy crab fries at Chickie’s & Pete’s (as I often do), odds are I will be killing 5-10 minutes working my way from the middle of the concourse (where the line often begins) to the cash register. Similarly, if I choose to grab, say, a beer at the end of the 6th inning (slightly before sales are discontinued) or an ice cream in the middle of a 95-degree day game, I don’t expect to complete my seat-to-seat transaction in record time – I know I’m in for at least a moderate wait.

However, I think most patrons identify a clear difference between the waits detailed above (which are more “acceptable”) and “unreasonable” waits, like the backup at the Belmont Stakes this past weekend that found patrons languishing in the parking lot more than three hours after the conclusion of the event due to stand-still traffic lines. Similarly frustrating are preventable waits, such as a half-hour restroom line caused by the majority of a facility’s restrooms being out-of-order.

How can you keep your facility’s wait times and lines under control, and minimize the potential brand damage of an unreasonable wait?

1. Make sure your venue has enough of what you need. Obviously, this is tricky to address after your facility is built. However, if you’ve got a 15,000-person arena with two restroom locations, a single entry gate, etc., you’re asking for trouble. Potential work-arounds for these situations not involving major construction include bringing in portable restrooms, creating a new perimeter for scanning tickets outside of the official entry gate, and staffing up so you have a big enough support team to help patrons understand and navigate the situation effectively. See your facility from the eyes of an attendee, and do what you can to make sure that person – who paid to attend your event – isn’t going to encounter undue hassles when attempting standard fan behavior (ingress/egress, purchasing concessions, etc.).

2. Entertain patrons waiting in line. Put TV or audio monitors in areas of your facility that typically see long lines, and augment that with other visually stimulating decor – posters, a history of major events previously held at your facility, etc. – when possible. This will keep your patrons engaged with your event while they’re waiting, and, from their perspective, may make the time pass faster.

3. Consider portable alternatives. When I was in line at Wegman’s last week, a staffer approached me and offered to ring up my groceries at the customer service counter. The counter obviously wasn’t created expressly for that purpose – it didn’t have a bagging station, and was relatively small – but the employee made it work and, in doing so, helped me avoid a line and increased her team’s productivity. This approach can be replicated at live events via roving employees with scanners authorized to assist with check-outs (as currently done at retailers like Nordstrom Rack), and/or place orders in advance on behalf of line-waiting customers.

4. Offer fast passes. Take care of your highest-priority customers (i.e., season ticket holders, subscribers, etc.) by offering them the ability to participate in ‘fast pass’ programs that include access to shorter lines. These customers are probably your biggest brand ambassadors, and will likely spend the most time waiting in your lines over the course of a year, so enabling them to avoid long wait times in any area of your facility is well worth the effort (and expense) of implementing a fast pass program.

5. Keep it moving. Design your lines so that they’re always moving. Another reason I find the Chickie’s & Pete’s line at Citizens Bank Park tolerable is that it’s always moving, so I rarely feel that “I’ll never get through this line!” hopelessness. Placing staff at various points of the line to direct patrons and making sure the line’s destination (a concession stand, a ticket sales booth, etc.) is well-staffed are two ways to address this.

6. Give rewards. In particularly bad situations – say, a 30- or 45-minute line to exchange a voucher for a post-game giveaway – deploy your staff to the line (ideally with your mascot in tow!) with instructions to distribute coupons or samples to waiting patrons. This demonstrates to your customers that you understand that the situation isn’t exactly ideal, but you’re doing your best to keep them happy.

Like what you see from blog author Emily Huddell? Follow her on twitter at @emhuddell.

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