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HBX Business Blog

Time Is Money: What Would You Pay to Jump the Line?

Posted by Ben Chowdhury on August 20, 2015 at 9:55 AM

How long are you willing to wait in line for a meal at your favorite restaurant? Would you be willing to pay $30 to skip the line? How about $10?

Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable slipping money to a maître d’ at a restaurant to jump the queue, but a new app is testing whether patrons would be willing to donate the same amount of money to charity in order to be seated faster.


CharityWait is a feature from the restaurant hosting service app SmartLine that sets aside a few tables each night at restaurants that are designated “CharityWait tables”, making them available to parties who donate on a first-come, first-served basis. This way, not only can patrons avoid the wait, but there is also a reduced social stigma against paying to jump the line since the money goes to charity.

This strategy of allocating tables based on price, instead of the more typical restaurant seating model where tables are allocated through a queue system, is an interesting concept. In this scenario, all customers who are willing to wait in line will eventually get a table. However, customers who are willing to pay the fee will get seated faster.

It may be too early to say if this two-pronged approach will be a success in the restaurant industry, but other businesses have used it with good results. Take, for instance, Disneyland. You can pay the standard admission price and get access to all the park’s attractions. However, in order to experience everything, you’d have to stand in lines - lots of lines. But, by paying extra for Disney FASTPASS Service, you can bypass the queue and greatly reduce your wait time between rides.

Pricing allocation isn’t always popular, though. A good example is Uber, the car service app that connects users and drivers with the touch of a button. It is often praised by its users as a cheaper, more convenient alternative to taxis, but frequently draws criticism for its use of surge pricing. This practice incentivizes more drivers to come online and pick up fares when demand for rides is at its highest, like during rush hour, a blizzard, or after a sporting event gets out, by raising ride prices exponentially.  

Despite its clear purpose and seemingly sound economic model, this form of price allocation tends to leave a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. But what if Uber didn’t gouge prices and supply was kept constant in the face of increased demand? The users willing to pay for faster service would still be left waiting in the queue.

What do you think – will CharityWait do for the restaurant industry what the FASTPASS did for Disneyland? Or will it be like Uber and face allegations of price gouging?


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