Image: Glenn Harvey

Hit a Starbucks—any Starbucks—during weekday morning rush hour, and you’d think time wasn’t the most precious commodity in human existence. That we each didn’t possess a finite supply. That even one minute idling in something as mundane as a queue wasn’t one minute of life leaching away into the abyss.

Yet Americans forfeit 37 billion hours to standing in line a year. Put another way, each of us fritters the equivalent of three days in a queue annually, according to a survey from that great keeper of your life ticking by, the Timex watch company.

Two new locally developed apps promise to help stem the time suck. The first, Joe Coffee, allows patrons to preorder (with a 35-cent fee) drinks via smartphone at independent cafes. The app Q Waitlist, meanwhile, lets customers willing to pay $5 a party virtually queue up at local restaurants that don’t take reservations.

Brothers Brenden and Nick Martin conceived of Joe Coffee on a road trip from their native Richland to Seattle. In need of caffeine, they were thwarted by prohibitively long lines at coffee shops along the route. “So we just started brainstorming,” Nick recalls.

Though envisioned a few months before Starbucks launched its popular preorder app in fall 2015, Joe Coffee arrived in beta form soon afterward and raised $1 million in funding for major upgrades in October 2018. So far the Martins have partnered with 75 independent shops around the country, including Seattle’s Broadcast and Pegasus.

Brian Johnson hatched his Q Waitlist after one too many soul-sucking Saturday nights left in limbo, waiting for the restaurant host to call his name or for the hockey puck-like pager to shriek and vibrate in his palm. In response he developed an app that allows you to check the restaurant’s wait time and place your name on the list. Twelve Seattle establishments have partnered with Q Waitlist since its debut earlier this year, including JuneBaby and Reckless Noodle House.

Masha Shunko, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, acknowledges that Johnson and the Brothers Martin are onto something—studies show long lines are a big consumer deterrent—but warns that we’ve hardly reached the twilight of the traditional queue.

There may indeed be shorter lines for coffee in front of the cash register, for instance, but with more and more people ordering via an app, that could impact the wait time for the actual beverage. “So it solved the first problem,” Shunko says, “but it doesn’t eliminate the wait in the second line, and may make the second wait longer.”

Q Waitlist’s Johnson stands undeterred. He believes a day will come in the not so distant future when somebody will say, “Hey, remember when we used to go out without knowing how busy places would be and end up waiting to get a table? How dumb was that?”

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