Should Companies Pay Us for Waiting?

My Dutch friend walked into his bank for a short transaction and was kept waiting for 45 minutes. Infuriated, he told the manager that his time was too valuable for this.  Ten days later a credit of €25 appeared on his account!  

Why can’t service organizations that keep you waiting an overly long time all do this?  Admittedly the proper price is not easy — Bill Gates’s time is more valuable than mine. But companies that offer a credit on your account if you have to wait more than some posted time would have a competitive advantage in attracting clients; and the threat of payment would provide lower-level managers an incentive to improve efficiency.  The only example I know of this practice is our plumber, who advertises that if he is more than 30 minutes late, the cost of labor is waived. (HT to GAP)


I can't even get Verizon or Comcast to pay for outage time, let alone the time it takes me to wait on hold for them to tell me that they believe it's my fault for 45 minutes before they push a button and fix it. Makes me think of the SNL sketches of Lily Tomlin as the phone company rep. Not much has changed.


Didn't Pizza Hut used to offer your pizza free if it wasn't delivered in some fixed time (I believe it was 30 minutes)?


Comcast will credit your account $20 if they arrive late for an appointment. They generally give you a 2-3 hour window, though.


While not directly paying for time, I have seen a lot of promotions where if a task is not completed within a set time limit, it's free. Pizza chains and dry-cleaning places are the things that come to mind for me, though I imagine that differs between countries.

Dave Nelson

On a recent shopping trip to my local Target store, there were only a few registers open and each of them had relatively long lines. I didn't see the lines as exceptionally long, though, and I waited patiently in the line that I'd chosen.

When it was my turn, the cashier handed me a coupon for $3 off, "because [I] had to wait so long." She said I could use it now or on a future visit. I admit the wait was longer than I would have liked, but I've waited in MUCH longer lines at grocery stores before, and have never been compensated for it.

The compensation put a smile on my face, if nothing else, and showed me that the store is making an effort to make wait times reasonable.


How to avoid the Cobra effect? Suppose people start purposely standing in line to collect the payment.


Thus making wait times even longer.

Seminymous Coward

Domino's used to have a 30-minute delivery guarantee until some automobile accident lawsuits targeted them via it. It's likely other pizza places have or had them.

I have also previously received a credit from my cable internet provider for a completely missed arrival window.


If that is the only example you know of you have too healthy a diet and/or are depriving your kids of a glorious treat :), seeing how most PIZZA deliveries have similar schemes, and have had, for over a decade now in some places.
As far as I know they were the first market to apply this kind of scheme.


"The only example I know of this practice is our plumber"

What about pizza delivery services that promise 30 minutes or less or your pizza is free?


No thanks. Rushed service would most likely be worse than it is now. If I have to wait I just want the service I receive to be as thorough as the person before me got.


I could see a result of this idea paralleling the result of the Isreali day care tale in the Freakonomics book. Companies realize it's cheaper for them to pay you to wait than figuring out how to decrease wait time.

Joe Konstan

An excellent idea (and one that lots of service businesses are embracing, including credits for late Cable TV installers). But I don't think this is a one-size fits all problem. For some situations, the best alternative is to let the market moderate between higher cost/low wait and the alternative (consider a doctor's office where your co-pay is lower if you're willing to be bumped when the doctor is running behind), or even a direct compensation to clear waiting lists (much as airline passengers choose to volunteer to be bumped for compensation.

For other situations, a better alternative may be more information and productive ways of using the waiting time. I've never had a serious wait at the bank, but I've appreciated when other service providers called me to let me know that the doctor/barber/etc., was running behind. Then I could keep working. Or the bank/office/whatever could provide a set of computers for waiting customers to use, helping them make the time productive. One of the better examples is mall restaurants -- often there is a wait, but the restaurant can provide pagers so the customer can wander the mall and handle other errands while waiting.



I could see a result of this idea paralleling the result of the day care story in the Freakonomics book. Companies realize it's cheaper for them to pay you to wait than figuring out how to decrease wait time.


Chick-fil-A (I know, I know), at least at some franchises, will give customers what is called a "Be Our Guest" coupon for a free meal if their wait is over 5 minutes.


We are free to shop around for services. If you don't like the wait choose another provider!


I don't think you've read up on competition or effective monopolies. Many service providers hold effective monopolies and the wait times are well studied by the providers who don't care if we are upset as long as we don't leave. For proper competition to happen you need between 7 and 10 options, not 2. If these 2 real options just decide to both have long wait times, there is no recourse. If you are a Verizon cell phone customer and you get angry and move to AT&T and they make you angry, you can move to . . . not another company with similar service and options. People are already paid for their wait times, but not in $, but in the opportunity to have better services. We are not really free to shop in a market of 2 or 3 options.

Enter your name...

I don't usually mind waiting when I know that's what I'll be doing. But when the doctor's office staff lies about the wait, that's especially irritating. I once showed up 15 minutes early as requested, and was told (I asked) he was on time. Then it would "only be ten minutes"... for 40 more minutes.

It only seems to be the one office. Since then, when I'm in that office, I don't accept any answer to questions about his schedule unless the receptionist gets out of her chair, finds the doctor's assistant, and asks her just for me. About half the time, the receptionist sheepishly comes back with a noticeably different answer.


I am currently a team leader at a quick service restaurant, and our operator has a way to compensate someone for their time on waiting for their food. Our ultimate goal is to get you your food in 2 and a half minutes, but as long as it is under five, we feel that you aren't waiting too long. Once it is over 5 minuetes, we like to give a customer a coupon card for a free iteam. If anything is over 9 minutes, we refund you your food and give coupons on all the items you were waiting for. The idea of this is if a customer has a bad expirence and we turn it around and astonish them with what we do for them, that they will be more loyal customers. If more companys had policies such as these, it makes the employees strive not to mess up and take too much time but also if there is a mess up and the policy is enforced, the customer is more likley to come back.

Stephen Swanson

There are a great many everyday externalities society may soon be able to internalize by virtue of the waves of smart devices, the Internet of Things, smart sensors, RFID, social networking, and data mining. Given the means, perhaps the economics of resource exhaustion and climate change -- and politics of public-risk-private-profit -- will force absorption of externalities throughout economies. What externalities? Wasting someone else's time is a clear and direct one. The profitability of industries from fossil fuel to fast food which drive the overuse and abuse of pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics in large scale commercial agriculture (to name a few) are more subtle and disconnected, but may one day be priced into that bacon cheeseburger and ten-thousand-mile salad.