Crowd ScienceEvent Management

Setting expectations: How to keep your queuing crowd happy.

Recently, I had two polar opposite experiences of queuing, which reminded me of the importance of giving timely and accurate information to attendees/crowd at a bar or event. For years within the events industry, it has been commonplace to keep the crowd in the dark, either giving them snippets of information, inaccurate, or none at all. Instead, staff would shout orders and demand compliance.

This doesn’t work. All it does is infuriate the crowd – your attendees.

Furthermore, for decades it has been discussed in academic studies that the safety of the crowd can depend on them having accurate information, delivered to them in an appropriate way. This allow them to be able to make informed decisions to, say, get out of a burning building in time. In 1991, Dr. Jonathan Sime conducted a study for the Home Office UK on human behaviour in fires and the recommendations emphasised on the need for drastic improvements in how we communicate with the public in an evacuation.

And so, my two contrasting experiences took place in the queue of a swanky (not in hindsight) pop up rooftop bar in London (how millennial) and the queue to visit the stunning orchid festival at Kew Gardens.

Rooftop Bar

My friends and I were looking forward to checking out a pop up rooftop bar that had been built on the roof of a disused car park in Shepherd’s Bush. To our disappointment, there was a queue for the lifts as we arrived. Security staff in big coats and reflective sunglasses told us we would be waiting 15 minutes, and so we nodded in agreement, as it was an acceptable time to wait, and joined other parties behind some crowd barriers. All was fine until at 10 minutes in we hadn’t even broke the back of the queue.

‘The guy said 15 minutes, so we should be nearing the front of the queue now?’

15 minutes pass and we aren’t even close.

Finally we get near the front and the security chap looks at his clicker count and pulls a ‘almost but not quite there’ face at us and tell us it’ll be a little longer. At this point I stop him and point out how it’s now 25 minutes since we joined the queue and we, as well as others behind us, were not happy we were told it was only a 15 minute wait (for a bar, there are plenty of bars in London).

If he had been more realistic, then no one would have grumbled and we would have happily stood there waiting because he had set our expectation levels. By giving us accurate and timely information would have allowed us to make our own decisions. This makes us happy because we feel respected.


When we bundled into the lift with other groups, I was thanked for bringing to attention the fact we were given inaccurate information. We hadn’t even arrived at the bar and entire group were unimpressed. This wasn’t a good start to the experience and the ‘event’ had to work hard to improve the attendee’s experience.

Kew Gardens

This swanky, ‘too cool for anyone to be in’ rooftop bar in stark comparison to another experience, where I stood in an hour-long queue at Kew Gardens, outside, in spring. This was for the Orchid Festival, where flower revellers came from all over to indulge in orchid beauty. We queued for far longer but were at no point unhappy.

This is why.

There were signposts in the ground at stages along the queue informing us of how long the wait would be from that point. My sister and I joined the queue at the ‘queue time one hour from this point’. We were fully informed of how long it would take and thus the following 60 minutes (it was actually less, more around 45) were not full of huffing and puffing disgruntling, but rather chirpy conversation amongst ourselves and our patient neighbours.

Once we got inside the glasshouse, we fully enjoyed our orchid experience. We never once complained about the queue and were even delighted that the time took less than expected.


The only difference between these two experiences was the information given to us.

Get Information

This isn’t rocket science!

Remember the old PR rule? Tell the truth, tell it all, tell it fast.

It cannot be repeated enough how important information, the accuracy of the information and the delivery of the information is to the experience and safety of the crowd. The only difference between these two experience was the information given to us. It was the difference between me having fun and being irritated. It was the difference between recommending the event to my friends and colleagues or telling them to avoid at all costs.

Information, signage and communication to the crowd is crucial for positive event experience and safe crowd management. So often this important element is overlooked when planning events and it is one of the best tools in our toolkits.

This is important psychological knowledge to keep our attendees calm and happy. In fact, if rooftop bar guy had over-estimated the time and said 30-40 minutes, and we decided to stay, then we would have been delighted at getting in to the venue with ‘only a 25 minute wait’. A double win here – you give them information they could use to make their own decision to stay and you’re making them extra happy going into the venue as they ‘didn’t have to wait that long’. A free way to improving the reputation of the event.

Communicate!

The body of science highlighting that accurate, timely information and communication is crucial to safe crowd management is growing significantly. Event planners and safety managers alike need to understand this when planning their communications and emergency contingency strategies.

A recent example in London, at the newly opened Tottenham Hotspur stadium, newspapers reported an unhappy crowd upon their return journey as they awaited in long queues to get home. When planning events it’s important to check if the design of the plan can be changed, if not, then how the queues are managed by staff to ensure smooth movement. If the crowd were informed that they would be expected to wait a long time for their transport after the match, would they have been as agitated, if they knew what they were in for? Would they have planned alternative arrangements themselves, if they were equipped with accurate, timely information?

Check your event communications strategy, visualise yourself as an attendee and walk through your event; what does the signage say? what instructions are the staff and stewards giving you? Do you know what communications strategy you will implement should there be an emergency? Every element of information is important to your attendee’s event experience and most importantly, their safety.

Keep your attendees safe, happy and your event reputation intact.

Further Information

Sime, J. D. (1991) Human Behaviour in Fires. Home Office Fire Research and Development Group, pp. 1–62.

Sime, J. D. and Proulx, G. (1991) ‘To Prevent “Panic” in an Underground Emergency: Why Not Tell People the Truth?’. Edinburgh, pp. 843–852.

For more information on crowd safety: https://www.gkstill.com and https://www2.mmu.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/course/msc-crowd-safety-and-risk-analysis/

For more information on crowd behaviour http://www.sussex.ac.uk/beyondcontagion/index

One thought on “Setting expectations: How to keep your queuing crowd happy.

  1. So true. The new mobile traffic lights at roadwork sites that count down the time till the desired green light are such a relief for the already agitated mind. X

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.