Online Line Creates Lines

Recently I went to a modern dance event at a large venue in New York City that had around 3,000 seats. I was lucky I had bought tickets online and didn’t have to print them out — they were right there on my phone. But that wasn’t the case for the line of what looked like hundreds who were forced to stand in the 27-degree cold outside the theatre, queuing for 10 minutes (at least) to pick up their tickets from the box office at 7:45 PM. Here’s a perfect example of how old-world thinking is still applied to today’s reality.

The venue had three will-call windows, only two of which were staffed. Pushing 200 people through a line with two box office staffers, with a serve time of, say, 20 seconds, is going to take a while. And the experience will not be good for anyone — not the patrons, and certainly not the box office staff. And of course, the number-one cause of anxiety for your patrons will be “Will the performance start before I can get through this line?”

So why let this happen? You know this situation will occur — in fact, you have precise information about how many people are going to expect to pick their tickets up. Come up with your “Plan B,” which can include any (and all) of the following:

  1. Expand capacity: Get a team of “runners” who work from the back of the line. They simply ask the patron’s name and then fetch the tickets. How about getting 10 volunteers? Or setting up tables based on last name or some other criteria and expanding the number of windows?
  2. Write to your patrons: You know which patrons don’t have their tickets, so run a report and write or text them, advising them that there will be a line and urging them to come early. In some cases, it’s easy for people to come to the box office before dinner, for instance.
  3. Have a “greeter”: This person’s job is to reassure waiting patrons that the show won’t start before everyone is seated. Though it’s pretty obvious to those of us in the business that this is unlikely, I’ll bet some of your patrons don’t know that. After all, at other types of events — sports, music concerts, and festivals — things start when they start, and it’s expected that people will trickle in after things get going. The norms of a cultural event are different when the entire audience is expected to be seated when the lights go down. In every performance, you’ll have newbies who may not know this.
  4. Reduce the need: Encourage as many“print-at-home” or digitally enabled tickets as you can. Get scanners that will scan from patrons’ phones, eliminating the need for pickup. This is where the industry is going anyway, and in a few years I expect most people will be comfortable with having tickets on their phones, as many people are today at airports.

I’m sure there are many more ideas, and your venue may have better ones than those I listed above. If so, please weigh in below. My point is that as the world has changed, let’s not act as if it hasn’t. In the old days, you mailed tickets out and just a few people came to will-call.

I don’t know about your experience, but if I’m stressed out about getting into my seat, the chances of my enjoying the first 10 minutes of the show are pretty low. Why create that situation for your performers and your patrons when there are so many creative ways to solve the problem?

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