Whether you're waiting for a table at a restaurant or at the back of a store's cash register queue, long lines can frustrate even the calmest of customers. On the flip side, for a business owner, long lines can be a tremendously useful marketing tool.

The trick is knowing whether your customers want to be there, and keeping them happy while they're waiting. 

Businesses have long used distractions to compensate for wait time. At a drugstore, for instance, you'll find shelves lined with candy and celebrity news, and sometimes even TV. A study conducted by the Wharton School found a shopper will ditch a line depending on the number of available distractions the store offers. 

But while some people hate waiting in lines, others believe suffering through a wait has an upside, which is how lines can work in your favor. Another study, conducted by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and quoted in The Atlantic, which recently examined long lines, found that if customers believe what they're waiting for is worth it, they'll gladly put up with the hassle. In fact, sometimes just the act of waiting gets them jazzed up. 

Consider restaurants that don't take reservations. On the surface, this sounds crazy, because the space is bound to fill up, but from the managers' point of view, this is an easy way to build value. A customer spots a crowded restaurant and says to herself, "I should try this place out." It's social proof, or reputation, which helps to increase perceived value.

Another example: All those lines for the cronut, which induce envy and make us crave a taste too. 

The fact is, people will wait longer for larger rewards, and increasing the value of the reward will boost the person's willingness to wait around patiently. "Intuitively, that makes sense," write the authors, since "more people will wait a month to get the latest version of the iPhone than will wait for the newest, just-released flash drive, because there's more to be gained for waiting." Put another way, you'll wait to try a cronut because you've heard there is nothing else like it. 

So, what are you doing to make your waits worth it, or at least build up value for customers? Be it a beverage or snacks or a really great product--again, calling all cronuts--it doesn't take much to keep customers happy, at least until their turn is up. 

Published on: Jan 30, 2015