Have you ever found yourself like the 11th person in line at a grocery store, or Target, or Walmart etc.? Have you ever looked around, saw the other open lanes with equally long lines and wondered, "Why the hell are there only 3 open lanes when it's #%$#@-ing Saturday afternoon and there's like a million empty lanes?!?!? Why don't they open up more lanes?! Where are the cashiers?!?!?!?!"
Simple, us retail monkeys are underachieving idiots who hate our job 'cause we only get paid minimum wage, so we're all out in the back taking simultaneous smoke breaks and bitching about how much we hate customers 'cause they actually expect us to care.
Kidding! Ha ha ha! But, I bet you've thought something like that... Can't say I blame you. The real reason is simple: accountability.
See, all those empty lanes have a cash register (or POS) and inside those POS, there is a drawer (aka: till) full of money. Each till is assigned to one person, and one person only, for the sake of accountability. At the end of the day (or shift) the auditor/manager/cash handler counts the till. If there is a cash shortage/overage (aka: cash variance) we need to know who to blame... which is impossible if more than one person rang on the same till. In the morning, the opening manager decides who will ring for that day and assigns that register monkey a till. Once they decide on that, no one else rings on that drawer... for the rest of the day.
So, say it's 3pm on Saturday and you're fuming 'cause the lines are long and there are only three register monkeys working the lanes. That could be 'cause the first few were used by cashiers who already went home for the day, the others are reserved for cashiers who are coming in later that day, and the remaining few belongs to cashiers who are on break.
Why not just audit the tills more often you ask? Maybe in between shifts? Good question! First off, only a limited few people are authorized to audit tills. Most of these authorized people are managers and, believe it or not, us managers do not have time to go to the back to audit tills, especially during peak time. Secondly, tills are usually audited in the back office area and it becomes a big LP (loss prevention, aka: theft) issue to walk through a busy, crowded store carrying a till containing hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars in cash. At a small, specialty retailer, auditing the tills between shifts isn't a problem and happens all the time (since they're usually done on the spot, at the POS, and can be done quickly). In a big box retailer, it's an ordeal.
If the lines are out of control and customers are getting very angry, a manager might decide to ring (or have someone else ring) on an unaudited drawer. It, however, is a risk. If there's a cash variance over/under a certain amount (usually $5) everyone who rang on that drawer (and possibly the manager who made the call) might face disciplinary action. If the store is a high shrink store (above average theft occurrences) double ringing on the same drawer will be extremely frowned upon by the higher ups.
Now, what some managers will do sometimes, if the lines are getting really long, is run credit/check/gift card only transactions on closed tills. When you run non-cash transactions the drawer doesn't pop open so accountability is not an issue. Managers will go to a long line and inform customers that they can take whoever is not paying with cash in a different lane. The only problem with running a no-cash line is that cash paying customers get pissed off at what they feel is tender discrimination. They start making snarky comments like, "Oh! My money isn't good enough for you huh?" or "Last time I checked, this is America, what, you stopped taking Amercian money all of sudden?" And next thing you know, there's an article on The Consumerist about how Company XYZ is conspiring with the credit card companies to keep Americans further in debt by refusing to take cash, or maybe an article on how register monkeys are too stupid to handle cash.
Another problem is that there's no "No Cash" sign, so sometime a customer will wait in line only to be told that they have to go to a different line and wait again. It's understandable how that customer would be really pissed off, I would be.
So yeah, opening up a no-cash line is rarely worth it. Personally, I think big retailers should have a designated "No Cash" lanes (similar to express lanes). That way, if the line starts to get long, anyone who's register trained can just jump in and help get the line down. It works for toll roads, right? However, I guess big retailers feel that most customers won't understand why certain lanes can't accept cash and they don't want to piss anyone off. After all, waiting in line is the norm, people expect it. Getting your cash rejected is new, it'll definitely set some people off.
There's also another possible reason why you're stuck waiting in line when rows and rows and rows of lanes sit void of any register monkeys. It has to do with petty office politics and the pathetic power struggles of inept dept. managers. Sometimes it has to do with revenge and spite. Not against the consumers though, but against a rival manager. It's complicated.