We investigated the waiting time for patients before seeing a physician in the emergency department of a tertiary care hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Bi- and multivariate analyses of routine data for 2187 patients determined the association between selected patient characteristics and waiting time. The median waiting time between triage and being seen by a physician was 35.0 min (range 1.0-325.0 min). Age, day of arrival, time of arrival and triage category were significantly associated with waiting time. Older patients and those arriving on Sundays and Wednesdays waited longer. Variability in waiting times could be addressed by more standardized triage policies, but may also be influenced by other clinical or non-clinical factors that required further investigation.