Slow walkers, aisle takers, item stalkers, and cart ditchers—I've got my eye on you.
Family in the supermarket. Cropped image of dad leaning on shopping cart, using a mobile phone and smiling, in the background his wife and daughter are choosing food
Photo: Getty Images
| Credit: Getty Images

There are some people who love to grocery shop. These people, scientifically speaking, have no children, infinite time, and unlimited income. To me, grocery shopping is a tolerable, necesary chore—one I willingly perform weekly to ensure I feed my kids the best food I can. Like airports and post-Thanksgiving sales, grocery stores can bring out the worst in people. I get it, but let us all try to rise above it. Here's our staff's best advice for how to avoid being a complete jerk at the grocery store.

Let Someone Else Go First in Line

Sporting a cart loaded with must-weigh veggies, double-bagged meats, and coupon goods, while the guy behind you is literally buying cat litter? Offer to let him go first. It will cost you about 65 seconds of your day, a small price to pay for the good vibes you'll spread to those around you. For real, do something nice for someone. It might make their day. Go you.

Look Both Ways Before Exiting an Aisle

Grocery stores don't have stoplights or yield signs, so you may feel like you have the perpetual right of way when careening around a corner with your La Croix-laden cart only to run smack into a mom wiedling one of those insane car carts loaded with kids on their last bites of free cookies. Pro Tip: Do not challenge this mom. She has way more to lose than you do. Instead, can't we all agree to take corners cautiously? At the very least, never assume you're the only person in the store.

Treat the Cashiers and Baggers Like Humans

If it seems insane that I have to write that, rest assured that it is. However, based on what I see on a weekly basis, it's also necessary. Look cashiers in the eye, answer their questions about your day (with more than a grunt, please), and return the question about theirs. Place money in their hands, not on the counters. Respond to the question about paper or plastic. Say thank you to everyone. Remember that it's not their call whether you get an item for free if it's mispriced (Hint, you probably don't), nor is it their fault if the store is out of an item. When asking you if you found "everything you were looking for today," they are not opening up the therapy couch for you to vent about the lack of candy corn items in mid-March. Managers are paid more for a reason. Talk to them, remembering that they, too, are human.

Practice Smart Cart Unloading

It's definitely not your responsibility to line up everything on the belt in appropriate bagging order, but it does help to group similar items, avoid creating canned good towers, and follow store policy about keeping heavy items on the bottom of your cart. The belt should not resemble a game on Jenga every time the cashier tries to advance it forward.

Get Familiar With Your Store

If your local grocery store offers special shopping hours for seniors, moms with young children, or other groups who may enjoy discounts or need extra time, and for some reason this drives you bonkers, just don't go on those days. Your store is being nice, you're being a grinch—and, yes, exactly everyone notices your eye rolling at how crowded the aisles are.

Browse Consciously

There are plenty of times I linger in an aisle in order to locate my favorite pasta sauce or determine which yogurt I'm in the mood for this week, but I am aware that I am the literal roadblock in this situation. As such, I don't park my cart on one side and stand on the other, blocking the entire aisle from anyone else I might be sharing the store with. Instead, park your cart just past the section of the aisle you're browsing, within arms length so you can shift it as needed, then browse to your heart's content. The Golden Rule is clutch here. If it would drive you crazy, don't do it!

Sample Honestly

Unless you're legitimately taking an extra sample to your husband or kiddos one aisle over, only take one sample from the kind soul handing out sliced fruit or frozen food items. As tempting as it is to make a meal out of Costco samples, it's annoying to pretty much everyone, even if you do make a big show out of checking the item out for purchase before ultimately walking away... to the next sample table.

Speak Up About Special Requests

If you need your items charged to different cards (as often happens when we're buying ingredients to test our recipes) organize your check-out belt accordingly, separating each transaction with the little divider available. Let the cashier and bagger know up front if the items need to be paid for separately (or not) or if they can be bagged together (or not). Tacking on a please and thank you always helps, along with a light apology if a line grows behind you.

Don't Cut the Line at the Deli

I honestly don't know why I need to mention this, but I do. We are civilized people. Adults, even. We know how to stand in a line and wait our turn. Don't try to leave your cart to hold your spot while you run frantically around the produce section before it's your turn. And don't cut back in line if you forgot to ask for sliced cheese in addition to your turkey. If you learned it in kindergarten, it applies today.

Learn to Count

Going in the express lane often means there are fewer than 10 items in your cart. How do I know this? There are signs. Big signs. Signs everywhere. In fact, the same sign you read that said EXPRESS CHECKOUT likely read 10 ITEMS OR LESS as well. (This is not a time to debate "less" or "fewer," but boy could I.) Don't sneak in there because the other lines are long and you only have fifteen items. Or you only have twelve items, but 10 of them are the same thing. Or your fourteen items are very small. The only exception to this rule is if a cashier comes out and invites you into the line.

Self-Checkout is for Self Checkout

Don't get in this line if you have no intention of weighing and scanning your own produce, if you plan to ask for cashier price checks for every item, or if you have nightmares about hearing "Please place your item in the bagging area." Typically there is one cashier to every four or so self-checkout lines, and they're only present to override specific issues, so please don't make them your personal self-checkout assistant. Also, do a quick scan to see if there are limitations for using those aisles, such as not buying alcohol, having under a certain number of items, or only accepting credit card payments.

Use Technology Wisely

Yes, we all want the best deals. We also want to keep up with our text messages and voicemails, and oh, is that an email from work? Checking recipes or shopping lists is something we all do in the store; just practice safe browsing and move out of the way of other customers. Personally, I hate being on the phone during check out and will only do so if it's an emergency (or if my mom calls). See also: Cashiers are Humans, Too.

Be Kind with the Carts

Aldi has figured this one out. To use a grocery cart, you must deposit $0.25. When you return the cart, you get your quarter back. This pretty much eliminates stray carts dinging cars and blocking premium spots. If you're shopping somewhere else, you're on the honor system to return your cart, not leave it in the parking spot next to you, hoist it onto a nearby median, or tuck it neatly in the spot where the cars meet in the parking lot. If you can't trust yourself to do this (or, like me, you have small children), park beside a cart return.

Be Mindful of Your Shopping Helpers

I often shop with two tiny helpers, who are basically all hands and no volume control. Use this as a learning moment to teach them that we don't touch all the open produce, pelt shoppers with boxed items, or eat things we haven't paid for (especially if it's sold by weight). I give extreme lattitude to any parent steering those massive carts around the narrow aisles; I know how hard it is when everyone is hungry. If possible, come at a time that isn't just before dinner or mid-nap and things will go slightly smoother. Also, ask the customer service desk attendant if kids get any perks. At my Publix, kids get a free cookie, balloon, coloring sheet, and crayons on every visit. And at our local Whole Foods, joining the kids' club entitles you to one piece of whole fruit on the house per visit.

By Ashley Kappel and Ashley Kappel