The Dos and Don’ts of Grocery Shopping Etiquette, According to Employees

published Jan 5, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Full shopping cart
Credit: Coolpicture / Getty Images

Much like I believe that everyone should be required to wait tables at least once in their life, I think the same of working any kind of retail job — especially grocery retail. Never will you see a wider swath of humanity (both highs and lows). At least, that was my experience. 

You see, I worked at Trader Joe’s for over two years and now cannot unsee a few behaviors I’d personally never do at the grocery store, along with a few I’d make sure to do. Some may feel like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often customers will, say, leave trash in shopping carts. Don’t just take my word for it. Many (former and present) store employees resoundingly agree there are some major grocery etiquette no-nos — and absolute yeses. 

If any of these sound familiar, just know that making a few easy tweaks will make the lives of grocery workers around you way easier and your trip way more seamless and, dare I say, pretty pleasant. 

Credit: Ground Picture/Shutterstock

1. Do clear all your non-groceries from the cart before checkout.

There are a few things grocery workers would rather not see in your cart once you’re ready for check-out: trash, a mish-mash of multiple people’s items (especially if you’re trying to hand individual items to your cashier one by one, also a very Undesirable Behavior), and kids. I’d rather not tell you just how many times someone (child or otherwise) has coughed into their hands and handed me an item or just simply handed me dripping bits of trash they’d been keeping in their cart.

Trust us — scanning your groceries efficiently (and correctly!) becomes way more possible when a child isn’t sitting on a quarter of your haul, a cart doesn’t tip over (as one grocery store employee witnessed), or there’s zero trash to sift through. 

Credit: andresr / Getty Images

2. Don’t bury your reusable bags underneath your groceries.

We grocery workers love when customers bring their reusable bags! They’re handy, cute, a great conversation starter, and, heck, I’ve even traded reusable bags with customers like they were Pokemon cards. Grocery shopping on top of your bags, however, is a huge no thank you. 

When your reusable bags are buried under an avalanche of heavy groceries, it just makes it all the more possible I’m going to accidentally puncture that loaf of sourdough bread or have a can of beans land on my wrist. Keeping a freezer bag, and perhaps a few others stored in the baby seat (or in that lower rack under your cart) will have you feeling easy breezy and ready to roll through the store. 

Credit: BearFotos / Shutterstock

3. Don’t reach through a clerk’s legs for a can of whatever.

In an effort to avoid disturbing employees as they are working, customers will reach in all sorts of ways in order to snag a product. Countless employees I interviewed report this as their main grievance, like P, a grocery worker based in Southern California: “I had a lady reach so far over my head for a salad, that when I stood up, she literally elbowed me on the head.”

I can also attest to this. Often customers have reached through my legs or touched me point-blank in order to grab a just-out-of-reach can of beans or get my attention, and all without warning. This is not only an invasion of space, but also pretty unsafe, especially if a worker is on a step-ladder or using a box cutter while opening delivery boxes. If you need to reach an inaccessible item, kindly say a quick “excuse me” before you begin (not after!).

Credit: Sergey Ryzhov / Shutterstock

4. Do keep glass items out of the baby seat.

I’ll never forget the day I saw a wine bottle (seemingly in slow-motion) slip through one of the leg openings on a shopping cart and land right on a customer’s foot. More often than not, the bottle doesn’t land on someone’s foot; instead that jar of tomato sauce, bottle of red wine, or a particularly smelly bottle of salad dressing will likely shatter on the floor, splashing onto other customers or workers (RIP, my favorite pair of white sneakers). Unless you’re sure you’ve flipped it up to cover those openings, I’d go ahead and say just keep any and all glass items out of the baby seat area.

Credit: Ewa Studio / Shutterstock

5. Do get to know your butcher/cheesemonger/produce manager.

If there’s one thing I personally wished I did sooner in my grocery shopping tenure, it would be to really befriend the people responsible for filling my carts (and feeding my spirit). The best way to do that? Get buddy-buddy with the pros in your grocery store, like butchers, cheesemongers, produce managers, or the person handing out samples or doing a cooking demo. 

Those workers are VIPs, in my book, as they’ll tell you — likely way before everyone else — that there’s a new seasonal cheese hitting stores soon (it’ll change your charcuterie board forever!) or just what kind of roast to cook (and how) for that potluck next week. They’ll also take requests!

Credit: ZikG / Shutterstock

6.  Don’t forget all the other experts who work in the store.

Working at a grocery store means realizing just how unchecked customers’ classism is towards grocery workers, even if they don’t mean it. Grocery workers are skilled workers, and often have an expertise in a particular section. It’s often not just a “filler job” for something else to come along (so it’s not super polite to ask what they’re planning to do eventually, thinly veiled as a “are you in school?” check-out line conversation). It’s also worthwhile to reconsider how you imagine an “expert.” 

Personally, many customers have assumed I didn’t know my own expertise (cheese and wine, in this case) as a young woman; instead, they’d ask to speak to an often older man, who then just asked me their same question. Many are experts in a department (like produce, frozen items, meat, beer, etc.), and order items specifically for their particular store, so these are excellent people to know, and well worth taking seriously. Like your new friends above, they can tell you when all the holiday cookies/persimmons/super-fresh ribeyes come in and much, much more.

Got any other grocery shopping dos and don’ts? Leave them in the comments below.