I Work at a Grocery Store Deli Counter — Here Are 2 Things Shoppers Need to Know

updated Jun 25, 2021
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Female owner cutting meat at counter in grocery store.
Credit: Getty Images / Maskot

I started working a second job at the grocery store deli counter many years ago. I spend most of my time there slicing ham, finely tuned in with each customers’s desire for a thin cut (“transparent, but not shredded”). The best part of the job: Watching my community gather in front of the counter. Sometimes it can feel like a conga line of friends and neighbors finding each other over their masks, exchanging gossip while waiting for their orders to be completed.

But in today’s busy world, I totally get the appeal of skipping the line. Maybe you’re in a rush and you don’t have time to take a number and wait (those little red dispensers will never lose their allure, though!)? Maybe you barely have time to pick out a package of ham from the pre-sliced section? Again, I get it! But I have two big reasons why it’s always worth taking the number.

Credit: Christine Han/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

1. You’ll get the freshest stuff possible if you order at the counter.

You already know that we slice stuff to order when it’s your turn at the counter, but know that this is the absolute best way to get the freshest stuff. (Also, no, we can’t open a new package just for you if we already have one open and ready for slicing.) The stuff that’s closer to its sell-by date is usually the first to be used for the pre-sliced deli display and online orders. Because our mantra is “first in, first out,” the most recently-sliced ham is going to be way in the back of the stack. So if you have to grab from the case, reach in and grab the furthest one (but keep it tidy!).

2. We really will remember you — and your order!

I can say that after all my years of working here, most of us deli workers really do get to the point where we remember our regular customers and their orders. (Especially the ones with great manners; when said sincerely, “please” and “thank you” go a long way toward helping us remember you!) Say hi and be nice and we’ll be sure to remember your order and note just how you like your ham sliced, and we can make sure your favorite liverwurst is always in stock. Building a relationship with a deli person is the best way to help us help you get exactly what you need.

Do you have any other insider tips for your grocery store deli section?