The Dos and Don’ts of Trader Joe’s Parking Lot Etiquette, According to a Former Employee

published May 28, 2024
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The parking lots at Trader Joe’s are notorious for a very good reason. As far as I’m concerned, they are as close as you can get to hiking to Mordor, both in terms of their tricky layouts and the frequency of stressful situations. Gandalf might as well be saying, “[Toyota Corolla], you shall not pass!” to every other car that tries to enter one of these lots. 

The chaos in these parking lots has inspired all manner of memes (that are frighteningly accurate). Even though Trader Joe’s parking lots may always be a bit on the wild side, there are things we can all do to make the parking lot experience a bit less meme-able. Here are a few parking lot etiquette tips to be mindful of on your next trip to Trader Joe’s — direct from a former employee who has almost been clipped by a Prius or two.

Credit: Corinna Haselmayer

1. Do ask a crew member for the store’s off-peak hours.

Often Trader Joe’s shoppers would be shocked at the store’s crowdedness, which I always found a little humorous. You are also here in the store, contributing to this very same busy-ness! Each store’s off-peak hours (and thus when their parking lots will be a bit more empty) will vary, so ask a TJ’s employee when you’re most likely to find a lull at your store. 
You just might be surprised at their response. Some of my favorites include the day after Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday or any other major sporting event local to the area (~30 minutes before and during the game), and either around 10 a.m. or 7 p.m. on weekdays.

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2. Don’t leave trash in your cart. 

I wish this was more widely accepted, but until then I will keep repeating this: Please stop leaving trash in your cart! (I’ve got plenty more shopping cart dos and don’ts, ICYI.) Now, back to the trash at hand. 

Let’s say you grabbed a sturdy cardboard box from the store to pack your groceries while shopping and, now that you’ve loaded up your car, you no longer need it. Rather than leave the box in your cart, take it with you and discard it once you’re home (or just avoid grabbing the box in the first place). This will keep employees from having to go all the way from the parking lot to the back of the store just to bale one box, so they can focus on other tasks, like corralling more carts, helping a customer find something, or returning to the register. 

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3. Do tell someone if you need help with wheeling your cart out.

I have a theory: Most people who leave their shopping cart in the middle of the lot (rather than the cart corral or back to the store), were too shy to ask for help prior to leaving the store. Maybe you’re a new parent, have just gotten surgery, or are wary of picking up anything too heavy — it really doesn’t matter. An employee is always at the ready to help wheel your cart out, unload your items, and wheel the cart back. Ask your cashier next time you check-out!

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4. Don’t leave your cart in the middle of the parking lot.

That being said, I really don’t think there’s any other reason to leave a cart all loosey-goosey in the parking lot — especially if you could have asked for someone to help. That goes for motorized carts, too. If you’re unable to return your cart, let an employee know so they can grab it and avoid any unnecessary scratches to cars (maybe even yours!) and recharge motorized ones for someone else to use later on. 

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5. Do be mindful of employees corralling multiple carts.

While it may make a lot of sense to bring your cart to a worker who’s gathering wayward carts in the parking lot, be mindful of how many they’re currently wheeling around. Especially if they have three, four, six carts in their charge, opt to bring yours to the nearest cart corral instead. A family of shopping carts is next-to-impossible to turn on a dime, so expecting an employee to pivot for your cart is a tricky, slightly dangerous task. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

6. Don’t block the crosswalk if picking up groceries.

In times of inclement weather, it’s really no problem to ask a TJ’s employee to wait outside with your haul while you pull your car around to the store’s entrance and then load up — as long as you don’t block the crosswalk or walking space with your own car. Idle instead at a more low-traffic curb so everyone can get to and from the store safely.

7. When possible, do avoid reversing out of your parking spot.

I don’t have the stats to back this up (pun intended), but I personally saw more accidents (and almost-accidents) with cars that were backing out of a parking space. When possible, do try to back into a parking spot so you can simply put your car in drive and exit when you’re done shopping (rather than reverse out of your spot). Yes, sometimes this means parking a bit further away, but I think the peace of mind is well worth it once you’ve loaded up on your favorite TJ’s groceries and are ready — at long last — to head out.

Got any other Trader Joe’s parking lot dos and don’ts? Leave them in the comments below.