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6 Things You Should Never Do at the Grocery Store, Etiquette Experts Say

Don't make these faux pas while you're filling your shopping cart.

The grocery store has long been one of the great crossroads of modern society, where the busy masses congregate to pick up essentials they'll need for the week. Naturally, this also makes it one of the places where your conduct and interaction with others can really stand out—especially if things go wrong. But even as times and technology have changed, a few simple rules can help ensure you're not being rude. Read on for the things you should never do at the grocery store, according to etiquette experts.

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Be aware when navigating the aisles.

Image of cart full of products in supermarket being pushed by couple
Pressmaster / Shutterstock

Getting around the grocery store is a little different than shopping at a department store or the mall, thanks mainly to the unwieldy carts and tight aisles that make it harder to move. Because of this, experts say it can help to think of the space more as a highway than a stroll along the sidewalk.

"Rules of the road still apply!" says Jodi Smith, etiquette consultant at Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "Most aisles are open to two-way traffic, so keep to the right to allow traffic to keep moving. And when stopping, move your cart as far to the right as possible."

This can be especially important if you happen to come across a "traffic jam" while shopping. "If you need to get somewhere blocked by another person or their cart, a polite 'excuse me' is always a good place to start," says Genevieve Dreizen, etiquette expert and COO of Fresh Starts Registry. "Otherwise, try not to move people's carts or dart in front of them."

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Be extra patient with store employees.

At the Supermarket: Checkout Counter Customer Pays with Smartphone for His Items. Big Shopping Mall with Friendly Cashier, Small Lines and Modern Wireless Paying Terminal System.

Grocery store employees are kept busy restocking, cleaning, and ringing up patrons. Adding to their already heavy workload with unreasonable demands or entitled behavior can be an easy way to stick out as an impolite person.

"Always remember that the employees at the store are people too," says Kristi Spencer, etiquette expert and founder at The Polite Company. "Treat them with the courtesy you'd appreciate. Make eye contact, speak to them, and use polite words like please, thank you, and you're welcome."

Etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts says that being courteous in line means "anticipating the flow of traffic while emptying and refilling your cart, and having your payment ready."

Spencer adds that you should also refrain from immediately requesting to speak with a manager if you're facing an issue. "Don't jump in by escalating the situation: Start with a friendly conversation and attempt to resolve the matter directly if possible," she says.

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Never fight over scarce items.

A happy older couple picking out produce together at the grocery store.
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

The empty shelves of the COVID pandemic may feel like a distant memory, but specific item shortages can still happen occasionally. In these cases, remember to stay patient and keep your emotions under control.

"You may not bump or jostle someone out of the way to grab the last mango," says Smith. "If you are desperate for that particular mango, you may ask if the other person is willing to part with it, but you may not physically take it from them."

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Avoid using your phone if possible.

Cropped shot of a woman using a smartphone while shopping in a grocery store

Cell phones have arguably been one of the most significant changes to daily life in public. But while it might be alright to look up a recipe or text a family member for any specific requests, experts say the aisles are not the best place to dial a friend.

"I'd refrain from loud conversations on the phone—or even worse, a conversation on speaker phone!" says Dreizen. "A grocery store is a public space, and we want to leave room for others to have their own thoughts and do their shop in relative peace. Shopping for groceries is often not a favorite activity, so let's try not to make it worse for others!"

This is especially important when it comes time to check out. "If you are on your phone, be sure to choose the self-check lanes," Smith suggests. "The human beings ringing your order deserve your respect and attention."

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Return unwanted items where you found them.

A woman shopping in the freezer section of a grocery store

We've all had second thoughts about products we've picked up during a run through the supermarket. However, it's bad form to simply ditch the unwanted item wherever you want.

"When you change your mind—especially for anything refrigerated or frozen—please give it to an employee or the cashier," says Smith. "Do not pop it on the nearest display you happen to be walking by in the hopes someone sees and rescues it before it goes bad."

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Be courteous to other shoppers in line.

woman buying goods in a grocery store

The check-out line is the funneling point of the entire grocery shopping experience and the one place where you're practically guaranteed to have human interaction with other shoppers. This also makes it the best opportunity to look around and make a quick judgment call on being courteous in the moment.

"Are you pulling up with a cart loaded to the brim? Do the right thing and let the person with one, two, or three items go ahead of you," suggests Grotts. "It's called karma, and it goes a long way."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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