12 Things Grocery Store Employees Wish You Would Stop Doing

Retail is a difficult field to work in, and much of the trouble is due to customer behavior. It's no secret that customers can do some rude things, but grocery store employees have specific complaints that need to be addressed. Bad customer behavior can affect everything from employee morale to product safety — and even employee safety.

Check Reddit or any other forum, and you'll find threads detailing all the things customers do that grocery store employees can't stand. Some of these are often a result of cluelessness and lack of attention, while others are outright irresponsible. Prepare yourself because the rage is palpable, and you may find that something you thought wasn't a big deal is one of the worse offenders. Here's your chance to change: If you like your store and want to be a good customer, then please stop doing these 12 things that grocery store employees hate.

1. Stop leaving unwanted items in random places

If there's one thing that grocery store employees really get fired up about, it's finding random items strewn across the store, left haphazardly by customers who didn't want them. This goes beyond finding pasta in the cereal section or toilet paper by the paper towels; stories on Reddit abound of finding raw chicken in the cookie aisle and melting ice pops on a cardboard display case. 

This is a massive waste of food; not only is the perishable item lost, but so are the products next to it if contamination is a concern. No one wants raw chicken juice potentially leaking onto a box of cookies or snacks that are sitting in a puddle of sticky ice pop liquid. One Redditor has "bonus hate" for people who hide perishables in non-refrigerated sections.

Even if the item isn't perishable, it still creates waste. Customers looking for that item may not see the one that was left two aisles over, and employees have to spend time walking it back over to its proper place. Employees understand that shoppers may be injured, disabled, or in any number of situations that make returning items more difficult. But those situations don't apply to every customer. Please, if you don't want something, don't leave it "wherever." Put it back where it belongs, ask an employee if they can put it away, or give it to the cashier at the check out.

2. Stop pilfering from the bulk bins and produce section

Juicy grapes, crunchy radishes, chocolate-covered peanuts — the lure of bite-sized foods is strong when you're hungry. And they are so small and light that the store won't miss a few if you eat them while you shop, right? Wrong. All those bits and pieces you munch on as you get your groceries add up, and the store loses money. You could even be accused of shoplifting. Not to mention, employees regularly have to clean up your snacking mess, such as one Redditor who described cleaning cherry pits out of shopping baskets. Unfortunately, many people don't view this as a problem, as evidenced by a Reddit thread discussing favorite candies to steal from bulk bins. Similarly, one shopper wrote to the Times Union saying she didn't understand why a customer got on her case for eating a bulk apricot.

What's worse than the monetary loss, however, is the question of hygiene if you're dipping your hand directly into a bulk bin or bag of food you aren't taking home. This really happens; a blog on the Press-Enterprise website commented about people who grab handfuls of bulk foods and eat them in the store. Given that a YouGov America survey showed that over 40% of people admit to not washing their hands either some or all of the time after using the bathroom, we'd be wary about who has been sticking their hands in those bins.

3. Don't leave your cart in the middle of the aisle or checkout lane

Three similar complaints that grocery store employees have are regarding shopping carts. Whether it's customers leaving their carts in the checkout lane, asking cashiers to watch them while they get more items, or parking them in the middle of the aisle, it's all bad. These habits affect everyone around you, from blocking people in an aisle to delaying them from getting out of the store. For those who shop, pay, and then expect the cashier to watch their items while they shop for more – stop. The cashier has to concentrate on the customers in line. Another Redditor was baffled that people sometimes leave entire carts up front and shop around the store with another basket.

If you're in line and remember that you forgot something and you don't know exactly where that item is, come back for it later. People who leave carts at the checkout and then wander around the store hold up the line. A respondent in a Quora thread said she was fine with someone going to get one item they knew where to find, but grabbing several items just creates delays for everyone. As for parking in the middle of an aisle, both Miss Manners and Maralee McKee of the Etiquette School, agree you need to pull your cart over to the right so that people can pass you.

4. Stop treating employees like servants

Something about retail and grocery work — any type of customer service position, really — brings out the worst in customers. Many seem to translate "customer service" to mean "servants," and does it ever show. Tales of customers insulting employees abound, and the treatment can even turn violent. According to TV station Fox5 in Washington, D.C., one shopper in Virginia punched a deaf employee because they hadn't responded to the customer's question. During the pandemic, the violence became widespread, with stories of customers shooting employees who had to enforce a mask mandate. Insider suggests that much of this attitude stems from the saying that "the customer is always right."

An unexpected source of rudeness, according to one Redditor, is Instacart. The Redditor posted that Instacart shoppers regularly stick their phones in an employee's face and demand to know where something is. Another employee posted in the same thread that they got so tired of the rude behavior that they switched shifts. Instacart shoppers pushed back, with some claiming their rudeness was due to employees being rude to them first, while another wrote that every store had a "grouch," implying that the label applied to the original poster.

5. Stop leaving your litter in the parking lot

Litter used to be so commonplace that cities and states had to create campaigns to get people to throw items into trash cans instead of on the nearest lawn or road. Campaigns like "Don't Mess With Texas" had generally good results, and in many places, you can report litterbugs and have them fined. That progress seems to have missed the grocery store parking lot, where litter abounds — and annoys grocery store employees. One Redditor ranted about all the trash they had to clean out of grocery carts and parking lots, especially when the person who littered was still there and watching them.

The problem got worse with the pandemic when grocery store parking lots became covered with old gloves and masks. Employees were tasked with cleaning it all up. While that may not seem like such a big deal now, at the start of the pandemic when people thought you could spread the coronavirus through touch, those gloves and masks were seen as highly hazardous. Be kind to employees and throw your trash in the nearest receptacle. If you can't find one, simply discard it once you get home.

6. Stop having loud conversations on your phone in the checkout lane

An eye-rolling behavior that grocery store employees wish you'd stop is having loud conversations on your phone in the checkout lane. Or anywhere in the store, for that matter. If you're shopping for a relative with a bad phone connection and no text-friendly phone, sure, you may have to speak up as you ask them which brand of bread they want. But no one needs to know your latest complaints about your child's classmate's parent in the school pickup line, or how much you loved that açaí bowl you had for breakfast. For the cashier and others in line, your loud phone call becomes a source of noise pollution.

You may think that people who don't like it can just tune you out or leave. However, tuning people out isn't always easy, and cashiers are captive audiences who can't leave. Given how personal some conversations can turn — one person told The Seattle Times she overheard a conversation about child abuse — it's a miracle that grocery store employees manage to stay on the job as long as they do. Instead of driving staff nuts with your loud and overly personal conversations, text if you can; otherwise, wait until you leave the store.

7. Stop totally ignoring your kids

There comes a time in every parent's life when they are finally able to ignore their children's cries — not cries of alarm but those of incessant demands: "I want it!" It's a survival skill and hopefully teaches the kid that crying to get something is useless. Unfortunately, a lot of parents go too far and let their kids run rampant in stores. The kids get underfoot, and their screaming gives employees a headache. 

Respondents in a Quora thread note how some parents don't seem to care what their kids do, often treating the behavior as perfectly fine. One wrote about parents who had left their child sleeping alone on furniture while they shopped. While this isn't usually a risk in grocery stores, it does show how some parents assume staff will babysit their children unasked.

In a thread about employees asking a single mother to remove her unruly kids from a store, Redditors were very supportive of the employees, complimenting them for thinking of other customers. Many were understanding of single mothers but agreed the staff had done the right thing. Think about that the next time your child acts up in a grocery store. Now might be a good time to start teaching them to respect others' property and space.

8. Stop super-couponing when it's busy

Anyone who's had to create shopping lists and budgets that relied heavily on coupons knows that saving a few cents adds up. Many people are very savvy with coupons and store deals and can slash their bills substantially, which is a practice called super-couponing. But it requires a lot of time at the register as the cashier scans slip after slip of coupon deals. That creates delays for other people in line, even if all the coupons scan perfectly. And it annoys cashiers to no end; two Redditors in this thread mentioned how much they hate "coupon queens," noting that they tend to be terrible, demanding customers.

One solution, albeit tongue-in-cheek, could be the addition of a slow lane. Coupons in the News reported in 2015 that a customer had suggested to Kroger that they add a lane for people who needed to move more slowly. That actually has been tried in Finland, where one supermarket chain added a slower lane for customers such as senior citizens and disabled people. Coupons in the News suggested it would be perfect for people who wanted to write checks or use coupons. Until stores add these lanes, save the super-couponing for less crowded hours.

9. Stop leaving your carts right by, but not in, the cart return corral

Cart return corrals are usually spacious and easy to find in supermarket parking lots. It's annoying enough when someone leaves a cart in a parking space a distance away. But it's just plain weird when someone leaves it right outside the corral. If it's a busy shopping time and the corral is full, that's understandable. But if there's room, surely you can place the cart in the corral if you were able to make it over there in the first place. One Redditor called leaving a cart five feet from the corral "the definition of lazy," while another wrote that they try to stop customers from leaving their carts right inside the store doors. Another responded to a post about never returning the carts in order to create job security, which neglects the fact that it just creates more busywork.

People sometimes have good reasons for not returning carts; Scientific American found that some people don't return them to corrals because they don't want to leave their children unattended or because a disability makes it difficult. But leaving the carts in the corrals when you can is the right thing to do. It lines the carts up, making it easier for an employee to move the entire bunch at once.

10. Stop ignoring the express line item limits

The express checkout lines are meant specifically for people who only have a few items; these lines are supposed to move faster and allow customers to get out of the store quickly. Filtering customers who have only a few items to these lines also helps reduce time spent waiting at regular registers. However, since the express lines seem to move faster, people try to sneak in with extra items.

That's annoying, but what cashiers really hate is when you try to go through the express lane with many more items. We're talking 30, 40, or more items in a lane where you're supposed to have 10 to 12. One Redditor complained that Instacart shoppers often try to go through the express checkout with two or three times what the lane limits allow. Instacart or not, please don't go into the express lane and slow everyone down by ringing up a full cart. That goes even if the lane is empty, as one Redditor pointed out; when someone brought 48 items to their express lane, seven other people lined up behind them in the time it took to ring the groceries through.

11. Stop using the 'So it's free?' joke

No, it's not free. Whenever something won't ring up at the cash register, there's at least one customer who will proclaim that the item must be free as they chuckle with their cleverness. Please stop doing that. The store employees have heard your joke before, the item's not free, and you're not making them any happier. The joke is so repetitive that you'll likely become that cashier's enemy for the day. One Redditor couldn't contain their hatred for the joke, while another recounted a time when a customer actually tried to get an item for free when the cashier couldn't scan it. Cashiers are stuck hearing too many bad jokes and annoying comments.

Typically, items don't ring up when the register scanner can't read the bar code. The code is placed in a hard-to-scan area, it's folded up, or it's too small to effectively read. In rare cases, the item isn't in the register's database, but regardless, the cashier has to enter it manually. You may have meant well in attempting humor, but it's a tired, old joke. Remember what they say about good intentions and then don't make the joke again.

12. Sock/bra/underwear money, just no

There are annoying things customers do but others are plain disgusting. Possibly the worst is handing over money that you've kept tucked away next to your skin. Cashiers note this as a major pet peeve, with many Redditors complaining about customers who pull money out from underwear or sweaty biking shorts. It's gotten so bad in some areas, especially in summer, that various stores across the country have had to officially ban the use of wet cash (via Daily Mail). 

Disturbingly, one customer actually complained about a sign announcing a ban at a store, as noted on the Retail Hell Underground blog. Even without an official ban in place, some stores allow cashiers to simply refuse the cash. Holding cash securely can be difficult if you don't have pockets and don't want to carry an extra bag or purse, but that's no excuse for making people at the grocery store handle your sweaty, unhygienic money. It not only feels gross, but it could also transfer bacteria or fungi to the cashier's hands.

If you think going through the self-checkout lane will solve the problem, it won't. First of all, the machines routinely reject old, faded bills that sensors can't identify, so sweaty cash may not make it through. Second, employees have to collect the cash after the day is done. Using self-checkout only delays the inevitable disgust. Instead of storing your grocery cash in terrible places, get a cross-body bag or clothes with pockets.