What It Really Means When A Bell Rings At Trader Joe's

It's time for that weekly trip to your local tiki-themed grocer, Trader Joe's. After circling the lot several times while dodging tropical-shirted cart gatherers and waiting for a grey Prius to slowly back out of the only spot available, you grab your candy apple red cart and enter the store. You start your journey behind a young, hipster-looking couple in the produce aisle studiously inspecting the label on a bottle of Spicy Cashew Butter Dressing. As you're reaching for your favorite Five Spice Chicken and Asian Style Rice Noodle Salad, that's when it happens. You hear the deep clang of a sound from times past: a bell ringing, just once.

Ignoring it as usual, you continue through the produce aisle to the cheeses, and just as you're about to pick up a package of the chain's infamous Unexpected Cheddar, you hear two more rings. Ding! Ding! Okay TJ's, what's the deal? As Taste of Home shares, those "charming, mystifying bell tolls" have significant meaning.

Why bells?

The late Joe Coulombe founded the first Trader Joe's in Pasadena in 1967 (which, not surprisingly, still has the same painfully tiny parking lot). The shop was nautically themed and run by people who were described as "traders on the high seas," says the official Trader Joe's website. That theming set the stage for the bell ringing, which is how employees at the registers tell each other they need help.

Instead of using a blaring PA system like one of your boring big box stores, employees use bells like a rudimentary Morse code to communicate. Apparently, back in 1975, an employee rang a decorative nautical bell to get another employee's attention, and the tradition was born. As the official site explains, "One bell lets our Crew know when to open another register. Two bells mean there are additional questions that need to be answered at the checkout. Three bells call over a manager-type person. And three short bells–two long bells–three short bells ... now we're just playing." Always with the dad jokes, Trader Joe's.

And four bells? Well, unofficially, a Trader Joe's employee says four bells means "all-hands-on-deck." When you hear a bell ring four times, the store is about to get super busy and anyone available needs to come up to the front to work the registers. In other words, it's probably the time to grab your bottle of Two Buck Chuck and hightail it out of there.