24 Grocery Secrets And Tips From Employees That'll Make You A More Informed Shopper

·11 min read

Recently, I asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to anonymously share secrets and advice from their jobs that they wanted customers to know. Grocery store employees came through with insightful things we could do to make their jobs easier, and shared little secrets.

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1."Used to work at a supermarket. The produce has likely been lightly dropped on the floor (because we can’t just throw it out if it falls off the display, which happens constantly because the displays suck or a dumbass customer has dropped them). Rinse your fruits and veggies. Get the floor off them first."

A slightly bruised pear
Jennifer A Smith / Getty Images

2."I’m a cashier at a grocery store. Sometimes people get items for free because the computers are old and miss things. If there’s an item not on your receipt, there’s a 50% chance we knew about it and just let it go because of the hassle to fix it and charge you."

Cashier checking out items
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3."I work at a grocery store that has fresh produce prepared in the store, and we’re always rotating the fruits and veggies around. If you want something fresh, it’s usually at the back of the display or kind of hidden. If you see one of us with a produce cart and we’re stocking and you want something fresh, we can give it to you right off the cart. All you have to do is ask."

Displays of cut fresh fruit like watermelon wrapped in plastic
Erlon Silva — Tri Digital / Getty Images

4."I work at a grocery store. The floors are never fully cleaned, just mopped each night, and even so, we don’t get in every crack. Shelves and other surfaces are cleaned even less, usually only during spring cleaning or some other day when we do a deep clean."

Relatively clean-looking floor in a store
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5."If you shop at Sam's Club — or any grocery store, for that matter — STOP leaving stuff where it doesn't belong! In particular, do NOT put ice cream products in the refrigerated cases or leave them sitting on the edge of one. Hand them to the nearest associate. The only thing you have to say is that you've changed your mind. We don't mind returning a product. But leaving it sitting somewhere to be found later is rude of you. Imagine if every shopper did that! Yes, it happens. We end up with a basket full of returns at the end of our shift, not to mention the damaged, thawed freezer products. That makes prices rise!"

A pint of ice cream among deodorants on a shelf
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6."Grocery store worker here! Please realize that if you ask a worker where something is in the store and they don’t know...it’s more than likely not their job to know! I personally mostly work the money office, so I count/declare all the drawers and safe money at the end of the night, and I do the audit. Before that, I was a cashier. I was NEVER told to memorize where everything is — that’s a stocker's job. When you ask, don’t get mad if we don’t know…it might not be a part of our job!"

Person stocking shelves
Ferrantraite / Getty Images

7."I work for a big grocery chain in the Northeast. They are consistently at the top of the 'Best Places to Work' lists, but those lists are a joke. Managers will select certain employees to fill out 'satisfaction surveys' and will look over your shoulder as you're filling them out. They’ll even make suggestions about the types of answers to put down!"

Person selecting a happy face on a tablet
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8."Former returns-desk worker here. Food returns never go back to the sales floor; they always get sent to claims (back department for damaged products) to be tossed out, regardless of how pristine their condition is, as we can’t guarantee the quality of the food item once it has left the store…at least, that’s what we’re told to say. The truth is, at least at our store, food that’s returned for reasons like ‘Changed my mind’ or ‘Bought the wrong flavor’ but is otherwise still safe to consume is ultimately donated to local food drives and such. We were just not allowed to tell the customers that, to discourage people from using the store to donate a bunch of food almost for free by buying and then returning it later to send it through our claims-donation processes."

Food in a garbage can
Daisy-daisy / Getty Images/iStockphoto

9."I work at an upscale local grocery chain, and they have these small, 90-cent candies. I’ve started not to charge people for them, and also, if someone buys diapers, I make them half price. The store has plenty of money; they won’t miss 90 cents."

Child holding a bag of loose candies
Romrodinka / Getty Images/iStockphoto

10."I’m a convenience store owner. A couple of things: We generally buy products ABOVE what Walmart sells them for. We add our margin, and that’s the price you pay. Of course, it’s cheaper at Walmart — they buy in much larger quantities. I pay $21 to sell a $22 case of beer."

A convenience store's refrigerated section and snack aisle
Mint Images / Getty Images/Mint Images RF

11."Bagger for a well-known grocery storefront here. We really do value your conversations. Oftentimes we stand there for hours doing the same old bagging strategy, and every customer tends to have a pretty interesting story. Most of us are 14- or 15-year-olds working our first job, and sometimes it gets extremely boring. We understand that right now we’re working for you, but if perhaps we comment on one of your groceries, don’t hesitate to actually engage us in conversation. Oftentimes it’ll earn you some help on the way to your car."

Woman smiling at a young person holding a bag of groceries
Sw Productions / Getty Images

12."Cashier here! If you’re genuinely kind or have a nice conversation with me, I’ll usually take a few dollars off your total with ‘surprise coupons.' If I see someone, especially younger, buying contraception, I’ll always take at least $5 off it. I don’t have a problem changing prices for people who bring up a price difference, but if you’re being an asshole about it, I will go through the trouble of looking it up or calling my manager over to check it out; I will waste your time for being a dick."

Woman smiling as she holds up her cellphone toward a scanner
Sdi Productions / Getty Images

13."Worked customer service for a large grocery store in the UK for 10 years. We know that 95% of the time, if you've found dirt, mold, or plastic in your food, you just want some money. We don't judge, and we don't care at all. We're very generous, usually. Just DO NOT tell us that it made you physically ill or vomit (unless it's legitimately true), because if you've become ill, we require you to seek medical advice, and there's a whole two-month-plus process of rigorous investigation to go through, and your compensation won't be given until all of that is over. So if you're just a bit annoyed and want a few bucks, we don't care how wild your story is; just don't tell us you threw up (unless you really did)."

A tiny shopping cart with a huge orange in it
Luis Diaz Devesa / Getty Images

14."When I was in my 20s, my grandfather and I worked at a local butcher shop together. At the end of the day, whatever meats were not sold were placed in the walk-in refrigerator. The poultry was not. Not in the store I worked in, not in any butcher shop, not in any supermarket. The poultry stays in the open refrigerated cases all night. Every supermarket and butcher has roaches and mice, just as every restaurant does. Where there is food, there's always vermin. During the night, the mice and rats eat part of the raw poultry. When we came in in the morning, we were told to cut off the part of the poultry that was eaten, rewrap it, and place it back in the refrigerated cases. It's gross."

A display of fresh meats in a store
Katrina Wittkamp / Getty Images

15."I'm a cashier at a grocery store, and it annoys me so much when people hold on to their coupons until the end, and if the coupon doesn’t work, I need to scan the item that particular coupon is for. Then there are the people who can clearly see that I’m bagging their groceries in plastic, and they wait until the end to tell me they want paper, or they try to show me how to double-bag the paper bags. If it’s that’s important, do it yourself."

Woman smiling as she finds coupons at a checkout register
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16."I work at a grocery store and we are fairly short-staffed, so oftentimes I’m in 'the box' where we sell lottery tickets and tobacco — the stuff that you have to be at least 18 to sell. Keep in mind, I am not yet 18, so I have to call a manager whenever someone wants either of those things. Most of the time, people understand, but other times when I tell people I’m not old enough to sell online lottery, they say, 'Oh, it’s easy, you just have to press a couple of buttons. You should try it.' I know how to do it. The problem is that if I do it, both the store and I could get fined. On the topic of not being old enough, a lot of the time at my job, most (if not all) of us cashiers are underage, so we can’t sell alcohol, either. (There is an actual liquor store in the grocery store that always has someone at least 18.) Just buy it over there. We’re just gonna end up sending you back over there anyway, so save yourself the time."

Cashiers awaiting a customer
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17."I’m a cashier at a grocery store. Our machines are not great. If you are using a card and have a question about something on the screen or what you have to do, ask. We can’t see the screen from where we are and we can’t read minds. Just ask and we’ll be glad to help."

Person using a card at checkout
Jordi Salas / Getty Images

18."Please don't ask the cashier if their line is 'open' when the light above the register is clearly on. Please don't ask the cashier if they have a trash can for your coffee cup, soda can, or worst gum."

Sign at checkout saying "Next customer please"
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

19."I work in a deli at a massive brand of a grocery store. Just because there isn't rotisserie chicken out doesn't mean I don't have it in the oven. It takes 35 minutes to make. I'm sure you have more shopping to do, too. Please be patient."

Whole cooked chickens on a display
Fang Zheng / Getty Images/iStockphoto

20."Before going to a store — any store that requires you to pay with a card, cash, or even check — please make sure you have said item on your person before shopping and having a full basket, rather than leaving because you forgot your payment, were then embarrassed, and did not return. We have to put all those things you spent 30 minutes shopping for back where they go, especially stuff that needs to stay cold. We have many things we are already doing. We multitask a lot. Extra work is not appreciated."

An abandoned shopping cart full of items
Smile / Getty Images

21."I'm a meat cutter, and I really wish customers would stop asking for a 6-ounce or 8-ounce steak custom cut for them. I'll usually just hold up my fingers apart about an inch and ask if that's what they're talking about, and they're happy with that. I can't weigh something with my eyeballs before I cut it."

Person cutting a slab of meat
Maximfesenko / Getty Images/iStockphoto

22."Please, for the love of God, have your coupons ready when you get to the register. When I ask, 'Do you have any coupons?' don't reply, 'No, do you have any you can give me?' or 'Where can I get some?' or 'Hold on, I'm downloading your app now.'"

Frustrated person at checkout
Fiorigianluigi / Getty Images/iStockphoto

23."Please be mindful of the store's hours of operation. If you know that the store closes at 9 p.m. and you come waltzing in at three minutes beforehand, there's no way that you can pick out your item, make it through the register, and be out the door within that amount of time. At the end of the night, all of our employees would like to go home, and we're trying to get out of the store as soon as possible. Please don't get angry at us because you decided to come right before we close."

A "Closed" sign at checkout
Mint Images / Getty Images / Mint Images RF

24.Finally, "To the customers who take their sweet time when they see someone working the area they're shopping in: You are the worst. I despise you the most. I don’t have a set time I get off. The more time you take, the more time it takes me. I could have 10 pallets to do, and that’s not including a second store that could have just as many (if not more). I had 29 pallets between two stores just the other day, and all day, people cut me off or didn’t care about me needing to get by so I could do my job."

Smiling grocery store worker holding up a can in an aisle
Moodboard / Getty Images/Image Source

Do you have advice about your job that you want to share with customers? Tell us in the comments below or in this anonymous Google form!

Note: Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.