Shopping for food should never be too stressful but, let's face it, between the struggle to find a decent parking space, less-than-stellar stock and increasingly long checkout lines, going to the grocery store isn't always a pleasant experience.
To make matters worse, sometimes fellow shoppers treat supermarket aisles like the Wild West when it comes to human decency. But common courtesy shouldn't go out the window simply because you're among strangers.
Sometimes people have a tendency to direct irrational anger at someone who has no control over a situation.
"Approach the grocery store just like any community," Elaine Swann, etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol, told TODAY Food. "You should (always) exercise thoughtfulness towards others."
Whether you're shopping alone or with family, Swann said it's important to be mindful of how your behavior is affecting others. We asked the etiquette expert about some of the rudest supermarket behaviors she's seen. Here are nine things shoppers unconsciously — and sometimes consciously — do that should be avoided.
1. Snacking your way through the store
People are actually pretty divided on this and even the TODAY anchors are split when it comes to in-store eating etiquette. Is it stealing? Craig Melvin says it is, but Sheinelle Jones thinks it's definitely OK to sample loose items like grapes.
On Twitter, TODAY viewers were pretty divided, with over 46% of respondents saying that it's never OK to sample something at the store; 18% agreed with Sheinelle, but a sizable number (35%) said it depends on the item. It also depends on the store. At Whole Foods, for example, it's permissible to ask for a sample of any item (yes, even packaged goods) and a store employee will help you get a taste, even if that means ripping open a box.
However, if you don't know the store's policy, it's much better to stay on the safe side and avoid ripping into packaged products. Whatever you do, never lick a tub of ice cream and put it back in the freezer.
2. Parking a cart in the middle of the aisle
Do not do this unless you want to make sworn enemies at the grocery store. Swann said it's important to navigate the aisles just like you would a car on the street. Even if the aisle is really wide, it's best to allow plenty of room for others to pass.
"Try to travel on the right side of aisle. Cross over if you need something on the left side, but carefully and watch for others," Swann said. "Keep the cart close to you so people can pass by efficiently."
Blocking the aisles isn't just a potential hazard, but it's also inconsiderate to shoppers with mobility issues.
3. Letting your kids run wild
Taking children to the grocery store can be great way to teach them about fresh produce and introduce them to new spices. But it should go without saying that a supermarket is not a playground. Kids are amusing, but if they're running around crowded aisles, it will become more likely that they will run into someone (or something) and injure themselves. The same, sadly, goes for misbehaving furry friends. Unless you have a service animal, it's best to leave pets at home.
4. Stealing spots in the parking lot
A 2019 poll conducted by Treadmill Reviews examined some of the most offensive grocery store habits, and found that nearly 50% of respondents claimed they had almost been struck by a car in a supermarket parking lot. Sure, a crowded grocery store on a Saturday afternoon can feel like a dog-eat-dog world, but do everyone a favor and just slow down before rushing into a spot that someone else was clearly waiting for.
Not only is it bad karma, but it's very likely you may run into the person who was waiting patiently with their blinker on before you so rudely cut them off. Awkward!
5. Chatting on the phone while shopping
"Try, if you can, to stay off your cell phone and be present," Swann said. "Sometimes we're so distracted when chatting, it's really hard to pay attention to others around you. If someone's trying to get by, you don't hear or see them."
It's pretty unlikely that strangers want to hear your private conversation, but there's a very good chance that you might inadvertently ignore something important (like your number being called at the deli counter) if you're chatting away.
6. Sampling the salad bar directly from the salad bar
If viral Twitter posts have taught the world anything, it's to not sip from a public serving utensil. In 2018, people were collectively horrified when a video emerged of a man sipping soup directly from the ladle at a Whole Foods hot bar.
Just. Say. No.
If you do happen to spot a stranger doing something inappropriate with a public serving utensil, alert a store employee immediately and do not try to confront the offender yourself.
7. Leaving perishable items in the wrong place
If you decide you're not going to buy something, don't just throw it anywhere and assume it will eventually find its way back to its rightful spot in the store. This is especially true of highly perishable items like bananas. No one wants to be reaching for some cereal and be surprised with a moldy handful of produce someone left behind.
"Bring it to the register where someone can restock it, rather than finding it somewhere stinking up," Swann said.
8. Going to the express lane with too many items
When the supermarket is totally empty and just a few lines are open, it's probably OK to do this if you have just a few items over the limit. But during busy times, those "10 items or less" signs really mean something. If you have a cartful of items, you'll obviously be holding up the express lanes and making a lot of enemies in the checkout aisle. Plus, it's very unlikely that there will be an extra set of hands helping to bag groceries in the express lane, so the cashier will have to take longer to help you.
Just imagine if the situation was reversed and you were rushing to an event. If you only had to pay for one bag of chips and a soda, would you really want to be stuck behind the person with 100 items?
We think not.
9. Running back to get a forgotten item ... as you're paying
Again, if the store is empty — and the item isn't too far away — this isn't the worst offense in the world. But during supermarket rush hour, just forget it. Firstly, you're basically forcing everyone behind you to wait while you embark on a journey back into the abyss of aisles. Plus, from the employee's perspective, if the cashier has already rung up a bunch of your items, it can be a huge pain to cancel that receipt and then start helping another customer.
If your recipe won't be complete without those bouillon cubes you forgot in aisle 17, just pay for everything you remembered to pick up and then head back into the store.